A practical medieval-style bread recipe
- 4 cups of stoneground wholemeal flour
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1/2 to 1 cup warm water
- 2 teaspoons dry yeast
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Dissolve the sugar in the warm water
- Add the yeast to the sugar water mixture.
- Let it stand for 15 minutes.
Cook's Note: When the yeast starts to "work' with the sugar water, a brown froth appears on the surface of the liquid.
- Mix flour, salt and the prepared yeast mixture together to make a dough.
- Knead enthusiastically until the dough can be pulled away from the side of the bowl, or until it becomes elastic-like.
- Add more water (a little at a time) or dust with flour as required to get the texture right.
Cook's Note: Within limits, the more you knead the dough, the lighter the bread will be. We just kneaded until we were tired and really 'needed' a cup of tea!
- Put the dough into a large loaf tin or mould gently into flattened balls and put onto a baking tray.
- Leave the dough in a warm place to prove (until it doubles in size). This can take around 1-2 hours depending on temperature.
- Bake in a moderate (350 or 375 degrees) oven for approximately 45 to 55 minutes.
Cook's Note: This recipe makes excellent rolls and loaves for "same day' use. It produces a coarse texture and a fairly hard crust and fills a hungry stomach fast.
Medieval bread was very similar to the loaf we know today. According to historic sources, the taste was comparable to modern wholemeal bread made from stone-ground flour.
Unfortunately very few original bread recipes have survived the passing of time. It can be presumed that as bread was such a staple part of the medieval diet, it was not considered necessary to include it in recipe books designed to show off the quality of a host's kitchen (see History of recipes out.)
Contemporaneous accounts reveal a number of apparently 'different' breads. These include round bread rolls, flat round loaves and "trencher bread'. The word trencher comes from the French verb trenchier or trancher' which means "to cut".
A bread trencher is often described as a thick slice of dry stale wholemeal bread (typically four days old) used as a kind of "disposable' dish. However, it is known that wooden platters have been in common use since the Dark Ages. And it is hard to believe that any subsistence level peasant would allow bread to go stale just to provide throw-away plates.
It likely that trencher bread was only served at feasts where a person of substance was paying the bill. For the wealthier host, bread trenchers were relatively cheap and had the bonus for of being easy to prepare and use. Meat with sauce was served directly onto the bread platter, which had a shallow hollow or "trench' cut into the bread to retain any gravy or juices.
Medieval meat was served in bite-sized chunks. The cut worked well on the platters and was easily eaten with the fingers or stabbed with a thin bladed knife. Slices would have been much harder to handle.
A number of fresh trenchers were used during an elaborate meal. The table was swept clean between each course and the servants removed 'all broke cromys, bonys and trenchours before the secunde cours and servise be served.'
According to some sources, a trencher was typically 'half a foot wide and four fingers tall.' An ordinary diner made their own trencher by cutting off a very thick slice from the nearest loaf, but important guests expected to be offered a pre-cut trencher.
To prepare a trencher for someone else was considered to be a medieval courtesy. A person sufficiently distinguished to receive several trenchers would have them presented on the blade of a servant's knife. They were then carefully arranged; sometimes side-by-side, in a square or in a small pile on the table. One might be set aside to act as a personal saltcellar. When cheese and small delicacies were served at the end of a meal it was customary to provide the guest with a final clean trencher.
'Whanne chese ys brouhte, A trenchoure ha (have) ye clene On whiche withe clene knyf ye your chese mowe kerve.'
Excerpt from F. J. Furnivall's "Babee's Book
The square-cut trenchers of wholemeal bread were gradually phased out in the Sixteenth Century. A square wooden bowl, with a circular hollow of about 6" in diameter, almost universally replaced the hollow cut bread. In one corner of the square bowl there was often a second smaller depression, which may have held the diner's personal supply of salt or a candle.
Mid Left: Adding the yeast mixtureTop: The finshed loaf coolingBelow: Dough in the tin before and after it has been left to rise