July 9 English French Bread Seminar/Workshop with William Rubel

English French bread was almost invariably rasped. Even into the 20th century.

This page provides the recipe and mise en place information for participants in my Thursday Seminar/Workshop #9 on English French Bread. If you are registered for the Seminar I suggest you also register at my Facebook group: Bread History and Practice. That is where participants post images of their breads and we continue the discussion started in the Seminar.

Please have this set of ingredients weighed out when the Seminar stars at 9am Pacific Time, July 9, 2020

The lightly enriched yeasted bread favored by the French elites defined what people outside of France thought of when one said, “French bread.” The bread that we will be making on July 9 was the type of bread people thought of as “French bread” in the 17th century through at least the first half of the 19th century. It was always made with the best white flour, was always yeasted, and was always enriched with milk, at least, but often also with some butter and eggs. French bread was never as enriched as a brioche, but was never just flour, water, leavening, and salt. The dough for “French bread” was the same as that used in “French rolls.”

The, to us, curious aspect of English French bread and rolls is that it was always (or at least almost always) rasped or chipped before serving. It was thus baked in a hot oven so that a crisp crust is formed. This is in complete contrast with the manchet which was cooked in a slow oven and came out with a pale crust. Chipping or rasping bread is its own story, and it deserves a separate talk, but I would be remiss not to suggest that you have a rasp handy for this bread, or, lacking a rasp, a knife you can use to chip off the crust. While most recipes specify rasping, (as it happens the one we are using does not), there were critics of the rasp on the grounds that it made the final bread or roll too smooth. These critics preferred chipping with the knife, so, if you don’t have a rasp, don’t worry, this puts you in the camp of E. Smith, the first successful female cookbook author who first published in the 1740s.

Here is the text of the original recipe.

English French Bread – 1708

“Take one quart of Flour, three eggs, a little Barm, and a little Butter; mix them with the Flour very light with a little new Milk warmed; then lay it by the Fire to rise; then make it into little Loaves; flour it very well, and bake it in a quick Oven.” Henry Howard, England’s Newest way in all sorts of Cookery (1708)

Note on this redaction. For most of the ingredients Howard is big on the term “little.” He calls for a “little” barm, milk, and butter. This said, Howard is precise where we need him to be — the flour and the eggs — and leaves the rest up to his period readers with whom he had a shared understanding that this bread was made with a relatively soft dough — at least compared to the manchet. My redaction is for a 73% hydration. That puts into the low end of what we use today in our modern, unenriched “French bread.”

Salt: This recipe does not mention salt. As a rule, I don’t like assuming errors in recipes whenever one finds something one doesn’t expect. In this case, I am pretty certain that most, if not all other French bread recipes include salt. About fifteen years ago I encountered a bread that is pretty much identical to this one in Mexico that was made without salt — the man who gave me the recipe emphasized “sin sal.” I often make this recipe without salt, as written, and enjoy it as toast, with cheese, and with soup, which is how it was often used. If you do want to add salt, then add up 2% salt – my advice is around 7-8g salt, but you can go up to 10g.

Hydration: I have interpreted the recipe to end up with a hydration of around 73%. This seems to be where the dough stops being stiff and becomes soft. Period diners would have recognized the crumb as different from manchet, which was made with a much stiffer dough. As always, adjust the water as needed because your flour and my flour may absorb different amounts of water. I live in a relatively humid climate, and you may not.

Baker’s Math 

100% unbleached all-purpose flour

41% egg (preferably from backyard chickens)

7% unsalted soft butter broken into small pieces

18% warm milk, preferably raw

14% warm water

1.5% dried yeast

Salt to taste, 1% to 2% (not in original recipe, but salt is in other French bread recipes)

Weights for 1 quart white flour

500 g unbleached all-purpose flour

3 eggs, preferably from backyard chickens

35 g unsalted butter broken into small pieces 

90 g warm milk, preferably raw

*70g warm water

*7g dried yeast

5g – 10g salt (not in original recipe, but salt is in other French bread recipes.)

*Note: If you have access to barm, then use 70g barm rather than 70g water plus dried yeast.


2 bowls

Electric mixers or whisk

1 baking tin, buttered (optional) 


1. Put flour in a bowl. If using dried yeast, add it to the flour. 

2. Beat the eggs in a separate bowl. 

3. If using dried yeast, warm the combined milk and water. If using barm, then only warm the milk. 

4. Whisk up the soft pieces of butter in the warmed liquid until the butter is broken up into very small pieces. Then add to the egg mixture and whisk for a few strokes. If using barm, then add it here. 

