Welcome back to this week’s journey. I’m not really cooking guinea pigs, my granddaughter and daughter came for dinner. They, along, with my husband, were the guinea pigs for this meal. I wanted to make Manchets for dinner so I began with Gervase Markham’s Manchets receipt from The English Hus-wife 1615, called, Of baking Manchets. I will then pop into the 1730s and Charles Carter’s, The Complete Practical Cook, for a Sattoot of Fowl. Knowing I would have leftover bread I thought I’d try the receipt from Pepys At The Table called, To Make Cream Toasts. The receipt calls for French rolls, however, I will substitute Manchets. This is an ambitious day of hearth cooking.
Bread is considered mankind’s most ancient prepared food and is simply made with four main ingredients: flour, liquid, salt and a leavening agent we call yeast. It is the yeast that makes the breads rise. Generally when one mentions yeast, aromatic loaves of fresh homemade light bread come to mind. And so they should. Aside from acting as a leavening agent in bakery products, yeast is also the ingredient responsible for the tantalizing aroma that arises during baking. Anyone who has made bread knows that as soon as it come out of the oven is the best time to cut a piece and slather it with butter and let it drip down your hand as you take in the yeasty goodness and warm sensation of a loaf well made. Songs have even been written about it.
The earliest forms of bread were flat, hard, unleavened bread similar to the 18th-century biscuit we know as hardtack. Different grain, thickness, shape, and textures of the bread varied from culture to culture.
Food historians generally cite Egypt 4000 BC as the date for the discovery of leavened bread and the genesis of the brewing industry. The Saxons and Celts are rumored to have been the first to add beer to their dough for an airier, more digestible loaf. But in general it is agreed that the discovery of the powers of yeast was accidental and used in antiquity.
Yeast, is a living organism, and as we all know, it can be a nasty thing: it can grow between your toes and is associated with soil and insects. Yuck, I’ll leave the rest up to your imagination. It is the good yeast for the making of Manchets that we are concerned with today.
The early yeast receipts call for the addition of yeast. So what came first the chicken or the egg; how can we add yeast if we don’t know how to make it? We know leavened bread began its life because of beer making, and recipes for making yeast have been passed down from mother to daughter for generations.
It may have started out simply by placing fresh dough in a warm place for a short period of time where beer was being made and producing yeast, these spores floating in the air of a bake house that may also be a brewery – drifted onto a dough that had been set aside for a while before baking; the dough would rise. Perhaps not much but the yeast in the air cause a certain degree of fermentation, someone put two and two together and decided to accelerate and augment the process. So they must have added the yeast made for beer directly to the dough. Yet there is an alternative and even more likely theory –that on some occasion ale instead of water was used to mix the dough.
To start my Manchets, I am using the receipt of Gervase Markham, The English Hus-Wife, 1615. We need to start with flour; the amount of flour is the most significant measurement in a bread recipe, and it provides the primary structure to the final baked bread. I am using 3 cups unbleached flour, of which 3 tablespoons is wheat germ and 3 tablespoon sifted wheat flour. This is a suggestion of Karen Hess from her transcription of Martha Washington’s “Booke of Cookery.”
The most common types of flour in England were wheat and rye; however, these were often combined with other flours including barley, oats, beans, peas, and vetch. The lighter, whiter flour produced by the extensive milling process, was usually reserved for the master and those of elite status, and the heavier, darker flours, which had less processing and therefore were less expensive, were used by the common populace. Today your unprocessed breads are more desirable.
When the European settlers arrived, they planted large quantities of wheat and rye wherever they settled. So the practice held true here in the colonies; the wealthy used the finest milled wheat flour and the yeoman did with flour that had only the coarser bran removed.
Most all receipts for bread contain salt. It adds flavor, a nice crust and crumb to the bread, and it balance the action of yeast. For making 18th century breads, Karen Hess suggests “to use a teaspoon of salt for every cup of liquid.“ Too much salt and you inhibit the yeast.
A liquid is our next ingredient, and it is used in bread to bind the components together and to help add the needed moisture to the yeast so it can breed. Beer has been used as a liquid since antiquity. Many homes made their own beer and so had a steady supply of barm. This was made through the process of making ale a top-fermenting beer. The yeast foaming on the top is what creates the frothy scum that forms the active yeast cultures called barm; this held the best yeast. But on the bottom, sludge also formed and produced a weaker type of yeast. Not having barm handy, I will use yeast from the store and my mix of ale and water as a liquid.
Leavening is the process of adding gas to dough before or during baking to produce lighter, more easily chewed, bread. It is the yeast that makes bread rise to the occasion; the technique for making bread is offered in the 1771 Encyclopedia Britannica, as follows.
“The meal, ground and bolted, is put into a trough, and to every bushel are poured in about three pints of warm ale, with Barm and salt to season it: this is kneaded well together with the hands through the brake; or for want thereof, with the feet, through a cloth; after which, having lain an hour to swell, it is molded into Manchets, which, scored in the middle and pricked at the top, to give room to rise, are baked in the oven by a gentle fire.”
