In the Middle Ages, bakers were artisans who knew the tricks of the trade. It was not in their interest to make the skills required for making bread know to the public so very little of their recipes were written down. Often recipes are seen in written form as prompts for skilled workers. "Take ye a gud amount of dow as in the usual way and put in fenyl sayge and tyme." This is not the type of recipe that is easy for a novice to work with.
Some recipes do exist, but they are from the Royal Households of Europe, or from Monastic Orders. They do not reflect the bread that was in every day use. Flour was made from cheap ingredients like barley, rye, vetch seeds and club wheat for everyday use of the general population. The wealthy households would use higher yielding wheat flour which may well have been sieved to remove the bran. This enabled a soft white loaf to be produced, but the process was quite expensive and the extracted bran was thought only good to add to animal feed.
With no controls, wheat was enhanced by adding chalk and other bulking mediums to increase the weight on therefore the profit at point of sale. Adulterating flour was common practice in the Middle Ages and beyond.
Monasteries often had their own land and an unlimited amount of free labour. They could often produce and process grain for bread making and bake their own bread. Barley, Millet and vetch were commonly used. Wheat was another option in many monastic orders. Grain for flour making may also have been obtained under a tithe system in lieu of the use of monastic land by local farmers.
A key ceremony in Christian life was the Eucharist. The priest would conduct a ceremony of Communion in which confirmed parishioners and monks would take part in the eating of bread (The body of Christ) and the drinking of wine (The blood of Christ). The sacrament is taken at the alter rail and administered by the clergy as part of a ceremonial affirmation of belief. The bread for this ceremony was made of wheat flour and water, being of unleavened bread. Many monasteries had sacramental ovens for the baking of such bread. A type of flour called "middlings" was used for this bread. The whole wheat is milled very finely in order to break up the bran. The bread would be baked early on the morning of the ceremony, usually around 6am on a Sunday for Communion at 10am.
Download the following .pdf recipes
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This part of the Bread Pages looks at the key recipes that were used in different periods of history.