The Fresh Loaf

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Artisan Pompeii Miche

Artisan Pompeii Miche

RoundhayBaker's picture


As promised in AbeNW11's post on Making 2,000 Year Old Bread this is my now thoroughly tested recipe for the Pompeii loaf.

For those of you who don't know the back-story, when the Pompeii Live exhibition was staged at the British Museum in 2013, one of the items on display was a carbonised loaf of bread found in a bakery oven. On the day of the eruption in 79AD, it received a slightly longer and higher temperature bake than the baker intended. Not that he cared any longer.

Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napolii (© Fotografica Foglia).

Apart from surviving the eruption, the loaf is notable for three things. There’s the bread stamp on it which reads ‘Property of Celer, Slave of Q. Granius Verus’. It is also wrapped in a cord . And it’s divided into eight wedges.

The museum asked chef Giorgio Locatelli to recreate the bread. And you can watch him and his kitchen staff doing just that on this video here. It’s fascinating stuff but, viewing it, my reaction was that this is was a restaurant loaf, one made using modern techniques (yeast, gluten powder etc.). Why not have a go at making a true artisinal loaf instead and have a go at baking it wrapped in a cord?

So I did.

Here it is. It’s a whopper. 

Out went the modern flour, yeast, and gluten additive. In came a sourdough preferment, ancient flours, and artisinal techniques to develop gluten. I used Kamut, rye, and spelt flour; all grains common in the Roman world. I suspect Prof. Calvert was not the first person to come up with the idea of autolysis. After all, bread-making’s been around for eight thousand years. Many, many bakers must have noticed the benefit of giving hydrated flour a rest, so an autolyse was in. The same applies to double-hydration.

I used a 100% hydration dark rye sourdough starter, but any will do (however, you do need to adjust the water quantity if you use a lower hydration starter).

Although it makes a delicious, nutty-textured bread, Khorosan is horrendously expensive, so I tried the miche with varying proportions of all the flours, including replacing the Khorosan with wholemeal/wholewheat or buckwheat. All worked very well. The recipe is adapted from the ever-reliable Weekend Bakery's Miche formula and is is therefore fairly disaster-proof. I sprinkled the loaf with anise, poppy, and sesame seeds because it’s known they were used by Roman bakers and because I like the their taste.

Here’s the obligatory crumb shot.


Prep time18 hours
Cooking time1 hour, 15 minutes
Total time19 hours, 15 minutes


50 g
Rye sourdough culture (100% hydration) (preferment)
180 g
Kamut Khorosan flour (preferment)
40 g
Strong Bread Flour (preferment)
180 g
water (preferment)
540 g
water (or less (depending upon sourdough hydration))
405 g
Spelt flour (wholemeal (wholewheat) spelt)
405 g
Kamut Khorosan (or wholemeal (wholewheat) flour or buckwheat flour)
24 g
2 t
Anise, poppy and sesame seeds (optional)


