In the Hebrew Bible there is ample evidence for the importance of grain-production and bread consumption to the people of ancient Egypt—a picture confirmed from many other sources. There are even clues about what grains were grown; for instance, Exodus 9:31-32 states, “Now the flax and barley were smitten, for the barley was in the ear and the flax was in bud, but the wheat and the emmer were not hurt, for they ripen late.” But more knowledge of how the ancient Egyptians baked their bread might also help understand such questions as what, precisely, happened with Israelites’ dough that necessitated their baking it into matzah. Adeline Bats of the Sorbonne has gone to great lengths to recreate Egyptian breadmaking, as Rossella Tercatin explains:
The question [of how Egyptians baked their bread] puzzled archaeologists for many years, in light of the profusion of cooking-vessel remains and even iconographic evidence that suggested that they baked their dough in conical molds. . . . Organic findings from the relevant archaeological sites indicated two types of grain were cultivated at the time, common barley and emmer wheat.
The researcher carried out several experiments, with different mixtures, temperatures, and humidity levels, with the goal of producing “a perfectly baked bread (with no trace of charring or a semi-baked mushy appearance) that would release itself perfectly from the ceramic without breaking it.” . . . The technique [Bats used involved] covering the inside of the conical bread molds with a layer of fine sandy clay, heating the molds up horizontally and shaping the dough in advance into elongated pieces.
“In my dream, similarly, there were three openwork baskets on my head. In the uppermost basket were all kinds of food for Pharaoh that a baker prepares; and the birds were eating it out of the basket above my head,” Pharaoh’s chief baker tells Joseph in the biblical book of Genesis, as the two find themselves in prison together along with the king of Egypt’s chief cupbearer. Were some of the foods he prepared for Pharaoh baked in a conical mold? This mystery might remain hard to solve.