Bread Baking Day #30- Robert May’s French Bread from 1660

Robert May's French Bread

I think this is the second time I participate in Zorra of Kochtopf‘s Bread Baking Day event, I’m pretty sure that many of my fellow Bread Baking Babes do and I know that several of them have been hosting the event. This month too, Natashya of Living in the Kitchen with Puppies is the hostess and she has chosen a theme that appealed to me: twisted breads. First I thought about making one of Italy’s many twisted breads but then I found another bread that I really wanted to try and that has a twist (or two, I can’t decide) to it which has nothing to do with its appearance but with its age.

Robert May's French Bread

I recently got hold of my favourite food writer Elizabeth David’s English Bread and Yeast Cookery and I have stopped counting the breads I have marked as Must Makes but one of the first breads I spotted and decided to make is a recipe first published in 1660 in The Accomplished Cook by Robert May. Just like Elizabeth David, I love things like this recipe that give me a link to the past, being able to make a bread in the same way as they did 350 years ago and enjoying it. And that is the Twist to my bread. I hope it suffices. If not, you can see that I made twisted spikes on the crust, just to be sure.
Elizabeth David has adapted the recipe but only a little, she reduced the ingredients to about half and the egg whites a little more than half, that’s it and if you want to take a look at the 1685 edition of May’s book, you find it here.

Robert May's French Bread

ROBERT MAY’S FRENCH BREAD
from Elizabeth David’s English Bread and Yeast Cookery,

500 g/ 1 lb 2 oz preferably a half-and-half mixture of unbleached white and wheatmeal
15 g7 0,5 oz of yeast (fresh)
2 egg whites
280-340 g/ 0,5 pint to 12 oz water and milk,preferably 3/4 water and 1/4 milk
15 g/ 0,5 oz salt

- Warm flour and salt in a very tepid oven. (you can skip this but I did it)

- Pour in the yeast creamed in a little of the warmed milk and water mixture. Add the egg whites, beaten in a small bowl until they are just beginning to froth. Pour in the remaining milk (but not all at once like I did, I had to add more flour to get the right consistency). Mix as for ordinary bread dough.
- Leave to rise until spongy and light. This will take 45 minutes to 1 hour depending on the temperature of the ingredients when the dough as mixed.
- Break down the dough, divide it into two round loaves-or long rolls if you prefer. (I made one oval loaf). Cover with plastic or a light cloth and leave to recover volume. About 30 minutes should be enough.
- Decorate crust with cuts or not. Bake in a pre-heated oven (230°C/450°F) for the first 15 minutes. Then to prevent the crust to get too hard, cover the loaves with bowls or an oval casserole. In another 15 minutes the laves should be ready. (I did not cover my loaf because I had nothing of that size of shape that I could use so I lowered the temperature to 175°C/350°F and left it in for another 15-20 minutes.

Robert May's French Bread

And no, that is not May’s cookbook but another, French, cookbook from the same century.

L