Adapted from the WKB Miche 

  1. PREFERMENT: Mix the ingredients for the preferment together into a stiff-ish dough and leave at room temperature (18-24℃ - 65-75F) for 12 hours or overnight.
  2. MIX. When ready, and if you have a thermometer at hand, determine the Desired Dough Temperature (I aimed for 25℃ - 77F) and adjust your water temperature to achieve it.
  3. Stir the preferment into half the water.
  4. Add the flours and stir to incorporate. 
  5. Gradually add the rest of the water and let the dough come together (you may need all of the water or even a bit more, depending on the flour you use). If you canreserve 10% of the water for later double-hydration.
  6. KNEAD: Knead for 1 minute into a shaggy mass.
  7. AUTOLYSE: Cover and let the dough rest for 30 minutes
  8. KNEAD: Add the salt and knead for 3 minutes on a stand mixer (5-6 minutes by hand).
  9. DOUBLE-HYDRATE. Continue kneading and dribble a little of the remaining water into the mixing bowl (or sprinkle on your work surface). Wait until it is absorbed before making the next addition. Do this for 2 minutes on a stand mixer (3-4 minutes by hand) 
  10. KNEAD: Continue until you achieve a good window pane (with these flours it’s never going to be great). 
  11. BULK FERMENT: Return to a greased bowl and let it rest for 50 minutes.
  12. FIRST S&F: Wet your hands and, either do one complete stretch-and-old turn in the bowl, or tip onto a floured work surface then do one stretch-and-fold. Return to bowl, cover, and leave to rest for 50 minutes more. 
  13. SECOND S&F: Repeat and leave for another 50 minutes
  14. THIRD S&F. This is optional depending upon the strength of gluten development in the dough. When I replaced the Kamut flour with either buckwheat or wholemeal it was needed. 
  15. PRE-SHAPE: On a lightly floured surface, gently de-gas the dough, tuck the edges into the centre, flip over, then, with floured hands (the dough is quite sticky), drag it into a loose boule in four quick turns, making sure not to overwork it.
  16. Cover with a damp cloth (or similar) and let it rest for 20 minutes.
  17. Prepare a large (1.5kg) banneton.
  18. SHAPE: Lightly flour your surface and hands again then shape the dough into a tighter boule, making sure not to tear its skin. It’s a big loaf, so you’ll need to use both hands and/or a bench scraper to do this. Make sure you flour your hands again if they begin to stick to the boule.
  19. Sprinkle the top of the boule with flour, gently turn it upside down, then carefully place it in the banneton.
  20. PROVE: Cover again and leave to prove for up to 90 minutes. Precise time varies with the ambient temperature. When you think the bread has risen enough, use your finger to carefully make a very small dent in the dough. If after 30-45 seconds the dent remains, the bread is ready to bake, if the indentation disappears, the dough needs a little bit more time. 
  21. Preheat your oven to 225/205(fan)ºC (440/400F).
  22. When the loaf is ready, turn the oven up to 240/220(fan)℃ (465/430F). Prepare your steam tray.
  23. Carefully turn the miche onto your baking peel. Spray it lightly with water then sprinkle on the seeds.
  24. Dust your peel with flour then turn the boule onto it. 
  25. Tie the cord around the loaf, knotting it to make a carrying loop from its tails.
  26. SCORE: Make four cuts from rim to rim across the centre to create eight segments. You need to slice down to the cord. I used a sharp bread knife to do this; my lame was not up to the task. I’ve also cut it some loaves into six wedges rather than eight. Either way is good.
  27. BAKE: Slide the miche into your oven and immediately turn the heat down to 225/205(fan)ºC (440/400F) and bake for 50-75 minutes until dark brown. 
  28. Remove the steam tray 30 minutes into the bake.
  29. When baked, transfer to a rack and leave to cool. 


Okay, why the twine? First, as you can see from the bread selfie below, it helps you carry a whopping 1.7kg miche. Handy for the Roman shopper/house slave. Then there’s the division of the loaf into wedges. They’re deep cuts but, if you tie the cord around the loaf first, the miche keeps the shape it would lose if it was sliced without the cord.

I baked my first Pompeii miche using a cord made from garden twine. It worked well but left hairs embedded in the crust. Not so good. I tracked down some 20lb hemp cord which comes lightly waxed with corn and potato starch. To make a cord thick enough for the miche, I cut three lengths, wove the strands together, repeated the process twice more, then braided the three-ply cords into one strong 9-ply cord. Problem solved.

Why the wedges? No seems sure, but the simplest explantion is that the loaves could be sold or served by the slice, just as some miches are sold in France today. I’ll have a go at my next farmers' market.

(Beatrice, Creative Commons)

And the bread stamp? Roman bakers didn’t just sell their own bread (like the unstamped Pompeii loaf above). For a fee you could have your own loaves baked in their ovens (a communal tradition that only recently died out in France but survives in Morocco - read Bill Alexander's superb 52 Loaves for more) hence the need to identify which loaf was your own.

Bread stamps have been much discussed on TFL. I’ve yet to decide how to make mine, but I will.


A bit more about baking in Pompeii at the time of the eruption:

More than thirty bakeries have been excavated in Pompeii and Herculaneum. Almost two-thirds were large enough to have their own donkey or slave-powered flour mills. They also had communal ovens to which you could bring your dough (bread-stamped, of course) to be baked overnight.

(Carole Raddato, Creative Commons)

Ironically, basalt rock from old lava flows was used to make both the millstones and the floors of the wood-fired ovens.

Despite the devastation of the eruption, quite a few loaves have been found. Eighty charred loaves alone were recovered from the ovens of one baker, Modestus. Their (ultra) dry weight is 580g on average, all were divided into six or eight wedges, and each has a diameter of about 20-25cm. Luckily, about the size of a 1.5kg banneton.

And here’s a portrait of another baker, Terentius Neo, and his wife. It's a fresco from inside their house in Pompeii. He holds a scroll, showing he was literate. She holds a wax tablet, showing she was numerate too.

