So I’ve decided to give medieval bread a shot.  Everyone knew it was coming eventually, it’s the natural progression from my other baking projects.

I want to work on this in steps though.  This post will be about the theories behind the bread, and then I will have future posts about different aspects of it.

Now, if you’re wondering if this counts towards my A&S 50, the answer is: “Kinda”.  In order for a project to count I need to create something.  For years I’ve done research but never done anything with it.  Part of why I wanted to do A&S 50 was so that I would start actually producing something from my research.  As such, my bread experiments will only count when I actually make the bread, rather than just researching it.

Now, on to Bread.

Bread is interesting because in the English cookery books there are very few recipes for bread.  It’s assumed that there is no reason for one, everyone knows how to make bread.  I figured that was that, until I found Master Wulfric of Creigull’s website.  He lists a number of recipes, and they all come down to a few things: Flour, Salt, Water, Levin.  The leaven is what changed, some used kneading tables which would allow active yeast to live on them, so the yeast will come into the dough from the table, some used a sort of sourdough starter, some used ale or beer barm.  I will eventually work on different types of leaven, but for my first ones I want to make an easy to produce medieval style bread.  Because of this I’m going to wuss out and go with active dry yeast.  Yes, I know, bad Tomas.  But I want to try it this way to figure out if I have correct proportions before trying different leavening techniques.

I will be basing this bread on a 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.”

I came across one recipe (I can’t for the life of me remember where it was) that broke it down like this:

4 cups white flour
1 packet active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water
1/2 teaspoon salt

Instead of following that recipe I want to build my own.  So, first I needed to know how much bread the original recipe would make.

I’m currently waiting for a copy of “English Bread and Yeast Cookery” by Elizabeth David to get to my library, but until it does I’m going to take a quote from that book which is on Master Wulfric’s website regarding the quantities:

A bushel weighs 56 to 60 lbs.  A pint is 20 fluid ozs.  A gallon is 160 fluid ozs

In addition, 1lb of flour is about four cups.

So, that works out to:

  • 116cups Flour (29 lb)
  • 20 cups Water (10 lb)
  • 2.5 cups Barm
  • 1/2 cupish Salt

Down converted to an amount that makes sense that would be:

  • 4 cups flour (1/2 c whole wheat 3.5 c white (this is similar to the ratio I use in coffins to achieve a slightly less ground appearance)
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1 1/3 tbsp yeast barm
  • 1 tsp salt

If that looks weird, it is.  This would give me a bread with a hydration level (comes from the ratio of water to flour) 34%.  Bagels are a low hydration bread and they are 50%.

The higher the hydration the more holes in the crumb.  But the recipe calls for adding more water as you work the dough.  Perhaps the hydration level is up to the baker.  I can’t imagine more than doubling the water though.  That would have a hydration level of 68%  That’s as much as a Chibata bread, which would have a lot of holes.  But a higher hydration level also increases the thickness of the crust, and I want a nice thick crust, but too many holes wouldn’t work, since medieval bread when it went stale had to double as a trencher.  That means that I want no more that 60% hydration.  So working out the different hydration levels I get this chart:

recipe required
double water
51% 60%
Flour 29 lb 29 lb 29 lb 29 lb
Water 10 lb 20 lb 15 lb 17.5 lb
Cracker Chibata bread Bagel Baguette

So, that gives me the amount of water I need on the big recipe if I want a 60% hydration, which converts to 35 cups water.  And on the scaled recipe it means we need 1 1/5 cups water.

I’m going to make some assumptions now.  I want to make this with commercial dry yeast.  So, I’m going to make a proof.  I’ll use one not quite tbsp of active dry yeast, I’m going to slightly increase the water to 1 1/4 cups to make up for the decreased liquid from no barm.  I’ll add about 1/8 cup flour to the water and yeast (before adding the salt to the rest of the flour) to give the yeast something to eat.

Now the recipe is:

  • 4 cups flour (1/2 c ww, 3 1/2 c wh)
  • 1 1/4 cups warm water
  • 1 tbsp yeast
  • 1 tsp salt

Amusingly this is slightly less water and twice as much salt as the other redaction of this recipe.  So I guess they probably did something very similar to work theirs out.

If the bread is too holey then I will re-do this with less water and less yeast.  If it’s too hard I will increase water.  Looking at the recipe, since I’ll be using kosher salt, I’m afraid that the amount of salt won’t be enough to slow down the yeast.  I will probably allow the teaspoon to heap a little.

And of course my baking steps:

  • Take 1 1/4 cups warm water and put it in a small bowl, add 1 tbsp yeast, and slowly add 1/ 8 cup flour, stirring.
  • In a larger bowl sift together 3 3/8 cup white flour, 1/2 cup whole wheat flour, and 1 tsp kosher salt.
  • Once the yeast mixture starts bubbling add it to the middle of the flour and mix it together.
  • Kneed 8-10 minutes
  • Put back in bowl and cover
  • Let it rise until doubled
  • Punch down, form into loaves, let rest for 20-30 min
  • Pre heat oven to 450 with baking stone and broiling tray in
  • Slide loaves onto baking stone
  • Pour 1 cup water into broiling tray
  • Bake for 30 min or until crust is browned and firm

Ok, now with that done I need to try this.  I won’t have time this weekend to make the bread, but I may be able to make it in the next two weeks.  When I do it will count as one more A&S 50 project, and I will post my suggestions and changes for the recipe and how it turned out.

If this works I’ll try it with a sourdough starter at some point, and hopefully with ale barm.

Categories: A&S

1 Comment

A Reassesment of Medieval Bread | Tomas de Courcy · January 11, 2011 at 3:22 pm

[…] 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 […]

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