A Reassesment of Medieval Bread

A Reassesment of Medieval Bread

1588 cookery book, The Good Huswife’s Handmaide for the Kitchen:

Fine Manchet. “Take halfe a bushell of fine flower twise boulted, and a gallon of faire luke warm water, almost a handful of white salt, and almost a pinte of yest, then temper all these together, without any more liquor, as hard as ye can handle it: then let it lie halfe an hower, then take it up, and make your Manchetts, and let them stande almost an hower in the oven. Memorandum, that of every bushell of meale may be made five and twentie caste of bread, and every loafe to way a pounde besyde the chesill.

This is the origin of my medieval inspired bread.  With the Mead Barm bread I did last time I think I”m ready to return to my recipe and see if I can make it better based off the original.  Something to remember: unlike most things yeast cannot simply be added or reduced in scale.  It takes a certain amount of yeast to get a leaven and if it’s too small, regardless of what the percentage is then you’re SOL.

If you want to take a look at the previous versions check Medieval Style Bread part 1 2 3 4.  All of them are more inspired by medieval as they don’t use barm.

So we have:

  • 1/2 bushel fine flour (closest to white they would have had)
  • 1 gallon luke warm water
  • 1 handful salt
  • 1 pint ale barm
  1. Mix all ingredients together
  2. Let stand 1/2 hour
  3. Form Loaves
  4. Bake for 1 hour
  5. Each loaf should weigh 1lb

Going back to the previous conversions that gives us:

  • A 1/2 Bushel of white soft flour is 28 lb flour which is about 100 cups of flour
  • 1 Gallon (imperial) of water is 19.2 cups
  • Just over 1/2 cup salt
  • 2.5 cups barm

Looks like my previous one was 16 cups flour over what the new one is.  Probably because of poor conversions last time.  We’ll round the water up to 20 cups for ease of modifying.

  • 100 cups flour
  • 20 cups water
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 2.5 cups barm

I’ll percentage it for ease of adjustment.

  • Flour 100%
  • Water 20%
  • Salt 0.5%
  • Barm 2.5% *Variable, barm will need to be higher in smaller batches*

Lets compare that to a modern recipe:

  • Flour 100%
  • Water 66%
  • Salt 2%
  • Yeast 1.2%

The medieval bread is very low in salt and water until I check to see if bushel size had ever changed.  And it did.  One bushel at the time the recipe was written was actually 8 gallons which works out to 76.8 cups not 100.  So, the new recipe is:

  • 77 cups flour
  • 20 cups water
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 2.5 cups barm

Now, converting to weight just to be sure:

  • 19.25 lb flour (100%)
  • 10 lb  water (52%)
  • 0.25 lb salt (1.3%)
  • 2 lb barm (10%)

Ok, looks like I’ve found my problem here.  I both had too much flour and I was converting wrong.  There is still not much water, but as the barm is liquid we’re talking just under 62% hydration, so about the hydration of a baguette.  The salt is a little lower than modern recipes, but I”m assuming that they will be using sea salt so the saltiness will be better.

Now I need to down convert and adapt.

  • 1 lb flour (4 cups)
  • 0.52 lb water (1 1/3 cup)
  • 0.013 lb salt (1 tsp)
  • 0.1 lb barm (1/4 cup *aprox*)

Well, it’s very similar to my previous versions, the big change is the amount of barm to be used.  1/4 cup.  When I do this with modern yeast my plan is to use 1/4 cup water with 2 tsp yeast in it.

I feel a bit better about the recipe now that I’ve gone over it again.  I’m going to use Wulfric of Creigull‘s preparation method:

  1. Combine flour water and leaven
  2. Let rise for twelve to eighteen hours
  3. Sprinkle salt over and knead lightly
  4. Let rise an hour or two, until doubled
  5. Punch down dough and knead until springy
  6. Shape two loaves and rise for one hour
  7. Bake at 400 degrees for 40 minutes.

If this works I’ll try out the recipe suggested one:

  1. Mix all ingredients together
  2. Let stand 1/2 hour
  3. Form Loaves
  4. Bake for 1 hour
  5. Each loaf should weigh 1lb

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