Bread-making is fun, and the most important thing to remember is if you want to make 18th century bread, do so. The more you bake, the more you learn about the process. We have all made doorstop breads; the baking gods can’t always help, so we need to keep rising to the occasion and develop the skills of those who came before us.
Gervase Markham’s Manchets receipt from The English Hus-Wife 1615
First I gathered all my ingredients, a flour mix of 3 cups unbleached flour, of which 3 tablespoons is wheat germ and 3 tablespoon sifted wheat, Blue Moon Winter Ale, of which I used ¾ of a cup, warmed and 6 ounces of fresh yeast that I put in to ¾ cups of warm water to dissolve.
I mixed all the ingredients by hand and placed it on an oiled dough board. Because it was a very dry day, I added more warm beer and kneaded it gently a few times. Off to the fireplace it went to sit and rise.
It It only took 45 minutes to rise. Then I cut it into three pieces and scored the sides and top.
I tried to get the 10 ounces per Williams Harrison’s description of England, in 1577. There he says that a machet was 10oz in the oven and 8oz out. The quality and price of bread was controlled by law in England so everyone bought and paid for the same size loaf. As you can see by my scale, I ended up with one that was 9.75 oz. I was interested to see if the 10 in, 8 out rule would work for me. Into an oiled pan they went to rise once more.
I turned the pan a few times so they would get an even heat. It only took about ½ an hour and they were ready for the bake kettle.
In they went. I was careful to not put many coals under or over the kettle as manchets should cook at a low temperature, about 350 degrees. As you can see they came out wonderfully brown and made a hollow sound as I rapped on the top. The tantalizing aroma of yeast with a hint of floral and citrus from the beer rose with its warmth. I was careful to pick the same manchet I weighed going in to the kettle as out of the kettle and weighed it. The scale shows 8.90 ounces so I did not lose 2 ounces in the process of baking. This will be an ongoing test and it may be the amount of beer I added or just better yeast. I loved making the bread and my next loaves will be more on the rustic side. However, I don’t have to tell you, I’m sure, that the aroma of the fresh- homemade bread I took out of the bake kettle made us all hungry.
Sattoot of Fowl
When you go to the Receipt File, you will find Charles Carter’s receipt for Sattoot, and here is where I make my disclaimer. I will not eat cocks-combs or sweetbreads. Some may have acquired a taste of them, but not me or my family. Should I wish to use my family as guinea pigs, I do have to be somewhat careful on how far I can delve into the appetites of the 17th and 18th Century. With that disclosed, let’s cook.
My Sattoot is a chicken dish with a forced meat of veal mixed with celery, eggs, sautéed onions and garlic, salt and pepper and a good dose of bread crumbs, basically a meat loaf mix.
I floured and seasoned the chicken parts and “roasted them off brown, at a quick fire,“ as Carter suggested. I then placed them in a redware pan. The forced meat was placed around the edge of the pan, and thick bacon strips covered the rest. Next came an egg wash.
My fire now had many coals and I placed the pan of Sattoot in a very large kettle to bake. Turning it every 15 minutes to insure an even baking, the Sattoot was done in 45 minutes. Once again my house filled with the aroma of chicken and bacon, a combination hard to beat.
I next made the ragouft of good gravy. My family ask me if they ever used bad gravy and if so why, something to ponder when reading old receipts. Adding butter to the pan, I made a rue with some flour, and then poured in some chicken broth; this did make a good gravy.
Off to the kitchen I went, to compose the meal. The Sattoot was served with the sautéed artichokes and mushrooms placed on the side, then the good gravy poured over it all. A slice of lemon topped the chicken and we were ready to sit down to dine. As a side, we had sweet corn on the cob, which is still available in the stores. Ok, not seasonal cooking for the 17th and 18th Centuries, however, that will come in time; now I just want to have fun marching through the cookbooks.
All my guinea pigs were very pleased and deemed this one of the best, early receipts I have placed before them. They will come back for more, and that makes me very happy, as I need to cook, and all cooks need someone who relishes a good meal.
To Make Cream Toasts
On July 13th, 1665, Samuel Pepys went to Sir G. Carterets by water in a boat oared by a Sculler. The Sculler proved a man of love to Musique and he and Pepys sang together all the way down with great pleasure. He arrives too late for dinner but was brought cream and brown bread. Pepys references in his diary eating cream and bread often, this being a very rich dish few of our stomachs would be happy eating. However, Patrick Lamb gives a receipt in Royal Cookery 1710, To Make Cream Toast. So this brings me back to the reason I made manchets, to use as the bread.
Below, my granddaughter slices the manchets as thick as her finger per Lamb’s instructions. She puts the bread slices in a large bowl and mixes the cream, cinnamon and sugar together in a smaller bowl.
With the mixture whipped, up it is poured on the slices. While they soak, the eggs are mixed and a cell phone call is answered. (Eleven-year-olds can multitask, I was told).
With a hot skillet of butter, the soggy bread is placed around the bottom and a slight smell of cinnamon wafts up. The eggs poured in and the sizzle heard.
When they were done we took them out. They smelled of cinnamon and looked like French toast to me. The tenderness of the manchets and the cream and spices covered with an egg coating makes this receipt for Cream Toasts a tasty finish to a wonderful meal.