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Ladie Graies Manchets (1594) and Robert Mays French Bread (1685)

Manchet Bread -three loaves from one recipe
Can you imagine eating two to three pounds of bread a day? Or following it up with a gallon of ale? During the late medieval period, that was the standard ration of food given to individuals from nobility to castle garrisons. It is a staggering amount of bread to be eaten daily. Bread was an important staple of the medieval diet, in fact, it was the most basic and common element on every table.  
Bread could be produced as trenchers, which were used in lieu of plates, or as "table bread" or pain de mayne. The Menagier de Paris not only gives specific instructions on how trenchers are to be made, but even advises his wife that four-day old trencher bread would be the best to use for a dinner party.  
"Trencher bread, three dozen of half a foot in width and four fingers tall, baked four days before and browned, or what is called in the market Corbeil bread (Le Menagier de Paris)."
Table bread was produced from cereal grains and can be dated back to Ancient Mesopotamia.  Grains such as millet, wheat or barley were ground into flour, wet with a liquid, shaped and cooked.  With the addition of yeast, the dough would rise and the bread would become lighter.
Recently I have been experimenting with medieval bread recipes; specifically, two recipes found in Madge Lorwin’s “Dining with William Shakespeare”. Here are my thoughts.  First, our flour is much better ground then medieval flour.  Not far from here there is a stone mill that will mill flour for you, which means you can get the added benefit of a bit of stone with your meal. In lieu of purchasing stone ground whole wheat flour, I mix my flour 3:1 ration of unbleached white to whole wheat. No stones—BONUS!
The first recipe I worked with was Robert May’s French Bread, which is very different from what you would normally think of.  This recipe results in “buns” that are about the size of a hamburger bun, it’s salty, crusty and crumbly on the inside.
To make French Bread the best way.
Take a gallon of fine flour, and a pint of good new ale barm or yeast, and put it to the flour, with the whites of six new laid eggs well beaten in a dish, and mixt with the barm in the middle of the flour, also three spoonfuls of fine salt; then warm some milk and fair water, and put to it, and make it up pretty stiff, being well wrought and worked up, cover it in a boul or tray with a warm cloth till your oven be hot; then make it up either in rouls, or fashion it in little wooden dishes and bake it, being baked in a quick oven, chip it hot. (May, 1685)
1 Cup lukewarm water
2 cakes fresh yeast or 2 Tbsp. dried yeast
1 Cup lukewarm milk
1 Tbsp. salt
1 egg white
6 cups sifted unbleached flour
Pour the water into a large mixing bowl. Crumble or sprinkle the yeast into the water and let it stand until the yeast softens and expands .Add the milk, salt, and egg white and beat until the egg white is blended in.
Stir in five cups of the flour, one cup at a time, until all is absorbed. Sprinkle the remaining flour on your work surface and turn the dough out onto it. Pat the dough back and forth between your hands until it is coated with flour. Then knead it for five minutes. Put the dough into a clean, warmed mixing bowl large enough to permit the dough to double in size. Cover with a clean cloth or plastic bowl cover and set to rise in a warm place or an unheated oven. When the dough has doubled in size—in 1 1 ½ hours—turn it out on a floured work surface and bread into a ball.
Divide the ball into twelve more or less equal parts, and knead each one into a ball. Flatten each ball with the palm of your hand to a thickness of ½ inch, and, with a sharp knife, cut around the circumference of the roll 1/8 inch halfway between the top and bottom.  Place the rolls two inches apart on a floured cookie sheet. Punch holes in the tops and set the rolls to rise—forty five minutes to an hour—until doubled in size.  Bake at 400 degrees for twenty minutes, or until golden brown.  Cool on a wired grill (Lorwin, 1976).
