Cooks are always looking for a new or different way to serve food. They may use all sorts of cooking techniques and lovely serving platters for just the right touch. However, one very old tradition has become new again: the bread bowl.
As far back as ancient Greece and Rome, peasants, especially, have used bread as platters, plates and bowls. Englishmen in the Middle Ages called these hard crusts trenchers, and they are regaining their popularity. In the Middle Ages, the trenchers were used only as serving pieces they were usually not eaten. The bread was often what was left over from the baking a week before. The dogs generally ate the trenchers after they had been used.
Nowadays, the humble trencher has been elevated in status. It has evolved into the bread bowl, and is used for soups, dips, fondue, and most anything else that can be put in a bowl. Bread bowls give a gourmet look to a dish, and many cooks are intimidated by the thought of making one. However, they are simple to make, if the cook will remember a couple of steps, and pay close attention to what he is doing.
Is the cook making a dip or a soup? A large bowl or individual servings? The answer to these questions will determine what size bread round he needs to buy. Most bakeries carry a variety of round breads, and for a large dip, he should buy a bread loaf at least 9 inches across at the bottom and about 6 inches high. For individual servings, he should look for rounds that are about 3-4 inches across and about 4 inches high. Bread rounds can be plain, seeded, white, sourdough or multi-grain, but all should be reasonably fresh.
The second thing a cook needs is a good, sharp knife. A bread knife might be counter-productive, since the blades are usually too long to control the cutting depth very well. A good chef’s knife is ideal, but any sharp knife will be fine. A sharp knife will also make cleaner cuts, and will cut the bread more easily. This is especially important if the bread has a very crusty top.
While cutting the bread, a cook needs a place with good lighting, so she can see clearly, and should have a plate or cutting board large enough for the bread round to fit comfortably.
The cook should place the bread flat on the board and insert the tip of the knife down into the bread, about three-fourths of the way down and about one inch from the edge. The cook should then cut around the perimeter of the bread, keeping that one inch edge, and turning the loaf accordingly, until the knife meets its original starting point. The cook needs to be careful not to cut through the sides or bottom of the bread loaf.
Once that cut has been made, the cook should look under the cut part of the bread, to see exactly how far down the knife has gone. This will determine where to cut out the core of the bread. There should be at least half an inch of bread on the bottom, with a bit more in the middle. The cook should then use the knife tip to slice out the core of the bread. This is something of a judgment call, but the basic idea is to have enough bread and crust on the bottom and sides so the food does not seep out.
Now that the bread core has been taken out, what to do with it? Many cooks will cut the core into cubes to serve with the food item in the bowl. Some will cut the bottom off and will make a cover for the bread bowl when it is filled. It is up to the cook. If the filling is a dip or spread of some kind, then the bread cubes are a good idea.
The bread bowl has been made. How is it served? There are many ways. It is usually placed on a serving platter, with the bread cubes or crackers spread around it. If it is being taken somewhere, the bowl should be placed on a sheet of foil, and the foil should be brought about a third of the way up the sides of the bowl. The bowl and foil can then be placed on a platter and covered. The foil protects against seepage or spills.
A soup or dip looks impressive in a bread bowl and gives the impression that the cook spent a great deal of time on presentation. However, like many cooking techniques, making a bread bowl is a simple job that yields a good wow factor. With patience, care, and a sharp knife, any cook can make a great bread bowl.A soup or dip