A quick blog update from my Easter holidays, including a fantastic recipe for medieval bread.
We’re off on our Easter holidays this week, starting with a weekend in Wiltshire staying with my mate Heidi Stephens (pictured with me above). Heidi writes the live blogs on the Guardian website for both Bake Off and Strictly, which is how my wife Sarah and I first got to know her. Since then, we’ve become good friends. It’s another reason I like using Twitter so much – I’ve made some great mates through it. While we’ve been here in Wiltshire we’ve enjoyed all the best bits about the countryside, including a trip to Ian Drew‘s farm today to feed his newborn Wiltshire lambs.
Whenever we spend time in the countryside we start daydreaming about upping sticks and leaving London – really tempting on weekends like this, especially when the kids have had so much fun. I’d have to change my website address from Dot London though!
I’ve been mucking about with medieval bread recipes all week ahead of my demo at Caerphilly Castle on Tuesday. If you’re in the area, try and come along. We took the kids to Caerphilly Castle back in November and they loved it so we’re really glad to be returning, before spending the rest of the week in the countryside in south-west Wales. I’m fascinated by food history, particularly the relationship between people and the crops they grow. I’m thinking of starting an MSc in Ethnobotany this September to study this subject in more detail. My wife Sarah studied medieval history at university so we have a house full of books about food history. So much is known about the role bread had in history, however, hardly any bread recipes survive from the middle ages and earlier. However, we do know the types of flours and techniques that were used, and that as a rule, monks and nuns were not supposed to eat fine white bread. The usual daily consumption of bread in lordly households in the middle ages was two to three pounds of bread (and a gallon of ale!) – it was the basis of the medieval diet.
I’ve developed two recipes for medieval bread – one for white manchet rolls (as pictured above) and one for a wholemeal trencher loaf, that would have been sliced horizontally and used as plates. Traditionally, these would have been made using ale barm as yeast, and I’m planning to experiment further with this at home. But for this recipe, I’ve used a mixture of ale and fresh yeast. I tend to do most of my bread baking with dry, quick yeast (my favourite being Doves Farm) but for this I used fresh yeast, which you can find in Morrisons (see here), usually in the butter aisle. Ocado also sells fresh yeast. I’ll post the recipe for my wholemeal trencher loaf next week (you can see it on my Instagram account here) but here’s how to make the traditional white rolls.
Medieval Manchet Loaves
Ingredients (makes 8 small rolls or 2 loaves)
- 650g strong white bread flour
- 25g rice flour
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- 12g fresh yeast (e.g. here)
- 275ml warm water
- 100ml beer (I used St Peter’s Golden Ale)
- 2 tbsp runny honey
- Mix together the flours and the salt in a large bowl
- Mix the water, beer, honey and fresh yeast in a bowl or large measuring jug, stirring to dissolve the yeast in the liquid
- Combine the wet and dry ingredients in the large bowl and tip out onto a floured surface. Knead by hand for about 10 minutes. The mixture will be very sticky at first but will come together to make a smooth dough
- Leave the dough to rise in a lightly oiled bowl for 2 hours. Cover this with cling film (or if you’re feeling really medieval, cover with a cloth)
- When the dough has risen, knock it back and divide the dough into eight equal pieces by halving three times. Shape each roll into a round, and leave to rise for 45 minutes on a baking tray/sheet covered in baking parchment. (N.B. if you want two large loaves, just halve the dough once and shape into rounds but remember, they will require a longer cooking time)
- Preheat the oven to 220°C/fan 200°C/gas 7
- Sprinkle with flour, slash with a sharp knife and bake for 20 minutes (longer if making larger loaves instead of rolls)
- Best enjoyed warm with loads of salted butter