5. Pour the liquid ingredients into the flour. Mix until mostly incorporated. Period bakers would have used their hands. Complete the mixing by turning out onto a work surface, and gently kneading a few times until flour is fully combined. 

6. Cover, and set aside in a warm place, (38C (100F). This will  replicate warming by the fire. When doubled, turn onto a floured board, and gently de-gas. Continuing to handle the dough gently and, dusting with flour as necessary, form into between 4 and 7 rolls or optionally as a loaf. If using a loaf pan, then butter it. While period recipes did not specify proofing periods for formed loaves, my advice for this recipe is to be sure you let the dough rise until nearly double before baking.  

7. If making the roll form, then bake  in a wood-fired bread oven before the main loaves go in, otherwise bake after the oven has cooled some. In a kitchen oven preheated to 190C (375F). Bake for ten minutes and then lower the oven to 180C (350C). Note that baking times are influenced by the shape of the loaf tin and the size of the rolls. Loaves will bake in approximately 40 to 50 minutes. I have not tested rolls. I’d estimate 10 to 15 minutes.

Recipe for bread by Louis Liger, 1711

This is the recipe and mise en place for the my Zoom bread history seminar/workshop for Thursday, June 25, 2020, 9am Pacific Time.

Please have the ingredients weighed out for the start of the seminar.

The Ingredients for the First Build

This is the Mise en Place for the Final Build. I have increased the water to 185g for this build, which is an 80% hydration from the 135g or 70% hydration in this photograph.

Another Manner for Very Delicate Bread, by Louis Liger

Le Ménage des Champs et Jardinier Francois, 1711 (pp. 16-17)

Sometimes, when you are in the countryside, people come to stay; people that it will give you pleasure to offer an extraordinary bread, and for that;

You must take a boisseau* of the best and finest wheat flour you have; use the sieve you prefer, combine water and starter to a quarter of it to make a levain*, and add two full handfuls of new beer yeast, if you have it, a handful* of salt dissolved in hot water*, and three chopines* of milk*.

One hour later, add the rest of the flour, mix and lightly knead [adding water as required] to form a very soft dough, [let rise to double in bulk and then] turn the bread [onto a work surface], and [form into small loaves] to proof in little wooden bolws, jattes*, [when sufficiently proofed, turn onto your peel or baking sheet and place] into a moderate oven;  in one hour, when it is perfectly baked, remove from the oven and let cool on their sides.

There is yet another sort of roll (petit pain) that is very good to eat, which should be kneaded as the previous one, except that one should throw in a little fresh butter into it, which must be good.

*make a levain “en detremper le quart pour en faire le levain” is the instruction prior to specifying fresh beer yeast, if you have it. While this does not specifically say to “add a starter” the construction is similar to other recipes in the volume, such as the one for Pan Bourgeois, “on en prend une sixiémr partie qu’on met en levain”.

*Boisseau, 20 pounds wheat, thus ⅓ of a bushel. Period white flour weighed 1 pound per quart, 32 pounds per bushel, and thus ⅓ bushel is 10.6 pounds. This recipe is before the metric system.)

*handful of salt. French grey salt is appropriate here. A handful, a measure we have looked at in previous recipes, is ambiguous. This said, a full handful in my hand is 48g which comes to 1% salt. An experienced period baker would have known what salt level was being aimed at. A woman with a small hand might compensate with two handfuls while a big man might go for less than a complete handful. I am using 1% s a reasonable amount for this recipe. This is subjective on my part, as outside the ambiguous “poignée de sel fondu en eau chaude” there is no other guidance as period recipes never provide precise quantities of salt. I think that “salt to taste” is a good guide, with 1% being the starting point. As all of the salt is being added to ¼ of the flour for the first build, I am thinking that salt on scale of 1% may be the maximum practical — but would like to hear from more experienced bakers on this point. 

*Hot water. The French grey salt is very hard to dissolve, hence the call for hot water.

*Chopine. So close to a Winchester pint, now customary American pint, that that is measure to use. 1 pint (Chopin) of milk weighs 1 pound. 

*milk. Raw milk is ideal, but this is a very minor detail. It has more fat than commercial milk, more of a taste, and more bacteria. 

