Thursday, January 7, 2016

Baking Unleavened Manna Bread with Shelley Houser

This is a guest post by my friend Shelley Houser of, in which she tries to bake Manna Bread that Hebrews had during the desert wanderings. This is an abridged version, so go to her web site for more details or email her at


Sometimes, actually trying what is described in a Bible passage helps us understand more about it, than just reading the words.  Today, let's take a closer look at the description of the manna, and how the children of Israel prepared it, and see if we can try to reproduce something like it in modern times.  Of course, since this was bread from YHWH, we are not going to know exactly what it was like, but we can perhaps get a better idea of what it may have been like, by trying to duplicate what is in the verses.

The first description of manna we want to examine is Exodus 16:31:
YLT Ex 16:31 and the house of Israel call its name Manna, and it is as coriander seed, white; and its taste is as a cake with honey.

I couldn't find any white coriander seed, but here is a photo of some yellow coriander seed.  I also have shown how easily it crushes in a mortar and pestle. This is about 1/2 Tablespoon crushed about 10 times with the pestle.  It was not too stressful to crush.

There are a few ways that the manna could be like coriander.  The most  obvious would be in size and shape, but perhaps it was also like it in taste, or ease of crushing.   We also get a hint of how they served it in the description of "wafers", or thin baked crackers, and that it was sweet, like honey. 

Since coriander itself has no gluten, or way to stick together by itself to make wafers, I am going to compare the rest of the manna descriptions to what we can do with wheat.
We get another clue of what manna was like in Numbers 11:7
YLT Num 11:7 And the manna is as coriander seed, and its aspect as the aspect of bdolach;
Here we see another reference to coriander seed, but this time the color is listed as bdellium.

[Aleksandr Sigalov]: Bdeliium or bdolach is not correct translation of the word "habedolach". Most likely here it means quarts, because gold is usually found in quartz deposits. See Genesis 2:12. Here is a picture of how each "seed" or "grain" of Manna looked like:

We next get a clue as to the properties of manna, in Numbers 11:8, and what they did with it to prepare it for eating.
YLT Num 11:8 the people have turned aside and gathered it, and ground it with millstones, or beat it in a mortar, and boiled it in a pan, and made it cakes, and its taste hath been as the taste of the moisture of oil.
So, it seems that the manna itself was more like a seed, and needed some preparation before it was eaten.   This would be opposed to the idea that it was already in a form ready to be eaten.  We can compare that to wheat or barley.  Of course, one can eat raw wheat seeds, but it is generally preferred to process the seeds in some way before we eat them.

Here I am showing hard red wheat, in the same mortar and pestle, and after I have tried to crush it 10 times.  Wow!  It's really tough.  I got a new appreciation of what the children of Israel had to do every day before they could eat their bread.  This also gave me the idea that perhaps they were comparing the ease of crushing with coriander seeds.  Let's hope so!  I gave up on hand crushing this, and pulled out my grain mill.  But how much should we grind?  We find out in Exodus 16:15-18

YLT Ex 16:15 And the sons of Israel see, and say one unto another,  'What is it?'  for they have not known what it is; and Moses saith unto them,  'It is the bread which Jehovah hath given to you for food. 
YLT Ex 16:16  'This is the thing which Jehovah hath commanded: Gather of it each according to his eating, an omer for a poll; and the number of your persons, take ye each for those in his tent.' 
YLT Ex 16:17 And the sons of Israel do so, and they gather, he who is gathering much, and he who is gathering little; 
YLT Ex 16:18 and they measure with an omer, and he who is gathering much hath nothing over, and he who is gathering little hath no lack, each according to his eating they have gathered.
From Aleksandr's other posts, we are assuming an omer is about 8 ounces, or 1 US Cup.  

So, I measured out 1 C of hard red wheat and put it in my grinder.  It made 1 1/2 C of flour.

I also have a sample of soft white wheat here for grinding.  This type of modern wheat has less gluten than the hard red wheat, and so is perfectly suitable for unleavened bread, or pastries, where a lighter, softer crumb is desired.  

