Manchet Bread from The Good Huswifes Handmaide in the Kitchen (1594)

This one of the earliest and most important English bread recipes. The Good Huswifes Handmaide for the Kitchen was published in England in 1594. It is one of the first English cookbooks. The anonymous author offers a wide range of recipes, mostly simple, and most reasonably accessible to modern readers. The book includes two recipes for a white bread called manchet. Manchet seems to have been the best of the white breads. It was made in private homes, not sold by bakers. The “fine manchet” is the first of the two white bread recipes in The Good Huswifes Handmaide for the Kitchen.

Recipe text from Huswifes Handmaide in the Kitchen for fine manchet

The making of fine Manchet.

Transcription: Take a half a bushel of fine flour twice boulted, and a gallon faire luke warm water, almost a pint of yeast, then temper all these together, without any more liquor, as hard as ye can handle it: then let it lie half and hour, then take it up, and make your Manchets, and let them stand almost an hour in the oven. Memorandum, that of every bushel of meal may be made five and twenty cast of bread, and every loaf to weigh a pound beside the chisel,

Literal redaction: Take a half a bushel of unbleached all purpose flour (18 pounds based on 1 pound fine flour per quart), and a gallon of  warm to hot water water depending on season  (8.3 pounds), almost a pint of ale yeast in the form of barm (roughly 16 ounces)

Given as a list:

16 pounds (256)  flour (½ bushel at 1 pound per quart)

8.3 pounds (133 oz) warm to hot water (1 gallon)

16 ounces barm (1 pint)

salt not mentioned in the recipe

Given as Bakers Math as Written:

100% flour (use modern white flour unless demonstrating absolute authenticity, in which case, mill white wheat at 18% moisture, sift through bolting cloth of around 300 microns, running the throughs through the cloth twice, the second time only keeping the whitest flour).

52% water

6% barm

Given as Bakers Math Substituting Dried Yeast for Barm.

100% flour

58% water

1% dry yeast

Rounding Up

Rounding Up to the Final Recipe

At this point, I think it is helpful to stand back and think. It is much easier to remember round numbers, like 60% than it is a number like 58%. Breads with a 60% hydration are standard in modern bread making. 60% hydration (60g water for each 100g flour)  is the formula for sandwich bread, pizza dough, pita, rolls and so much more.

The difference between 58% water and 60% water is 9 grams — two teaspoons for a pound (450g) of flour. Unless you imagine that the ingredients are actually being weighed, in which case precision is possible, you should imagine flour and water being measured out in buckets and other containers in which the water and flour are measured out to a level of precision that I would describe as “close to” or “approximately.” 

What is important  is that the author says to “Temper all these together, without any more liquor, as hard as ye can handle it.” So don’t make this a 70% or 75% hydration. Stick with a sandwich bread. Don’t make it a modern French bread. 

The Recipe.

100% flour

60% warm water

1% instant yeast

Salt – optional up to 2% with an eggshell’s worth of salt, roughly xx grams, the amount called for in this author’s other manchet recipe probably being closer to period practice. 

500G flour, 300g warm water, 5g yeast, 3g to 5g salt, or up to 10g salt for a modern taste. Mix the ingredient using warm to hot water so the final dough temperature of 75 to 80F – mid 70sC . Based on other period sources, work dough with a dough hook or by hand until the dough is elastic, and may even begin to whiten from oxidation. Cover and let rise for one to one and a half hours in a warm place. Form and immediately bake in the preheated oven. 

Note: The original recipe ends as follows: “Memorandum, that of every bushel of meal may be made five and twenty cast of bread, and every loaf to weigh a pound beside the chisel.” This formulation is also used by William Harrison. It seems to me that it is likely an older commercial form of recipe notation. Unfortunately, we do not know what a “cast” is behind it having been a measure of bread given as a food allowance. As in, a waiter being paid in part with cast of bread. This may have been around 1.5 pounds worth of bread. 

One Comment Add yours

  1. Terry Decker says:

    The statutory bushel established under Henry VII was 8 gallons of 8 Troy pounds each or 64 Troy pounds. Henry’s Winchester bushel was set in 1497 by a bronze vessel of 2144.81 cubic inches. This remained in effect until 1601 when it was replaced by a bronze vessel of 2148.28 cubic inches. In 1775, Henry Norris published an inquiry into historical weights and measures used in England (Philosophical transactions, Volume 65, pages 48-58). Norris demonstrated that 8 Troy pounds of wheat would produce a gallon of 239.5 cubic inches and a bushel of 1916 cubic inches. Both the Winchester measures of Henry and Elizabeth contain roughly one extra gallon making the true weight of the Winchester bushel approximately 72 Troy pounds. The difference between the statutory bushel and the Winchester bushel is likely explained by the statutory bushel being a “stricken” bushel and the Winchester bushel being a “heaped” bushel. The stricken bushel became the standard in 1670. Using the heavier Winchester bushel does make a difference in the results.

    A caste of bread is two or three loaves, each loaf being a pound and each loaf being equivalent to two manchets.

    Chesill is the finer dross that is removed in the second bolting. According to Best’s Farming Book (1641): “in every bushell of meale that commeth from the mill there is neare a peck of chizell drossed out.” As there are four pecks to the bushel, one quarter of the flour, as it comes from the mill after the first bolting, is dross to be removed to produce finer flour to be used in white loaves.


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