*Jatte is a shallow, rimless, flared mould; it could also be translated as boat-shaped.


Bake in a moderate oven, roughly 175C (350F)

Total ingredients in baker’s math.

100% white flour. Early Modern white flour that would have used for this recipe weighed approximately 450g per liter, 1 pound per quart.  Any white flour will work. 

42%- 52% warm water

28% milk, ideally raw

1% yeast (modern functional equivalent to the ale yeast called for in the recipe)

1% salt, ideally French grey salt

12.5% starter

Bakers Math broken down

Ingredients for First Build. The percentages are all in relation to the total flour.

25% flour

1% yeast

1% salt, ideally French grey salt

12.5% starter

15% hot water to dissolve French grey sea salt

28% milk, warmed

Final Build

To the first build above add.

75% flour

27% – 37% warm water


First Build

125g flour

5g yeast

5g salt, ideally French grey salt

63g starter

19g hot water to dissolve French grey sea salt

140g milk, warmed

Final Build

To the first build above add.

375g flour

135g – 185g warm water


Please weigh out the ingredients for the first and second build and have them ready when the Seminar/Workshop begins.

First build.

Mix all of the First Build ingredients in a large bowl to form a batter. Let sit in a warm place, covered, for 1 hour. This first build will become very active. 

Final build.

Add all of the Final Build ingredients to the First Build. The water quantity was not specified in the original recipe, only that the dough should be “bien molle” which means “very soft.” Softness, of course, is in the eye of the beholder. I give the water quantity for a 70%-80%  hydration. I don’t know what the quantity of water might have actually been, as the flour used was a low gluten French flour, (no flour imports from North America to France in 1711), but what is important is concept of a dough that is “bien molle,” very soft. 

This dough is mixed and lightly kneaded. It is not heavily worked as a somewhat cake-like bread is what was intended. The original recipe does not mention a bulk rising stage, but bulk rising has always been a standard feature of bread making, so after mixing and lightly kneading, cover and let rise to at least double in bulk. Then, turn onto a work surface and form into between 2 and 4 rolls, at your discretion. If you don’t have small wooden bowls or baskets the right size for this project, then dust a cloth with flour and let the formed rolls proof in the folds of the towel. There are many YouTube videos showing this standard French bread-making technique — particularly videos on baguettes if you have not done this before. 

After the proofing breads have increased by about 50% put them into the pre-heated 175C oven for one hour, or until done. Set on their sides to cool, and enjoy with your sheltering-in-place household. 

Mise en Place for Flatbread Seminar/Workshop #6

This week I am introducing flatbreads through an introduction to the history of bread. This is just an introduction to flatbreads. I am planning further sessions just on flatbreads led by people who are more expert than I am. It looks like we will be able to organize a session on flatbreads from the Indian subcontinent organized by colleagues in India, and a session flatbreads from Turkey and Iran organized from Turkey.

On Thursday, 9 am Pacific Time, November 11, 2020, we will be working with unleavened flatbreads. In terms of flour, you can use any kind of flour you have on hand, though I think most of us will be working with wheat flour. It can be white, whole grain, or anything in between. The type of flatbreads we will be making do not usually have salt. And being unleavened, no yeast or starter.

Flour: 500g any type and any level of refinement. Wheat is easiest to work with. Barley is also a flour that flatbreads, or think dense loaves, were often made with.

Water: Room temperature water

Bakers math

100% flour

65% water

Ingredients by weight

500g flour

325g water

Also, please have lots of extra flour to flour work surfaces, and some water in reserve in case you need more. After mixing and a light kneading in the workshop, we will assign cooking methods based on what various people in the group have. Hopefully, this will not devolve into total chaos!

Please gather rolling pins. For the Saj, the bread baked on the convex side of a pan, like a wok, a dowel around 1.5cm in diameter is best. This is also ideal for the Turkish Yufka.
The bottom of a wok, ideally one that is uniformly curved is best — but gather what you have. If you don’t have a wok then don’t worry, we have plenty of breads to work on.
Pillow for Saj breads. You need a pillow that you can use to stretch dough that is baked on the sasj. The pillow is also used to transfer the dough to the hot surface. Patterns are helpful to have on the fabric so you tell when your dough is translucent. Sounds hard to do. Is actually very easy.
Any kind of a frying pan. The thicker the metal the better.
I acquired this terra cotta griddle in Northern India. It is intended for the first step in baking chapati, which is setting the dough on a griddle before then placing on embers or over the gas burner in an urban kitchen.
A gas burner for completing the cooking of unleavened pita and chapati. This is where the dough, once set on a griddle, will puff up into a ball. A barbecue with a bed of hardwood charcoal or the embers in your fireplace is even more ideal. This is the urban work-around for live embers.