I measured out 1 Cup of the soft white wheat, and it produced nearly 1.75 C of flour, which is slightly more than the hard red wheat at 1.5 C.

So, we can see that the exact amount of flour may vary from a measured amount of the type of seed. However, if you want to try to test this recipe, then you can use 1.75 C of whole wheat pastry flour.

In this recipe, I added 1/2 teaspoon salt. I mainly did this for taste, but also in Leviticus 2:13, salt is included in the recipe for the unleavened bread that was used as the grain offering part of the sacrifices. 
YLT Lv 2:13 And every offering--thy present--with salt thou dost season, and thou dost not let the salt of the covenant of thy God cease from thy present; with all thine offerings thou dost bring near salt.
Since the description of the final bread made of the manna said it tasted as fresh oil in Numbers 11:8, I am including olive oil in our recipe. It sounds as if they may not have needed to add any oil to the manna "seeds". Many seeds today are oil-bearing, such as sunflower, flax, etc. and would not need to have extra oil added to make a tasty bread. However, since wheat is not one of these seeds, I added an ample amount of oil.
YLT Num 11:8 the people have turned aside and gathered it, and ground it with millstones, or beat it in a mortar, and boiled it in a pan, and made it cakes, and its taste hath been as the taste of the moisture of oil. 
The 1/4 C olive oil is somewhat arbitrary, but based on a rough equivalent to the recipe for unleavened bread given for the grain part of a lamb offering in Exodus 29:40:
YLT Ex 29:40 and a tenth deal of fine flour, mixed with beaten oil, a fourth part of a hin, and a libation, a fourth part of a hin, of wine, is for the one lamb.
From my previous studies of the hin, the best guess is between 2 and 3 Cups.  Therefore, 1/4 of a hin of oil per omer of flour would be about 1/2 C oil.  I knew the kneading and other dough preparation would take up some oil, so I put half of it in the dough, reserving about 1/4 C oil for the rest of the process.

Now, we will mix the oil into the flour, until it is all evenly distributed.  It will now feel like wet sand.

Recalling that in Exodus 16:31, the description of the manna was like "wafers made with honey", I am including 2 Tablespoons of honey in this recipe. Tasting this later, my family all agreed that this made it just slightly sweet, and could probably use at least double the honey, if it can be supported by the structure of the wheat flour. This will need a second recipe development session.

The dough should feel like sticky sand at this point. There is really no gluten development, but it will stick together because of the honey.

Now comes the trickiest part in any bread recipe:  adding just the right amount of water.  If you don't add enough, the bread will not develop enough gluten, and the bread will not hold together well, if at all, and you will end up with a crumbly bread, or just a pile of toasted flour.  If you add too much, then the dough will be too much like a batter, and it will not have structure to hold together, either. 

So, with any recipe, always add less water than what it says to start with, and then you can always add more later.  Alternatively, if you have the luxury of more flour, you can always adjust with more flour, too, if it is too wet.  In this case, since our flour is supposed to be fixed, I added water 1 tablespoon at a time, until I saw the characteristic white patches on the surface of the dough, and small white strands inside the dough that signify there is enough water present to develop the gluten sufficient to make a viable bread.  This might take some practice.  

In fact, I thought I was finished with this recipe at 4 Tablespoons, but later when I tried to knead it, and it just crumbled, I added another Tablespoon of water.  Here are some pictures of the almost-ready dough.   Notice the white patches on the outside of the dough, the small amount of milky-looking water along the edges of the bowl,  and the small white threads on the inside.  Total water added today: 5 Tablespoons.   

I also added the 1/2 Tablespoon of crushed coriander seed from the beginning of the post, to make the finished product taste like coriander.  We tasted it later, and it could easily have 2 or 3 Tablespoons of crushed coriander seed, depending on how strong of the flavor you want.

After trying to knead it, and it just crumbled, I added 1 more Tablespoon of water.

