Back from a terrific week in Wales – meeting dragons, making medieval bread and getting very, very muddy! My trencher loaf recipe is in this week’s blog.
After a great weekend in Wiltshire we paid our £6.60 entry fee and went onward to explore Wales this week. I’d been invited to demonstrate medieval bread techniques at Caerphilly Castle (in both pictures above) on Tuesday. As a family, we’ve got to do some pretty cool stuff together over the past eighteen months, but having a castle to ourselves has definitely got to be up there as a really memorable experience. My wife Sarah, the kids and I got to have free rein of the UK’s second biggest castle before it opened – the closest I’ll get to being lord of the manor! The day was a real family affair with all hands on deck in the castle kitchens – my eldest daughter measured out all my ingredients, my middle daughter washed and dried up, Sarah prepped my demo trays and thankfully our youngest daughter slept through it. We felt a bit like characters from a Happy Families book!
I did two demos at the castle, which meant that the bread we knocked up in the morning was ready for visitors to sample in the afternoon. I made the manchet rolls I blogged the recipe for last week and the trencher loaves in the recipe below (both pictured above). If there’s anyone else out there who wants me to come and do a bread history demo, get in touch and let me know as it’s a lot of fun, delicious, and pretty educational too.
After our trip to Caerphilly we went westward through Wales to stay with friends, visiting Northern Europe’s largest showcaves complex (above); travelling on the steam train from Aberystwyth to Devil’s Bridge, where we found the amazing Sarah Bunton Chocolate Shop; taking the girls horse riding; and eating cockles and mussels from The Hive in Aberaeron. I promise I’m not being sponsored by the Welsh tourist board, but I reckon you’d be hard pushed to find a better holiday if you’re visiting the UK – the scenery alone is magnificent – just bring your raincoat and wellies! I hadn’t realised until I posted last week’s blog that lamb isn’t a particularly common meat in the US and sheep farming is fairly unusual there too these days. So if you’re one of my blog readers from the US, book mark all these links for a future springtime visit to the UK and you won’t regret it. A few more pictures below…
Anyway, here’s my recipe for a medieval trencher loaf. This would have been cut horizontally when stale and used as a plate to serve your food on. The plate could then be eaten or given to the poor (or the dogs) to ‘enjoy’ with the meat juices from the meal. Monks and nuns weren’t allowed to eat fine, white bread so would have had wholemeal bread like this to sustain them throughout a day of prayer instead. I’ve used a combination of wholemeal, rye and white bread flour below to replicate the grade of flour likely to have been used for trenchers. Salt was expensive at the time so probably wouldn’t have been used in a recipe like this, but I’ve included it below to make it a bit tastier for our palates. This really is a delicious and filling bread. In our house, we’ve been using it as a trencher with chilli con carne on top – delicious!
Medieval Trencher Loaves
Ingredients (makes 2 loaves)
- 250g wholemeal or brown bread flour
- 150g rye flour
- 100g strong white bread flour
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- 12g fresh yeast (e.g. here or here)
- 150ml warm water
- 150ml beer (I used Brains Dark Ale, as it was the most local beer I could find to Caerphilly Castle)
- Mix together the flours and the salt in a large bowl
- Mix the water, beer 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 damp cloth)
- When the dough has risen, knock it back and divide into two. Shape each dough into a round loaf, and leave to rise for 45 minutes on a baking tray/sheet covered in baking parchment
- Preheat the oven to 220°C/fan 200°C/gas 7
- Sprinkle each loaf with flour, slash with a sharp knife and bake for 35-40 minutes (they would have probably been slashed with a cross but feel free to be a bit more decorative as I’ve been above)
- When cooled, cut each trencher horizontally into three ‘plates’ (or two if you’re feeling really hungry) and enjoy with a hearty stew or toss to the dog at the end of your meal if you’ve got well and truly into character!
See you next week, when I’ll probably be laid up after plodding my way around the 10k London Zoo Stampede and regretting all the fry-ups I’ve had this week! Happy baking!