Use an oven for the thicker barley breads.
You can make all griddle breads, like chapati and pita on an induction burner. You may have trouble getting the breads to puff up into a ball.

The Miller’s Thumb

Drawing of a wheat seed.
This is a drawing I made to illustrate grain in terms of structures millers pay attention to.

Stone milling is the art of grinding grain into a meal, and then through sifting and re-grinding (and re-sifting), refining the product into the quality flour one wants for the finished product. While sifting determines the final quality of flour, the ratios of what is produced (and thus profit) depends heavily on the precision with which the miller creates the feedstock to be sifted. Millers were constantly feeling the flour that came out of the mill. Millers did this so much they deformed their thumbs — thus there is a fish that is called the Millers Thumb, the European Bullhead (Cottus gobo). Judging by an image of the fish, the miller’s thumb was widened at the fleshy pad — presumably with a thick callous.

The British artist, John Constable’s father was a miller. Following is, apparently, Constable himself, explaining how millers use their thumb. This is from Cassell’s Popular Natural History, Volume II, 1854, p. 103.

The father of the late John Constable, Esq., it.A., was a miller, and our eminent English painter described to Mr. Yarrell this singular form of the human thumb.

“It is well known,” he says, “that all the science and tact of a miller is directed so to regulate the machinery of his mill, that the meal produced shall be of the most valuable description that the operation of grinding will permit, when performed under the most advantageous circumstances. His profit or his loss, even his fortune or his ruin, depend upon the exact adjustment of all the various parts of the machinery in operation. The miller’s ear is constantly directed to the note made by the runningstone in its circular course over the bed-stone, the exact parallelism of their two surfaces, indicated by a particular sound, being a matter of the first consequenoe; and his hand is as constantly placed under the meal-spout, to ascertain by actual contact tho character and qualities of the meal produced.

The thumb, by a particular movement, spreads the sample over the fingers; the thumb is the gauge of the value of the produce, and hence has arisen the sayings of ‘Worth a miller’s tlmnib,’ and ‘An honest miller hath a golden thumb,’ in reference to the amount of the profit that is the reward of his skill. By this incessant action of the miller’s thumb, a peculiarity in its form is produced, which is said to resemble exactly the shape of the head of the fish constantly found in the mill-stream, and is obtained for it the name of the Miller’s Thumb, which occurs in the comedy of ‘Wit at Several Weapons,’ by Beaumont and Fletcher, and also in Merrett’s ‘Pinax.’

A Website with 7,000+ Watercolors of Fruit!


It is blackberry season and I just came across this amazing USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) website containing images in high resolution scans of of 7,300 fruits (mostly apples). Enjoy!

Here is an article, The collection of pomological watercolors at the United States Department of Agriculture, published in 1982 in the Journal of Botanical history by Carnegie-Mellon University. And, also, a recent article in Slate.

Making Pine Bark Bread

In most of Europe, bread made from bark was a famine food. It was more regularly eaten Europe’s far North. The “bark” in bark bread is actually the cambium layer that grows under the bark. Pine was a common tree to use for bark breads. The cambium layer is pealed from the tree, dried, and ground into a flour. If used alone then it makes a cake — an unleavened bread — and if mixed with flour — rye would be a good choice in keeping with the breads of the Northern Europe — it bakes into a loaf bread.

I have never done this. The author of this video suggests tasting the cambium before stripping the tree to be sure it has a good taste. Taste is apparently  variable.

If you have made bark bread, please leave your report in the comment section, below.

Short Paste for a Covered Tart: Simpson’s Cookery, 1816

FB_recipe_Simpson's Cookery_1816

Tart Paste

Commonly called Short Paste.

To one pound of flour, rub in a quarter of a pound of butter; make a whole in the middle; put in a little water, and two yolks and one white of an egg; put the other white of an egg on a plate, to beat up, and put over the tart, when finished; work it up to a proper stiffness, and roll out for use.

N. B. There should be about to table spoonful[s] of sugar in the paste, when for tarts, or any other think sweet. This is the proper kind of paste for meat puddings, only leave out the sugar.