(Public domain)

They look like a pleasant couple, but then, of course, they're bakers. :)


dabrownman's picture

I'm thinking with so much whole grains it should have 10% more water to open the crumb some more though.  Well done and happy baking 

RoundhayBaker's picture

...slicing a miche with a huge open crumb? I'd sum up my experience as frustrating as hell. It's not for the faint-hearted.

dabrownman's picture

to worry about large holes making the bread hard to slice:-)

Happy baking

Edo Bread's picture
Edo Bread

Great looking loaf and nice post. I always liked the twine handle idea.

AbeNW11's picture
AbeNW11 (not verified)

Your bread looks so delicious and great write up. Bookmarked!

I've gotta try this myself.

Thank you RoundhayBake

RoundhayBaker's picture

.. prompting me to pull my finger out and post the recipe.

PalwithnoovenP's picture

I do have a soft spot for all things ancient and historic especially food! It just fascinates me how they've managed to produce all of those with just their knowledge and tools of antiquity. I first saw this loaf when I was 10 in our encyclopedia under archaeology. Now, I'm 21 and somehow enlightened how and why it looked liked that. Love those ancient grains and techniques you used... I'm speechless... Thank you for sharing!

Isand66's picture

What a fantastic post.  Great looking loaf that would make any ancient baker proud.   




Jon OBrien's picture
Jon OBrien

Could I point out that there is no chord around the loaf. That's an idea that the celebrity chef who 'recreated' the recipe for the loaf came up with to explain the indentation around the edge of the loaf. It has no basis in fact and makes absolutely no sense.

If you watch this video: at about four minutes, Locatelli himself explains that he came up with the idea of wrapping string around the loaf. As he also 'recreated' the ancient recipe using modern wheat, gluten powder and bakers' yeast, I think it's fair to say that he has absolutely no idea what he's talking about.

I did post my theory as to how the loaf got its shape in this thread: if anyone's interested in reading it. Since that post, I've also read this document: from the University of Warwick which suggests that the loaf was found in a house, not a baker's oven, and that it was probably made of emmer, not spelt.

RoundhayBaker's picture

..chef.' There are indeed cords wrapped around many Pompeii loaves. I saw one myself in the exhibition at the British Museum - the same one Locatelli based his loaf on. If you take a careful look at the photo at the top of the post you will indeed see a cord/rope/string tied around it. Do a quick Google Image search and you turn up other loaves bound in this fashion. Admittedly, some images are more clear than others. But don't forget the BM itself asked Locatlelli to recreate the loaf, which he did. So, not his idea, I'm afraid, but still an excellent project (the 'making of' video is linked to already in the third paragraph of this post). Dozens of loaves have been recovered from the Pompeii ashes, some with cords and string, some without. I decided to go with the one I've actually seen. There is no right or wrong here.

Interesting point about the ingredients - by the way although the link looks like it's dead, it downloads an undergraduate poster in the form of a Powerpoint presentation - yet the vast majority of Roman grain - a million plus tons a year - was imported from Egypt, so, yes, it could be emmer, but it could also be any of the flours I used. Again, there is no right or wrong, just a choice. 

Jon OBrien's picture
Jon OBrien

Before posting my original message, and again before posting the one in this thread, I spent a long time searching the Internet for any mention of a 'bound' loaf but the only mentions I could find referenced Locatelli's video, where he states that it was his idea. I accept that it may look as if there is a chord around a loaf in a photograph but I'm only too aware that appearances can be deceiving and I'm too old and too cynical to accept appearances as fact. Show me an academic description of a loaf which includes a description of a chord wrapped around it and I'll happily acknowledge that I was mistaken and withdraw my scornful posts.

I'm aware that the BM asked Locatelli to do that 'recreation' but I'd suggest that it was more likely to have been someone involved in PR, promoting the exhibition, than an expert in ancient foods and culinary practices. Had it been the latter I doubt they'd have been very satisfied with his anachronistic recipe.

When you look at the idea of binding the dough it really doesn't make any sense. A thin chord won't help the dough retain its shape, especially if the loaf is made of spelt or emmer. Having tried to make 'rustic' loaves from both I can attest to the fact that the dough slumps to a degree which would merely envelop the string, not retain it. Which is why I now use loaf tins. Likewise, the idea of using the string to carry the loaf makes no sense when you think of what would happen if you tried: the loaf would spin, bang against your leg, bring it into the reach of every dog you passed, of which there were plenty on Roman streets, and, if the loaf were big enough and you were short enough, it would probably drag in the mud. It would be far easier to tuck it under your arm. Let's face it, if it were such a good idea every contemporary French person carrying a miche home would be dangling it from some string. At least, the practice would persist somewhere in the bread eating world.