I read somewhere, and I wish I had kept a record of where I read it, that to imitate ale barm, you use a mixture of ale and yeast.  This is one of the areas I diverted from the recipe.  I used some of my son’s homemade ale ¼ cup to 2 tablespoons of yeast. I also added a tablespoon of sugar and 1 cup of the 3:1 ratio flour to my starter.  I allowed the starter to proof….ok….I went to a movie, and then shopping for groceries…you get the idea. I threw all of the rules out the window…and I was pleasantly surprised at the sponge that I had when I returned home. At that point I followed the recipe exactly.
The other bread that I have been experimenting with is Manchet. There are several variations of the recipe available.  Manchet was the most common kind of bread eaten. The loaves are made with the best flour, they should develop a good crust, with a soft, dense interior when completed.
The making of manchets after my Ladie Graies use.
Take two peckes of fine flower, which must be twice boulted, if you will have your manchet verie faire: Then lay it in a place where ye doe use to lay your dowe for your bread, and make a litle hole in it, and put in that water as much leaven as a crab, or a pretie big apple, and as much white salt as will into an Egshell, and all to breake your leaven in the water, and put into your flower halfe a pinte of good Ale yeast, and so stir this liquor among a litle of your flower, so that ye must make it but thin at the first meeting, and then cover it with flowre, and if it be in the winter, ye must keepe it verie warm, and in summer it shall not need so much heate, for in the Winter it will not rise without warmeth. Thus let it lie two howers and a halfe: then at the second opening take more liquor as ye thinke will serve to wet al the flower. Then put in a pinte and a halfe of good yest, and so all to breake it in short peeces, after yee have well laboured it, till it come to a smoothe paste, and be well ware at the second opening that yee put not in too much liquor sodenlie, for then it wil run, and if ye take a litle it will be stiffe, and after the second working it must lie a good quarter of an hower, and keep it warme: then take it up to the moulding board, and with as much speede as is possible to be made, moulde it up, and set it into the Oven, of one pecke of flower ye make ten caste of Manchets faire and good.
(Wallace, 2011)
¼ cup ale or beer lukewarm + lukewarm water to equal 2 cups
2 tbsp. dry yeast
1 tbsp. salt
2 cups whole wheat flour
4 cups all-purpose flour
Makes 6 “Elizabethan” size rolls or 8 dinner rolls or two medium sized loaves - 1 large loaf
Peck = 14 pounds
Mix the yeast and the ale together and add water to equal 2 cups.  Mix the two flours together, and when the yeast has softened, add the salt and stir in flour to form a dough (this will take anywhere from 4 ½ to 5 cups).  Knead until it becomes elastic and dough has formed. Cover and let dough rise until doubled in bulk.  This will take anywhere from an hour to two hours.
Turn out the dough onto a floured work surface and knead into a smooth ball.  At this point you can divide it into two loaves, 6-8 “rounds”, or 12 small rolls.  Flatten your dough with the palm of your hand and cut ¼ “all the way around the side between ½ and ¾ of the way between the top and the bottom of your roll.  You can also slash the top in a decorative pattern if you choose.  Let them rise until doubled in bulk.
Bake your bread in a 400 degree oven until golden brown.  It should sound “hollow” when you pick it up and thump it on the bottom.
This bread is dense and heart and has become the favored bread in our house.  When I make bread, this is the one “the fam” asks for.  It is a very forgiving sort of bread.  I have made the sponge by adding a cup of flour to the yeast and ale mix and walking away, and running errands for several hours and then returning to complete the bread.  I prefer to make six hamburger bun size rolls, or, if I’m feeling especially lazy, two big round loaves. I have varied the flours and have added eggs and milk at times also.

Works Cited
Le Menagier de Paris. (n.d.). Retrieved June 5, 2015, from
Lorwin, M. (1976). Dining with William Shakespeare. New York: H. Wolff.
May, R. (1685). The Accomplisht cook, or the Art & Mystery of Cookery. Retrieved May 16, 2015, from Project Gutenberg:
Wallace, S. (2011, March). The good Huswifes Handmaide . Retrieved August 30, 2015, from


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