Now for the kneading. Some kneading is necessary, even in unleavened bread.  It just requires much less than yeast bread: on the order of 1-2 minutes of kneading, instead of 7-10 minutes. Put the dough ball on an oiled part of the table. Fold it over, push, and then fold it over again. Repeat until the dough ball is smooth and a bit stretchy, and can be rolled out without tearing. If it gets too sticky while you are kneading, scrape up the dough, and add more oil. You are finished when the dough ball is smooth and a bit stretchy, and will roll out without tearing or sticking too much to the table.  Make sure the table is well oiled before you roll it out.

We are now ready to roll out the dough, and get it ready for the different methods of cooking it. Since Numbers 11:8 mentions a few different ways they prepared it, I will cut the dough into 4 pieces.  We will explore 4 different methods of finishing this bread.

I am not a Hebrew scholar, so I need to rely on others' translations. By comparing several translations, I found at least 5 possible ways this manna could have been prepared. We will look at all of these now. Numbers 11:8

1.  King James Version: And the people went about, and gathered it, and ground it in mills, or beat it in a mortar, and baked it in pans, and made cakes of it: and the taste of it was as the taste of fresh oil. 
2.  New International Version: The people went around gathering it, and then ground it in a hand mill or crushed it in a mortar. They cooked it in a pot or made it into loaves. And it tasted like something made with olive oil. 
3.  Wycliffe Translation: And the people went about, and gathered it, and brake it with a quernstone, either pounded it in a mortar, and seethed it in a pot (and boiled it in a pot); and made thereof little cakes of the (same) savour as of bread made with oil.
We get some more clues about how it was prepared in Exodus 16:31:
4. King James Version, for Exodus 16:31: And the house of Israel called the name thereof Manna: and it was like coriander seed, white; and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey.
And also, in Exodus 16:23:
5. King James Version: And he said unto them, This is that which the Lord hath said, To morrow is the rest of the holy sabbath unto the Lord: bake that which ye will bake to day, and seethe that ye will seethe; and that which remaineth over lay up for you to be kept until the morning. 
6. New International Version: He said to them, “This is what the Lord commanded: ‘Tomorrow is to be a day of sabbath rest, a holy sabbath to the Lord. So bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil. Save whatever is left and keep it until morning.’”

It seems it could have been baked in what we would use as our ovens in at least 3 ways:

1.  In thin wafers (Exodus 16:31)
2.  In loaves (Numbers 11:8)
3.  In little cakes (Numbers 11:8)

It also could have been either cooked or boiled with top heat (like our stove tops today) in two possible ways:

1.  Pan-fried (Numbers 11:8, combining NIV "cooked in pots", and KJV "baked in pans")
2.  Boiled with water (Numbers 11:8, Wycliffe, also Exodus 16:23, in using the words "seethe", and "boil")

We will now take our prepared dough, and try out all of these methods, and see how it performs.  I've divided up the dough into 4 parts.  This would be approximately what each person would eat for 4 meals each day, assuming the omer is 1 C.  I will use one method for each of 3 parts of the baking possibilities, but subdivide the last part into the two stove-top methods, since the pan-fried option seems to be the weakest interpretation.

Part 1:  Breakfast of thin wafers (about 18 1-inch wafers)

Since they had to gather it day by day, there would be no usable leftovers from yesterday.  After gathering the manna and grinding it up, the fastest method would probably be baking it in thin wafers.  I found this out the hard way!  I finished preparing all of the baking methods, and put the pan into the oven while I was working on the boiling and pan frying methods.  Usually, I have about 15 minutes when baking unleavened bread.  After only 5 minutes, I checked on the pan, and the wafers were pretty well burned!  Sigh!  The added honey in this makes it cook and brown very much faster than bread baking without it, which I had forgotten.  

Preparing thin wafers is extremely easy:  Take the rolled dough, and cut it into small squares.  Place on greased cookie sheet and bake 2-3 minutes in 350 degree oven. 