I can't claim to be an expert on the subject but I do have a particular interest in that period of Roman history and I've never heard any suggestion that loaves were bound in that manner, which is why I was so surprised to hear that the BM was willing to allow such a suggestion to be voiced by a non-historian in a film made in its name.

RoundhayBaker's picture

..not really what I'm here for on this forum. All I can say is that there's right or wrong here. I know what I saw and interpreted accordingly. After all, this is a modern artisinal take on a very ancient loaf, which by rights should be unleavened. So, each to their own. Let's leave it there.

AbeNW11's picture
AbeNW11 (not verified)

I love it. I actually wrote to the British Museum to say this is what I'd prefer to see as their example of a Pompeii bread. I also looked at photos and interpreted string. But the point is the bread! 

Looks great and authentic. 


Jon OBrien's picture
Jon OBrien

but I apologise if anything I've written has come across that way. It's not the spirit in which I've written anything and I wouldn't like anyone to perceive anything I've said in that way.

My intention has been to correct what I believe is a misconception founded on an hypothesis put forward by someone apparently unqualified to do so.

You may be right in your interpretation of what you saw but, if so, it brings into question the statement Locatelli makes on camera and the impression I formed after watching a [BBC?] television programme which aired at around the time of the exhibition and which included Locatelli's video. I'd like to know if I'm mistaken in believing that Locatelli came up with a crack-pot idea to go with the 'recreation' which suggested that he's not very well informed on culinary history. I haven't been able to find a statement by an archaeologist or historian who's actually studied these loaves which resolves the dilemma. When I was a journalist I learned that you need at least two sources before can begin to assume that a fact may be true. Until I find that second source, the status quo has to prevail.

If you're not bothered one way or the other, then by all means ignore my posts but please don't take offence because I'm looking for corroboration of your interpretation of what you saw before I change mine.

Edo Bread's picture
Edo Bread

Seems to me all we can do is to have conversations, speculate and discuss. I think the previous link you posted Mini Oven had some very sound reasons why a string handle would make sense. One of which "carried on poles" which reminded me of this Norwegian bread notated: "In the olden times the bread was preserved by drying it over the stove. Storing it on wooden sticks also made it inaccessible for mice and rats."  String makes as much sense as knocking out all the great bread for a hole.

As I was looking for a good picture of the hanging hapanleipä, I came across this picture that seemed appropriate to include:

As to your question if string was available two thousand years ago a quick google or in this case wikipedia will tell us:  "Impressions of cordage found on fired clay provide evidence of string and rope-making technology in Europe dating back 28,000 years". And it was cheap enough for this use back then.

The idea of twine for storing or transporting food isn't even uncommon. Take a look in the window of a butcher and you will likely see something like this:

Food tied and hung. I have seen people carry these from a butcher by the string down the road without being attacked by dogs, dragging it in the mud and they don't add their own body hair and sweat by "tucking it under your arm"

As for your idea that it is a banneton - I would wonder how many of the loaves have been found (I have no idea) - If it is more than one the banneton seems illogical to me. I would think a baker would figure out they are constantly overrunning their basket and reduce the dough. I would question the cost and necessity of a bakery full of bannetons during this time much more than spools of twine.

But again who knows. If I were inclined to think the twine is correct, your disdain for the "celebrity chef" could be flipped to say he took credit for "coming up with the idea" when really he just put some pieces of a puzzle together.

All in all it is an interesting question. Having only see a few picture of a loaf, I certainly can't tell what the groove, It looks a lot like rope some versions. 


dabrownman's picture

the bakery was located next to the brewery and that this bread was made with barm and not SD since most bread at that tie was made with barm not Sourdough.  In cities like Pompeii bakers used barm because it made bread rise faster nd,just like today, most people did not want their bread sour.  Since at least the time of the Ancient Egyptians until commercial yeast became available, most all bread was made with barm.  It is only a tiny amount of bread that was made using SD - just like today.

Professor Clavel never claimed to invent the autolyse process.  In fact, he said and wrote that he came across the technique of mixing flour and water and letting it sit ,before any salt or yeast was added, in an old French bread cook book from 1290 AD or so and several other ones after that.  Since he was a chemist, he noticed that this process looked similar  to, what scientists called autolysis in biology, even though it isn't the same.  Professor Calvel's claim to fame is that he invented the term Autolyse for this process in bread making,to distinguish it fro autolysis - not the technique itself which is ancient and likely much, much older than 1290 AD

I think if you brew some beer and use the barm for the leaven and get some emmer in there, you will get closer to the bread that was over baked in Pompeii so long ago

Happy Ancient baking

Happy baking 

RoundhayBaker's picture

.. I just fancied doing a sourdough version. There's no record of sourdough being used to make Roman bread until the 3rd or 4th centuries although it was widespread in the Levant at the time of Pompeii (according to HE Jacob in Six Thousand Years of Bread). I was only being a bit jokey about Clavel, sorry it didn't come over as that.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

I just found this post!  

