Bread Recipes from the Assize of Bread, Late Medieval England for the Thursday, October 8, Bread History Seminar

Note: Please choose which of the three breads you will make for the Seminar/Workshop on October 8, 2020. Please weigh out the ingredients. We will mix and talk about the recipe after the formal lecture is completed.

The English Assize laws dating to the Late Medieval Period, the 1100s and the 1200s, were very simple, very elegantly written rules for insuring that while grain prices were set by the market, that consumes were guaranteed that bread prices would always be fair. Fairness in pricing is implied by the way the Assize laws were structured. The pricing rules were set out in black and white, with the principles behind the calculation, and the calculations themselves, open for everyone to see.

It is my thesis that we can use that openness to reverse engineer the tables of bread types, prices, and weights to get to a recipe.

I look forward to the discussion around my calculations. Would be chagrinned to be proven wrong — but I will welcome the challenge!

This list of bread types in the table, above, is from the very early years of the Assize. Over time, the Assize was simplified and only three breads were covered by the regulations — Household, Wheaton, and White. In the table, above, the wastel, cocket, and simnel breads were all white. You can tell that by their weight compared with the weight of the whole grain loaf — the household loaf. As I will explain.

The ingredients for the breads is simple. It is wheat flour, water, salt, and yeast. There were no sourdough breads baked by British Assize bakers. The weights of the three breads whose recipes I will give you were as follows.

I’m going to explain the math at the talk. But you can see on the table that I have penciled in some percentages. In this case, if the penny Household loaf weighed 56 pounds, plus a little we find that 75% of 56 is 42, which is the weight of the penny wheaten loaf. As they both started with the same amount of grain (this is how the Assize regulation worked), the difference is how much bran was sifted out of the whole meal flour to make the wheaten flour. The baker got to keep the bran as part of his pay, so it was wasted.

The table, above, is in troy pounds. Converted to avoirdupois the breads would still be large. I will give three recipes, with their final baked weights keeping to the proportions in the Assize table.

How close are these recipes I am giving you to what period bakers would have used? I think they are close enough that period bakers and consumers would have recognized them.

The recipe for each of the breads in bakers math is:

100% flour, 60% water, 1% to 1.5% dried yeast (depending on how fast you want the dough to rise), .5% to 2% salt (depending on how salty you want the bread to be).

Make one or more breads, as you wish. If you want to make larger loaves, then use the bakers math to scale up. The farthing household loaf weighed 14 troy pounds. This is 11 pounds avoirdupois or 5kg.

There are three flours: Whole meal, Wheaten, and White. Whole meal should be 100% of the grain from the mill. Use a 600 micron bolting cloth to create the 75% extraction wheaten. This is also called a 34 wire screen or a 34gg nylon screen. For the white flour use a 54gg nylon screen or a 315 micron sieve.

Household: 1000g wholemeal flour, 600g warm water, 10g-15g dried yeast, 5g – 20g salt.

Wheaten: 750g 75% extraction flour, 450g warm water, 7.5g-10g dried yeast, 4g-15g salt

White: 500g 50% extraction flour or all purpose white flour, 300g warm water, 5g-7.5g dried yeast, 2.5g-10g salt.

Procedures

In a bowl, mix the flour, yeast, and salt. Then, add the water, which should be warmed to blood heat. Using an electric mixer, or dumping onto a counter a working by hand, knead until the dough is well mixed and satiny.

Put into a clean bowl, which will be easier to clean if you coat it with a thin layer of oil. Cover, and let rise in a warm place until it doubles. Whole wheat breads do not rise as high as white breads.

Once the dough has risen, turn onto the counter, and gently form the loaf into the shape you prefer. A round or oval would always be appropriate. After forming, let the bread rise again about 50% before putting into a pre-heated oven. Bake at approximately 190C (385F).

If possible, add a pan of water to the oven along with the bread to increase the moisture content inside the oven. This goes some way to replicate the more humid atmosphere of bread baked in a wood fired oven.

Bake the Household whole wheat loaf for around 1 hour and fifteen minutes. The other breads should be baked in approximately one hour. As always, when it comes to bread, in case of doubt, bake it a little longer.

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