Bake History: ‘100 wheaten loaves baked in honey’

Since the first discovery of bread within early Neolithic artefacts in Europe, it has been assumed that bread would have been an important staple of the prehistoric diet, as it has been throughout history. Neolithic farmers introduced a range of new crop plants, and they were the first people to really intensively cultivate the land around them.

The most widespread crop emmer wheat, although some small amounts of einkorn and barley was also grown at this time. In modern times, we now grow what which has better qualities for baking, these cereals still essentially form a major part of our modern diet too. Free threshing forms of bread wheat have been found dating from the end of the Bronze Age, which, when ground into flour, would have been baked into unleavened bread.

Until the discovery of a loaf of yeasted bread, which was made from barley and wheat flours, in the Neolithic level at Lake Bienne in Switzerland, it was generally assumed that the people of prehistoric times did not have yeasted bread. However, this was not the case. In ancient Egypt, the soaked loaves of half baked bread in a mixture of both water and date juice, then added it to flour to make fresh bread. This is similar to the modern tenchiques used in the production of sourdough bread.

Yeast has typically been linked to both beer and wine brewing throughout the past; the relationship between grain, yeast, bread and brewing can be observed extensively across different time periods. Some fruit, like grapes and elderberries, have natural yeasts on their skins. Because of this, fermenting beer or wine can be added in the bread making process resulting in leavened bread. Using fermenting grain to produce alcohol dates back to the first cultivation of grain, and may have been a result of the way that grain was stored in pits at this time.  The damp earth started germination in the grain on the edge of the pit, which in turn used up all of the oxygen in the storage pit. When all of the oxygen was gone, this killed the germinating grain, creating a seal around the outside of the pit. This seal meant that the remaining grain would keep for much longer, sometimes being used over several years. When the grain was used, and left behind would begin germinating again, and by baking these germinating grains, malt was created. This malt can then be used in the brewing process.

Although modern bread is very different to this prehistoric bread, the taste is very similar and recognisable as bread. In order to bake bread, prehistoric people had to grind grain up using saddle querns to get their flour. This recipe uses stone ground flour, but if you can find them, the recipe should also work with emmer, einkorn or spelt wheat flours.

Prehistoric sweet bread with hazelnuts and plums

500g honey

1.5kg stone ground flour

1 cup shelled chopped hazelnuts (I bashed mine with a rolling pin in a bag which worked fine)

5 plums, stoned and chopped into small chunks

1 tsp sea salt warm water to mix

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  • Mix all of the ingredients together. Make sure to use a big bowl as there are a lot of ingredients! Mixing will take a while, and be sure to add your water slowly in small amounts at a time so that your mix does not end up too sticky! I found that kneading the dough once it had started to come together helped the mixing process.

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  • Leave covered in a warm place for three hours. I put mine in my conservatory in the sunshine, but it would also go in an airing cupboard, or an oven on a very low heat (less than 50⁰C).

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  • Knead the dough on a well floured surface. I spent about half an hour doing this, until the dough became more elastic.

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  • Then shape into small rolls. I cut my dough using a dough scraper, and just kept halving the dough until I had the size rolls that I wanted.

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  • Place your shaped rolls onto a baking tray lined with baking paper so they don’t stick, and then cover and  leave them for a further two hours.

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  • Bake your prehistoric sweet breads in a moderate oven. Mine took about 50 minutes at 100⁰C in a fan oven, although this may vary between ovens and depends on the size of bread rolls you have made.

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They can be eaten once cooked, however they can also be served in warm honey. An ancient Irish text talks about the Feast of Bricrin, and notes that part of the menu consisted of ‘100 wheaten loaves baked in honey’. To try this, warm your honey in a small pan or a microwave, and pour it into a shallow dish or deep plate. Place your prehistoric sweet bread rolls into the warm honey whilst they are still warm, and spoon some of the honey over the top of them. This will result in a very sticky sweet treat! Be careful as the honey may be very hot and may need to cool before you eat your prehistoric sweet bread.

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Now enjoy your prehistoric sweet bread and share it with all your friends, it was a hit at the Elmet office!

References

Black, M. 1993. A Taste of History: 10,000 years of food in Britain. The British Museum Press: London

Dilley, J. 2015. Ancient Craft: Stone Age Food [Online] Available from: http://www.ancientcraft.co.uk/Archaeology/stone-age/stoneage_food.html [Last accessed 08.06.2015]

Wood, J. 2003. Prehistoric Cooking. Tempus Publishing: Stroud

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Bake History: ‘To make Knotts’

‘To make Knotts or Gumballs: Take 12 Yolkes of Eggs, & 5 Whites, a pound of searced Sugar, half a pound of Butter washed in Rose Water, 3 quarters of an ounce of Mace fineley beaten, a little Sale dissolved in Rose Water, half an ounce of Caroway-seeds, Mingle all theise together with as much Flower as will worke it up in paste, & soe make in Knotts or Rings or What fashion you please. Bake them as Bisket-bread, put upon Pye-plates.’