I like your twist and the rope is lovely.  The loaf has a little Vesuvius look too!   Very beautiful!

Mini O

RoundhayBaker's picture

...Maybe I should work on an ash coating.

David Esq.'s picture
David Esq.

I loved the write up and the photos. Even thought the crumb looked great.  What is the diameter of the banneton you used for that beast?

I for one think that twine makes a wonderful tool for keeping the loaves out of the mud and away from the dogs, However, in my house we don't have either, so it isn't something I plan to experiment with. :)


RoundhayBaker's picture

...25cm (10").

Thanks for the kind comments. Regarding the cord, I keep coming back to what I discovered making the loaf as the most sensible explanation. The cord holds the loaf's shape when you cut it as deep as the Pompeiian bakers did. Without it, it would be a lot more disc-like.

ejm's picture

This is brilliant!!

Like janra, I'm curious about the result if using buckwheat. But. Am I curious enough to try it myself...?



RoundhayBaker's picture

...buckwheat flour. I replaced 50% of the spelt with it, making it about 40% buckwheat in the formula. It was enough to significantly affect the oven spring and produced quite a disappointing loaf relative to the beauty this recipe delivers with the other flours. However, it still tasted very good. If I used buckwheat again, I would reduce it in the formula to about 20%, enough to get a good flavour and low enough to get a good rise. A 100% buckwheat loaf would produce a giant discus.

I also tried a 40% dark rye with a long - 15 hour - cold retard. It was pretty good, but still flatter than I like.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

with this video using traditional shaping for holy bread.  The link and videos are also listed under: Jesus Bread  (TFL archives)  It is the second of two videos.

Interesting is that two discs are cut out, the lower one is wetted and the second stamped disc is stacked onto the lower disk and pressed together.  Although this stacking is done today, often religious practises are very conservative and change slowly or very little over such a time span.  Perhaps with the Pompeii bread, the spoke like dividing lines were made using a wheel like stamp (much faster than one thin stick or blade) pressing once, or twice (turning slightly, maybe less sticking) and was the first stamp to press two bread discs together and thus mark breaking lines for portions.   A second stamp for identification could be employed before or after the first stamping.  


mutantspace's picture

fantastic post - its wonderful getting a salutary history lesson in breadmaking and I for one love that i am part of an ongoing process that goes back over 6,000 years. I will definitely be making this thanks so much for the time given in putting the post togethery

porkchop23's picture

In terms of what kind of grain was probably used in Pompeii and what the baking process was like including the leavening I suggest browsing this thesis

I took some screenshots of relevant passages

"The dietary staple of the Roman world was grain or, more specifically, wheat and barley."


It is said the the land was in crop all year round being sown with Italian millet, emmer wheat, and spelt.

Various locally produced bread grains include rye, millet, and barley

However, wheat was the preferred grain because it produced aerated bread and had good quality of gluten. The three principal varieties were einkorn wheat, emmer wheat, and spelt. The favorite bread-making wheat was Triticum vulgare, a naked variety of wheat, and ancestor of modern wheat

As for the process the flour could be combined with eggs, milk, or butter mostly when dealing with pastry making. There were a variety of options of leavening agents:millet and wine, dried bran steeped in white wine, water and barley, and flour and bitter vetch. more info at the source


Thought it might be more helpful to provide some information for anyone who wants to really reach for authenticity. The whole article/thesis provides even more information into the process, preferred methods, and preferred ingredients so I would check that out if you're interested. Also if you are really interested there is a book titled 
"Bakeries, bakers, and bread at Pompeiiby Betty Jo B. Mayeske which isn't at a library near me. 


RoundhayBaker's picture

Fascinating information, perhaps also reflecting how limited our knowledge is of actual recipes rather than ingredients. Maybe, as in the present day with many artifacts, bread was so ubiquitous it was not deemed worthy of recording how it was made. However, since bread-making was almost unchanged until the 20th Century, we're probably on relatively safe grounds recreating the method.

As an aside, it's also worth mentioning that the majority of Rome's bread flour subsidy given to all citizens--the dole--was imported from Egypt. Any delay to the grain fleet triggered food riots.