Manchet Bread

Manchet bread was the finest quality of bread made in all great households from the Middle Ages until the seventeenth century. In royal residences, castles and fine houses, it was served only to the lord and his lady and a few of their well-born attendants and their grown-up offspring. It was not usually served in the nursery. Manchet loaves were always moulded by hand (hence the name) and were never very large. This recipe is adapted from the instructions laid down at Eltham Palace.

Ingredients

  • lb (¾ kg) strong white flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 3 teaspoons sugar
  • Four ¼ oz packets (30 g) dried yeast, mixed according to directions on packets
  • cup (1.5 dl) warm milk mixed with cup (1.5 dl) water
  • Extra milk or 1 egg white, optional

Method

Put the flour into a large bowl and mix in the salt and sugar. Make a hollow in the centre and pour in the yeast mixture, knocking a little of the flour over it. Cover with a folded tea towel and set in a warm place for 1 hour to prove.

Remove the cloth and pour in the milk and water, which should be just blood heat, working the liquid in all the time and kneading in the flour from the sides into the centre. When all the liquid is in, knead for several minutes on a board. Return the dough to the bowl. Cut a deep cross in it, cover and leave for another hour. Remove it from the bowl to the board, knead it again, cut it into quarters and mould each quarter into a round, fairly flat shape.

Put the 4 manchets well apart on a large, flat baking tin, cover lightly with a single cloth and leave in a warm place for a further 20 minutes. Bake at 400°F (200°C, Gas Mark 6) for 30 minutes. Take out, turn upside down and tap the bottoms which will sound hollow if fully baked. Turn the loaves the right way up and put on a rack. Leave for 1 hour in a warm place, as this makes the crust crisper.

Manchet loaves were sometimes brushed over with milk, or with the white of an egg just before the end of the cooking time and put back into the oven for 2 to 3 minutes.

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