Shamsi Bread

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Shamsi Bread

Shamsi bread is traditionally made of wheat flour and yeast dough. It is a round loaf and thick (about 14-18 cm in diameter and 3-4 cm high) and has generally 3-4 bumps on the sides, resulting from incisions performed at the edges of the bread with a stiff straw, just before putting it into the oven. This allows excess fermented gases to escape. There are several shapes of shamsi bread depending on how the loaf is scarred with a large needle or pin. Often slits are made all around the top edge to ensure a uniformly round loaf. A second way is to make three crescent-like cuts that form three corners as it rises. Coptic Christians perform cuts in the loaves to make four corners, forming a rough cross. Ancient tomb paintings of bread offerings show these pinprick patterns similar to bread baked today.  

Shamsi bread is baked in domed ovens made from Nile clay with several small openings at the top to let the heat and smoke escape. There is a big opening to put the bread in and one near the ground to stoke the fuel. The fuel source is normally dried plant material; usually corn and cane stalks, and the heat must be a low, steady 350°C. The oven floor is cleaned with a wet rag, the loaves are placed inside, and the door is closed for baking. An average oven fits 25 loaves cooked in about 20 minutes. Baking of this sourdough bread dates back to the times of the ancient Egyptians, and Herodotus mentions this style of bread from Luxor as being very different from the common style of bread in Cairo.  

Today, shamsi bread is mainly made for home consumption. Also, it is now easier for people to purchase pre-made bread or work with instant yeasts instead of sourdough starters to make traditional breads. Therefore, the tradition of making shamsi bread may be lost among younger generations. 

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Bread and baked goods

Nominated by:Aurelia Weintz