Bread History Workshop #17: Making Historic Breads for the Holidays

There is no lecture associated with this week’s event. The week, what is usually a Bread History Seminar and Workshop will just be a workshop. Also, this week, it is on WEDNESDAY, December 23, (NOT THE USUAL THURSDAY) at 9am Pacific. This is 11 am in Columbia, noon in the East Coast, 6pm in Belgium, 7pm in Cairo, and 9:30 pm in Bangalore. Register at EventBrite. You may search on Rubel Bread.

This is a bread making workshop. It is a time to visit with each other, get one or more breads started. While we are making bread we will also be talking. A good time for us to more informally talk about issues in bread history.

For this Workshop you may work from one of the recipes from one of my previous Bread History Seminars, an historic bread you have experience with, or you may bring a recipe you haven’t made and that you may even have questions about.


Flour: Because of the Covid situation I kept the flour simple for the breads we have been making. Most of the recipes are made with white flour. The historically correct white flour is one that weighs 1 pound avoirdupois — a standard pound — per wine quart — which is the current American quart measure. A pound is approximately 450g. Our contemporary white flour tends to weight a little more than that per quart measure. The differences between a flour you mill yourself with a stone mill and sift through a 300 micron screen and commercial white flour is not significant enough to warrant milling your now white flour except for demonstrations of historic breads that need to be as period correct as possible.

Yeast: Most of the recipes we have worked with have been English. Thus, they use yeast. Originally, they were made with ale barm, which is the yeasty froth that rises to the top of the ale vat during fermentation. You may use barm if you have access to some, you may use packets of commercial ale yeast, but for most of us it more practical to use standard bread yeast. The only difference between using yeast selected for bread baking and yeast selected for ale making is that one can be confident you will get the highest rise possible.

Bean Flour. If making a horse bread for race horses then I suggest using chick pea flour as fava bean flour is impossible to buy and not easy to make, even if you have a mill.

Pulling from this website are the following recipes:

Gervase Markham Horse Bread – 17th Century

Manchet! Manchet style breads were the “best breads” of the Early Modern period. Made with white flour, a stiff dough, and often sporting a distinctive slash pattern consisting of a cut around the bread’s waist and a circle of knife stabs around its flat top.

Gervase Markham’s Bread Recipe for Race Day. This one of my personal favorite breads recipes. It includes one bean flour and the balance white flour. I use chickpea flour although Markham would have used flour from fava beans, something that we can not buy and that is hard to make even if you have a mill because you have to first break up the fava beans into smaller parts. This makes a very good table bread.

A French Pain de Luxe by Louis Liger, 1711. Lois Liger was a monumental figure in 18th century French agronomy. He took over the editorship of Maison Rustique, first published in the mid 1500s. Liger brought out multiple editions of what, under his editorship, became a two volume book. It was the goto book for people with country estates. This recipe was published by Liger in a small volume that updated a work by Nicolas de Bonnefons published in the mid-1650s. It is the type of bread that Howard gave a recipe for as “French Bread” — a style of bread that was commonly referenced in English 17th- and 18th-century cookbooks that looked to France for inspiration. In this regard, Robert May, with his Accomplisht Cook (1660), set the pace. Go to a digital edition and word count the phrase, “French bread.” You will be amazed by the number of references. This is a lovely lightly enriched white bread that Liger says is the best choice when you have a special friend coming for a visit.

Working with flour that meets the specifications from archeobotanical evidence of early breads, use your imagination to create breads in bespoke forms.

Imagining Early Breads This is not a recipe for a bread so much as an invitation to imagine possible early breads as something more than just a disk shaped flatbread. This is actually a very good bread project for a family sitting around a table talking and making small shaped breads.

English Muffins. The bread-like “English muffin” seems to date to the first decades of the 18th century. By 1750 it was a widely popular bread, already famously sold on the streets of London by the “muffin man.” Profoundly, the English muffin was understood its day as the not-French bread. Which is to say, English literary references tend to attribute positive qualities to the people who eat muffins in contrast to people who eat French Bread as represented by the recipe for French Bread published by Henry Howard early in the 18th century.

Assize Breads The assize breads offer you a choice of breads ranging from whole grain to white. The Assize also always includes a bread that is made with a flour that you can make, but is hard to buy. That is a stone ground flour hand sifted to yield an 80% extraction rate. This is a flour that is basically a white flour, but has enough impurities to give it a little color — the bread is brownish. This bread also has more intrinsic taste than bread made with a truly white white flour.

Flabread! Even very ancient breads are now know to have been sifted, thanks to the work of archeobotanists. An 80% extraction flour, the “wheaton” flour of the Assize tables, is an appropriate flour to use for flatbreads. This is the grade of flour used in village chapatis in Northern India. Use whatever flour you like — from white to whole grain. Barley is also a very appropriate flour for flatbreads — though it is a little more difficult to handle than white flour as it doesn’t have as much gluten.

English French Bread The “English French Bread” in the 17th and 18th centuries is the English version of the lightly enriched “pain de luxe” common in France. While we understand “French bread” to be an unenriched sourdough bread, historically, people in Anglophone countries associated “French bread” with the white yeast leavened and enriched breads in the luxe tradition. This is a fabulous recipe by Henry Howard circe 1710. It is basically what we understand as a sandwich bread. This bread is mixed, but not kneaded. Breads made from this type of recipe were often rolls, but can be baked into one pound (450g) loaves.

Sourdough! Pancakes and Waffles! [Background on this Seminar.] Those of you who attended this Seminar/Workshop led by the fabulous Karl de Smedt from Puratos will recall how delicious these recipes are. While you may to want to be making pancakes and or waffles at 9am Pacific on the December 23rd, you should come back to these recipes one morning during the holidays when you are making a holiday breakfast or brunch. Good for Christmas morning, for example.

Maslin Bread. This entry does not have a fully worked out recipe. The text is about what maslin flour is. Use a maslin flour — typically a mix of wheat and rye — with any basic bread recipe. Working in bakers math, 100% flour, which would be a mix of rye and wheat, 605 to 70% water, 1.5% salt, and either 1% to 1.5% yeast or sourdough starter as per your preferred ratio. I recommend making the version of this bread suggested by Parmentier in the 1770s. Use the flour he calls “blé ramé.” This is eight parts wheat to one part rye. Delicious!

Pain de Gonesse, by Nicolas de Bonnefons, 1650s. A brilliant bread by the first important French author to publish bread recipes in French. This recipe works for both white flour and a less refined flour, such as the 80% extraction flour used for wheaten breads in the English Assize laws. This loaf could be made to be very large — like a 5 pound loaf, if your oven can deal with </p> <!– /wp:paragraph –>

Note! As of Sunday evening, I am still adding links. I will complete this on Monday, December 21.

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