I’m teaching a course on the Renaissance and Reformation, and aside from looking at slide-shows of art and listening to recordings, there’s not a lot that I can do to enliven my students. Or is there?
A while back, I picked up a copy of Madge Lorwen’s Dining with William Shakespeare (Atheneum, 1976), a book with an interesting premise: It ties in Shakespeare’s apparent love and use of food in his plays and poems with a number of period recipes and authentic menus. I can’t say when I snagged this treasure; it’s been sitting on my office shelf for a good year or more. But I’d never really considered any of its offerings because I don’t have access to an on-site kitchen, and I don’t want anyone to become ill (due to allergies, seasonings, etc.).
Buried in Lowren’s book (on page 38) is a recipe for manchet – bread. Although the original recipe was published in 1615, it’s an average period recipe that’s simple and inexpensive to make. Given that bread recipes rarely changed, it is perfectly acceptable to consider this recipe as one that predated the original publication. With such simple ingredients, I really have a hard time thinking that this type of bread wasn’t widely enjoyed. In any case, Lowren’s modernized instructions are as follows:
- 2 c. lukewarm water
- 2 Tbsp dry yeast
- 1 Tbsp salt
- 6 c. sifted unbleached flour
Pour the water into a large mixing bowl and crumble or sprinkle the yeast into it. When the yeast has softened and expanded, add the salt and stir in five cups of the flour, one cupful at a time.
Sprinkle the remaining cup of flour on your work surface and turn the tough out onto the flour. Knead it until it feels elastic – about five minutes – then put the dough into a clean mixing bowl. Cover the bowl with a clean towel or a plastic bowl cover and set the dough to rise in a warm place or an unheated oven.
When the dough has doubled in bulk – in 1 to 1-1/2 hours – turn it out onto the floured work surface and knead into a smooth ball. Divide the ball into twelve more or less equal parts, and knead each one into a ball. Flatten each one with the palm of your hand to a thickness of ½ inch, and with a sharp knife, cut around the circumference of the rolls 1/8 inch deep halfway between top and bottom.
Place the rolls an inch apart on a floured tin. Punch fork holes in the tops and set them to rise – forty-five minutes to one hour – until they have doubled in size. Bake at 400 for twenty minutes or until golden brown. Cool on a wire grille.”
I only prepared a half-sized batch, and to be honest, I’m glad that I did. I ended up with just six loaves of bread, but they’re decently sized. They’re actually quite tasty, although if I had it to do over, I would definitely cut back on the salt – maybe by half. This would be very good as a homemade dinner roll, although I’m very interested in trying this recipe to create larger loaves next time. I’m glad that I gave these a shot. I think my class will like them.