Tuesday, May 5, 2009


Recently  I reserved a book called The Breads of France, by Bernard Clayton.  It came out  in 1978. I used to make a lot of bread, and the Clayton book was kind of a bible for me.  I really enjoyed breadmaking, and no matter what you did with them, they tended to turn out quite well. There was one "daily" loaf that I made a lot, something called the Honfleur Country Loaf.  The picture shows the baker's wares:  big, round loves, with decorations suggesting sheaves of wheat(I didn't bother with these, just the loaf itself).


More interesting,  Clayton went to Bayeux, and did the Bayeux Tapestry Tour.  There, he discovered a section of the Bayeux Tapestry, where there is a feast going on, and discovered a section of the Tapestry that shows a servant carrying a loaf that Clayton claims is similar to another recipe he gathered -- something he calls Normandy Beaten Bread. For the record, this  breadmaking recipe requires you not only to knead it(for a long time), but also to bash it for a while with a rolling pin or something similar.


To get back to the subject,  the Bayeux Tapestry shows a couple of scenes, one of which definitely has somebody holding bread, and one of which probably  has somebody holding bread.  The "definitely one is here, and the "probable" is here.  The "definite" one looks like one of those holiday "ring" loaves you sometimes see around Christmastime.  The "probable" looks a lot like the Honfleur Country Loaf. 


Clayton also says that the French nowadays think they brought the art of breadmaking to England.  This, of  course, isn't true; names like "Baker" and "Baxter" were, in Old English,originally male and female bakers!  And, to connect this to medieval England, where this piece properly belongs,I would suggest to the Gentle Reader that the kind of bread that was ordinarily baked in England, was much like the Honfleur Country Loaf.  It's too bad the book is out of print, and it's too bad that, as far as I know, there isn't a nice picture of the bread in Internetland. Then I could add a picture so you could see for yourselves.  However,  I do have the recipe, if anyone reading this would like to try it.  It's kind of fun if you want to do some "artisan" breadmaking over a weekend. 


Honfleur Country Loaf(and I'm fairly sure this is something like what people in medieval England ate):



1 tablespoon honey

1 cup warm(not hot) water

1 package dry yeast

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat flour



All of starter

2 cups warm water

1 tablespoon salt

2 cups whole wheat flour

2-3 cups all-purpose flour


1 or2 baking sheets, greased, sprinkled with cornmeal




In a large bowl, dissolve honey in 1 cup warm water and add yeast.  Stir to dissolve and let rest until creamy.  Add 1/2 cup each of whole wheat and white bread to make the starter batter.  Add balance of flours to make a shaggy mass you can work with your hands.  Knead for 3 minutes.  Toss in liberal amounts of white flour if slack or sticky. Cover bowl and leave at room temperature 4 hours or overnight.


Pour 2 cups warm water over starter.  Stir with large wooden spoon or rubber scraper to break up dough.Add salt.  Place 2 cups each of white and whole wheat flours at the side ofthe mixing bowl.  Add equal parts of each,1/2 cup at a time. Stir with utensil , then work it with hands.  You may need more white flour to keep the dough from getting sticky.  Lift from bowl with hands.



Place  the dough on a floured surface and knead aggressively. Once in a while. lift the dough up and bang it against the floured surface.  This is fun(gets rid of all your tensions), and it speeds up the process. Do this three or four times, then continue to knead.  After a while, the dough will be moist and solid. 



Return the dough to the washed and greased bowl.  Cover tightly, leave at room temperature 3-4 hours or overnight, if necessary, until it doubles in volume.



Push down dough and turn out on a well-floured work surface.  Divide the dough into several pieces and shape into tight balls. Reserve 1 cup of the dough to make wheat stalks, if desired. Place on baking sheet and press tops down to flatten slightly.



The loaves are left under wax paper or other covering to triple in size.  This takes about 2 1/2 hours. 


BAKING(50 minutes)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees, about 20 minutes.  Place a broiler pan on the bottom shelf.  Five minutes before the bread goes in the oven, pour 1 cup hot tap water in the pan for a moist, steamy oven.  Place loaves on the middle shelf.  Midway through the bake period, shift the loaves so that each loaf gets equal heat.  Loaves are done when golden brown.  Bottom crust will sound hard and hollow when tapped with a finger.  Place on metal rack and cool.  Freezes well


Oh, and don't forget to enjoy!

Anne G