PERIOD: Medieval & Renaissance | SOURCE: Authentic & Contemporary | CLASS: Authentic & Contemporary
DESCRIPTION: recipe for white bread
Bread is literally the staple of life. Mankind has been baking bread for thousands of years in an innumerable amount of ways with a wide assortment of ingredients. There is bread made with barley, oats, wheat, rye, beer, eggs, saffron, tomatoes, potatoes, parsley, nuts, fruit, etc. If it can be eaten, it can be made or incorporated into bread somehow. Bread can also assume a variety of shapes and styles. It can be made into rolls, loaves, buns; it can be stiff and dry like a good French Bread, or soft & yellow like a Jewish Challah; it can be buttered, toasted, made into bread crumbs, spread with jams & jellies, made into sandwiches, stuffed with meats, flavored with herbs & spices, flattened and baked with toppings, or sweetened for a dessert. Bread is indeed remarkable!
In the Middle Ages, bread assumed as important a role as it does today. Everyone, even the poorest peasant, ate some form of bread, and there was a thriving industry of millers & bakers that served the needs of the Medieval populace. Bread was considered such an important commodity that harsh laws concerning its production existed, and a baker found guilty of making insubstantial loaves would be jailed or corporally punished. An honest baker would be guaranteed a good living from his guild, and an income secured by contract. In 1303, a The London Bakers Company assured their bakers a profit allowance that covered the cost of wood, candles, journeymen & apprentices, salt, yeast, the miller's charges, the baker's house, a dog, a cat, and a wife.
The average person, on the whole, did not bake their own bread. Those that grew grain & wheat would take it to a miller for processing, then take the flour to a baker; others merely purchased their bread directly from a baker's stall or shop. Even millers purchased their bread: in The Canterbury Tales, the Miller sends his daughter into town to purchase a loaf when company unexpectedly arrives. Because of this commercial availability of bread, few recipes were copied or placed in the cookbooks of the day; those that do survive show that the technique of breadmaking has changed very little over the centuries, and except for quality of ingredients, a loaf homemade today is very much like those of yesterday. In Medieval times, loaves were generally round, with a cross-shape cut in the top.
Bread varied from class to class; the poor ate coarsely ground dark bread, while the rich consumed a much more sophisticated product. White was the best, and Pandemayne was the finest of the white breads made. My version of Pandemayne is one of my favorite white bread recipes, which I use in all my feasts & Medieval dinners. I always bake my loaves round, but sometimes leave a personal touch instead of the traditional cross on top: I often make three slashes, in symbolism of the Trinity. The word Pandemayne is French in origin, and survives today as pain, the modern French word for bread.
- Scully, Terence. The Art of Cookery in the Middle Ages. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 1995.
ABOUT THIS RECIPE:
This is very much a 20th century recipe; however, as stated earlier, very few recipes for bread survive from the Medieval period, and what information we do have tells us that, except for differences in the leavening agent and the types of ingredients used, basic bread-making has remained essentially the same throughout the ages. This recipe will provide you with an excellent white bread that would have been considered very fine fare in the Middle Ages. For an authentic period bread recipe from the Middle Ages, please see David Friedman's translation located on this site at: On Bread. Platina Book 1.
- Better Homes & Gardens, ed. Bread Cook Book. New York: Meridith Press, 1963.
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