From, A Complete System of Cookery, on a plan entirely new. By John Simpson. 1816 edition published in London. Page 508.

Implicit in this recipe is that the tart has a top crust. Top crusts were standard in British tarts until the last decades of the nineteenth-century. In British cooking, the topless tart was associated with France. In the American cooking tradition, one of the ways in which we seemed to have set out in the early nineteenth-century to differentiate our American culture from British was our early adoption of the topless tart as the standard for tarts and the renaming of the British covered tart tradition as “pie.”

Americans in first decades of the nineteenth-century were, of course, close to France. France had helped the British Colonists overthrow British rule while it had remained an enemy of Britain until the final defeat of Napoleon in 1814.  It is thus not entirely unexpected that American’s might have adopted a Francophillic tart style a bit earlier than the British.

When I tested this recipe the first time my daughter, age ten, didn’t want me to put on the top crust because, as she said, “Tarts don’t have a crust.”

This dough, with sugar, is intended for a covered dessert tart and without sugar for a covered meat tart. While the recipe doesn’t call for it, I suggest that you add salt when making this as a savory crust.

There is relatively little fat and relatively more water than in a modern “short paste.” The crust is therefore not light and fluffy. This is a crust from a different tradition and as such ads variety to your pie crust repertoire.

Dessert Tart: Add the sugar to the dough and fill with any fruit filling.

Savory Tart: Replace the sugar with salt. Fill with a vegetable, meat, or fish filling.

You need a pastry brush to brush the egg white onto the top crust. Besides the shiny top-crust, this is a classic American fruit pie.

450g flour

110g butter

60g  sugar if being used for a dessert tart

[5g salt if being used for a savory tart]

90g to 110g water

1 egg plus 1 yolk

1 egg white set  aside in a small plate


Bake in a moderate pre-heated oven, 350F or 180C.




Starting out with Wild Greens

Dandelion and wild lettuces are common in the Northern Hemisphere. During the growing seasons it is pretty impossible, even in a big city, to not pass dandelion and wild lettuce. But, I know for myself, that even though I love foraging that there is often some kind of impediment, like a force field, that seems to keep me from just reaching down and picking off a damn leaf! On most walks out of my house I stop to look at at a wild lettuce or particularly striking dandelion specimen, even take a picture, but the bending over, picking and taking home to eat — that part — extremely rare. I don’t think I am alone in being more of aspirational gatherer than an actual gatherer.

I’m trying to change the habit — break through the force field — and introduce wild greens into my daily diet so that I am no longer dreaming about it but actually doing it. Towards that end, I have made an entry-level program for myself. One leaf! One leaf of Lactuca serriola (or something) added to a salad of domestic greens every day. Such a no big deal that even for me it has been working. For the last couple weeks I’ve been adding one leaf, five leaves, tiny amounts of different edible urban weeds to salads and boiled greens. The smaller the ambition the easier it is to get started.

I like wild dandelion. Yesterday, I picked dandelion and a few leaves of the spiny lettuce, Lactuca serriola to blanch and eat with French lentils for lunch. As I eat wild dandelions reasonably often — the breakthrough yesterday was adding that little bit of lettuce that you see in the two left-hand images.

Important American Rye Bread Blog

I would like to call your attention to Stanley Ginsberg’s rye bread blog, The Rye Baker. The recipes in the site are varied. The geographic region unusually large — from the Alps to the Baltics — and the recipe notation is impeccable.

Stanley has a book, forthcoming as of this writing — The Rye Baker: Classic Breads from Europe and America.

Stanley’s interest in rye began with what in America we call “Jewish rye.” It is a wheat/rye mix, usually yeasted, with caraway seeds. It is far more wheat than rye — a bread that would be unrecognizable in the countryside of Northern Europe where the people who created this bread in America came from. Judging by the recipes posted on Stanley’s blog, his book will be hugely informative.

A Fine Basic Madeleine Recipe from 1893

Who doesn’t love a madeleine?  The recipe I’ve used since I first bought the New Larousse Gastonomique (1977) is its recipe for plain madeleine.  that makes it almost 40 years since I bought the book new when it came out. What I like about the New Larousse Gastonomique recipe is its utter simplicity. It’s a poundcake. You mix equal parts by weight of sugar, flour, melted butter, and eggs and that’s it.  Continue reading “A Fine Basic Madeleine Recipe from 1893”