Part 2:  Lunch of 1 loaf

I had been working on depicting the showbread for our illustrated guide of Exodus (, and showed the tradtional American-style of loaves.  My brother thought there was a more authentic Mid-Eastern loaf style that he told me about. I don't know which is the more authentic, but I tried out his way for this post. You can shape it however you wish. For this style shown here, take the rolled out dough, and fold it in half, and then in half again. Then take the rolling pin and squash the folded loaf, and roll it out again. Then, fold the dough in half, and in half or thirds again, depending on how big of a loaf you have. The finished loaf looks somewhat like a folded cinnamon roll, only without the cinnamon. Bake in 350 oven for 4-5 minutes

Part 3: Mid-afternoon Snack:   Little cakes (4)

This method is like making little cookies out of the dough.  These were my personal favorite, of all the methods we will make.  Take the dough, cut into 4 pieces, and roll into little balls, like Mexican wedding cookies.  You may flatten the tops a bit with your fingers, if you wish.  Bake in 350 oven for 3-4 minutes.

Now to finish up our cooking methods, by showing the two possible ways of cooking them on the stove top.

Part 4:  Supper of boiled noodles (about 10 medium noodles)

These were a bit strange for me, because they are a bit sweet, and I am not used to sweet noodles. Take the rolled dough and cut into strips. Place in boiling, salted water for about 1 minute, or until they begin to float. Turn down heat, and simmer another 5 minutes or so, until the noodles are firm enough to stay together. This is like making fresh pasta, if you've ever done that before. Either drain the water off, or scoop out the noodles with a slotted spoon. You may rinse the noodles in cool water, if desired. Serve on plate. (show picture 1,2,3, 4, 5)

Part 5: Bedtime snack:  Pan-fried crackers. (4 crackers)

These taste really good, and were the preferred method for my husband and two boys.  Take the dough and cut into medium rectangles.  Heat about 1-2 Tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet, and place the dough in the pan.  Brown 1-2 minutes on each side.  Be observant that they do not burn.  The added honey in the dough made them brown around the edges faster than they cooked in the middle. You may need to turn the heat down to medium-low, so they cook well before they burn. Drain on paper towels. Best if eaten while still warm, but still very good after they are cooled.

Final Recipe and Nutritional Analysis:

Here is a picture of the baking pan after it had been in the oven about 5 minutes. I was pretty horrified that the wafers were already burned.  However, they still had a decent flavor, and we ate them anyway.  This begs the question, what did the Israelites do if they burned their food? 

Here is a picture of what the 1 cup of wheat berries would produce for a day's ration.

In summary, here is the final recipe for Unleavened Simulated Manna (With one omer = 1 US Cup of soft-white wheat berries)

1.75 C (1 3/4) Cups of whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 C olive oil (with another approx. 1/4 C for kneading)
2 Tablespoons honey
1/2 Tablespoon (or to taste) crushed coriander seeds
4-5 Tablespoons water (to dough consistency)

Mix flour, salt, and coriander in small bowl. Add olive oil and mix to coat the flour. Add the honey and mix thoroughly. Add the water by tablespoons until it is a medium soft dough consistency. Knead on oiled surface 1-2 minutes, or until the dough ball can be rolled out into a 1/4-inch thin rectangle or square.  

Thin wafers:  Cut into 1-inch squares.  Bake at 350 for 2-3 minutes.  Check often.

Loaf: Fold in fourths and roll out again. Fold in half and either half or thirds again. Bake at 350 for 4-5 minutes, or until browned on top and bottom.

Cookies: Roll into 1-inch balls. Bake at 350 for 4-5 minutes, or until browned on top and bottom.

Noodles: Cut into desired width and length strips. Boil in salted water for 5-6 minutes, or until desired tenderness. Drain and rinse, if desired.

Pan fried crackers: Cut dough into 1 x 2 inch rectangles. Heat oil in skillet, and brown on each side 1-2 minutes. Drain on paper towels.

A nutritional analysis of this recipe, gives 1803 Kcal, according to Nutrition facts, calories in food, labels, nutritional information and analysis –,  which is sufficient for many people, but a bit on the low side of a 2000 Kcal /day diet.

This could be bumped up to the 2000 Kcal/day diet by adding more honey, or more oil.
I will post a method for making yeast-bread version of this recipe later.  It is exceptionally yummy, and you will want to try this!

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