A historical bread – Robert May’s French Bread from 1660.

Robert May's French Bread

This month I had the pleasure to decide what the Bread Baking Babes was going to bake, something that isn’t always easy unless you have a specific bread in mind. Which I hadn’t but I decided to go for a bread that combined two things that I care much for, historical food and the writings of Elizabeth David. Elizabeth David has written several cookbooks and innumerable columns about food in magazines and newspapers, columns that have been collected into books like An Omelette and A Glass of Wine (a book I return to time after time when I need inspiration, be it cooking, writing or just life) and Is There A Nutmeg In the House? and others. I have a few of her cookbooks too but it is her writing I love and in her book about bread, you get both in the best of ways (although if you are the kind of baker who needs step by step directions, this is not a book for you). In English Bread and Yeast Cookery, first published in 1977, I always find bread inspiration, it is a mix of history and recipes and it was here I found the bread that we bake this month, Robert May’s French Bread from his book The Accomplisht Cook; Or, The Art and Mystery of Cooking from 1660. But I didn’t leave it at that, because it is a quite simple bread to make I added the challenge to decorate the bread as well, any way they want and feel like and I’m very curious to see what they have done. I made a simple bunch of grapes on mine and it brought back memories of times when I had no family and therefore had more time to spare and always decorated my breads. I have made the bread before but despite that I was surprised it is so good which means that it now goes straight into my Breads To Make Again And Again list.

Robert May's French Bread-2

You have to take look at what the other Bread Baking Babes have made and if you want to bake this bread and become a Bread Baking Buddie,  please bake and send me the link to your blog post about it before midnight Saturday 28th of September to luculliandelights AT gmail DOT com, please write Bread Baking Buddy in the subject line so that I don’t miss it!

Bake My Day – Karen
Bread Baking Babe Bibliothécaire – Katie
blog from OUR kitchen – Elizabeth
Feeding my enthusiasms – Elle
girlichef – Heather
Life’s A Feast – Jamie
Living in the Kitchen with Puppies – Natashya
My Kitchen In Half Cups – Tanna
Notitie Van Lien – Lien
My Diverse Kitchen – Aparna
Bread Experience – Cathy

Robert May's French Bread-3
from Elizabeth David’s English Bread and Yeast Cookery, 1977. (I have adapted her recipe a little, not the ingredient list but the directions.)

500 g/ 1 lb 2 oz preferably a half-and-half mixture of unbleached white and wheatmeal
15 g/ 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 (I always use less salt than suggested in bread recipes and did so this time as well, I know that Elizabeth used 10 g and I suggest you do that too)

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 round loaf). I covered it with a round bowl but Elizabetn David recommends covering the bread with plastic or a light cloth and leave it to recover volume. About 30 minutes should be enough. If you plan to decorate the bread like I did, don’t forget to put aside a part of the dough.

Decorate crust with cuts or with dough decorations. 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 loaves should be ready.