In the 16th century, knotted biscuits, or ‘jumbles’, were originally biscuits made in the shape of a gimmell ring. Gimmell rings were often used as wedding rings, with intersecting bands that could be disconnected from one another to be worn during engagement, and would then be rejoined at the wedding ceremony. Early recipes from the 1500s use far less spices than their later counterparts, and also cook them in boiling water before baking them in an oven, rather like modern day pretzels. However, by the 17th century, the biscuits have become much more aromatic, with some recipes calling for both musk and ambergris to be used. The cooking method had also evolved, with the biscuits now being cooked only in the oven. Even without musk or ambergris, these biscuits would have been expensive to produce, with their high sugar content and varied spices, and would only have been seen on the tables of higher status households.

abraham bosse

The original recipe (in italics above) comes from Arcana Fairfaxiana by Henry Fairfax, which you can find here. The recipe that I actually used is from an English Heritage publication by Peter Brears about food and cooking in the 17th century.

Ingredients

1 ½ oz (40g) butter

1 tbsp (15ml) rosewater

4 oz (100g) sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp (5ml) blade mace

1 tsp (5ml) aniseed (I left this out)

1 tsp (5ml) caraway seed

8 oz (225g) plain flour

First pre-heat your oven to 180⁰C (350⁰F or gas mark 4).

Next, you need to mix the butter with the rosewater, and if you use an electric mixer like I did, it will look like it has     curdled, but if you mash it together with a fork it works much better. Be sure to use a big enough bowl to fit the rest of the ingredients too!

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Cream the sugar with the butter and rosewater, at first it will look a little like breadcrumbs but keep going! Eventually it should all bind together, and become paler and creamier in colour. I used my electric mixer again, but it will work just as well mixing it by hand.

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Next, whisk your eggs and add them to your mix. At this point, I was still successfully using my electric mixer.

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Before you add the blade mace, it will need grinding into a powder. You can use a pestle and mortar or, if you have one, a spice or coffee grinder. If you are using a pestle and mortar, it could take about ten minutes, but it is worth it to get a fine powder so you don’t end up with big pieces of mace in your finished biscuits! Add your ground mace and whole caraway seeds to your mix.

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 The mixture should start to get little air bubbles in it after mixing, and will look a bit like pancake batter.

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Now you need to work the flour into the mix to make a stiff dough. Whilst I started off using my electric mixer again, I soon found I had to resort to a spoon, as the mix became too sticky. I also found that I had to add a lot more flour than is stated in the recipe, and from my research into historic recipes, this seems to be a relatively common fault, possibly because exact measurements, especially for adding flour, are rarely found. In this recipe, it simply says to add ‘as much Flower as will worke it up in paste’ which can easily be misinterpreted. Below, the photo on the left shows the mixture with the suggested amount of flour, and on the right is what I ended up with after adding about 4 more tablespoons of flour. This resulted in a workable dough that I could use to make the knots.

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Next comes the fun (and most photogenic) bit! Using well-floured hands (the mixture will stick to anything and everything it can), roll teaspoons of the mixture out on a floured surface into lengths. The recipe says about ¾ inch (5mm) thick, but I made some of mine a bit bigger with no problems.

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Then you can knot, plait or make any other design you can think of out of your dough. Below are some examples, but you really can do whatever you want if you can make it without it falling apart!

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Once your knots are made, place them on a baking tray lined with baking paper to stop them from sticking. You can place them fairly close together, as they hold their shape well whilst cooking and won’t spread out in the oven. I ended up with a mountainous three trays of biscuits!

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They should take about 15 – 20 minutes to cook, each of my batches took 15 minutes, but different ovens will vary. When cooked, your biscuits should be golden in colour, and your kitchen will smell like a 17th century rose garden. Leave the biscuits to cool a little on the trays, and when possible, transfer them onto a cooling rack or plate.

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Now you can devour your 17th century knot biscuits, and will have plenty to show off your successful historical baking skills to all your friends!

References

Bosse, A. 1638. Pastry Shop [engraving] Available from: http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/390002 [last accessed 10.05.2015]

Brears, P. 1985a. Food & Cooking in 16th Century Britain: History & Recipes. English Heritage: London

Brears, P. 1985b. Food & Cooking in 17th Century Britain: History & Recipes. English Heritage: London

Turnspit & Table, 2015. All Jumbled Up [online] Available from: https://turnspitandtable.wordpress.com/2015/02/09/all-jumbled-up/ [last accessed 10.05.2015]

Weddel, G & Fairfax. 1890. Arcana Fairfaxiana Manuscripta: A manuscript volume of apothecaries’ lore and housewifery nearly three centuries old, used, and partly written by the Fairfax family. Mason, Swan & Morgan: Newcastle Uopon Tyne.