Recipes for bread from the distant past are rare. The recipe on this page was inspired by the description in the Nyeuwen cooc boeck (New Cook Book) by Gheeraert Vorselman (edition Cockx-Indestege 1971, see bibliography). Actually this is a description of a kind of flat, unleavened bread, but I added yeast to it.
The picture from the Tacuinum Sanitatis shows a woman harvesting fennel seed. In the Middle Ages the seeds were often sugar-coated and served with other sweets at the end of a meal, together with hippocras (spiced wine). Fennel seeds were also used in pies, and the leafy part as herb in for example a summer stew with fish. The stalks were prepared as a vegetable, and there are even recipes for fennel blossom. The white bulbous finocchio was developed in Italy in the seventeenth century.
Gheeraert Vorselman, Nyeuwen coock boeck (New cookbook)
Vorselman was not a cook but a physician. He was born in Groot-Zundert, an area in the province of Brabant which is now divided by the border between the Netherlands and Belgium. The Nyeuwen cooc boeck was published in 1560, but Vorselman used many sources for his cookbook that date from much earlier. Sothis bread can be served without qualms at medieval meals. Among the texts Vorselman used are the Notabel boecxken van cokeryen from 1514 and the first volume of the convolute Gent KANTL 15 (around 1500). Vorselman also used French and Latin texts, mainly De honeste voluptate et valetudine (1468/1474) from Bartolomeo Sacchi (1421-1481), better known as Platina, an Italian humanist. The bread recipe on this page was one of the recipes Vorselman borrowed from Platina (DHVeV book I, recipe 15, ‘De Placentis’). He has omitted Platina’s mention of long buns made with leavened dough, and the variation in which the buns are filled with figpeckers and other small birds, or with fresh cheese.
The lard in the recipe is not melted, but chopped. I have used streaked bacon, chopped in small chunks and fried.
See also Roman bread. A modern recipe: Christmas Bread.
The original recipe
From the Nyeuwen cooc boeck by Gheeraert Vorselman (edition Cockx-Indestege p.105, see bibliography).
Neemt tarwenmeel oft bloemen met warmen watere also vele als ghi behoeft, ende wercket een luttel samen, dan neemt venckelsaet ende spec ghesneden terlincxwijse ende doeget int deech ende wercket wel tsamen tot tay deech ende maect eenen ronden coec ende bacten in den oven metten brode oft op den heert, &c. Inde plaetse vanden spec moech dy nemen boter oft olijfoly. Men bact ooc coec onder de asschencolen, mer sonder spec, met sout, venckel ende olie.
Take wheat meal or flour with warm water, as much as you need, and blend it a little. Then take fennel seed and diced lard. Add it to the dough and knead together into a tough (elastic?) dough. Make a round cake and bake that in the oven [together] with the bread or on the hearth, etc. You can also use butter or olive oil instead of lard. One also bakes cake under the ashes of the coals, but without lard, with salt, fennel and oil.
Modern adaptation of the recipe
The pork fat mentioned by Vorselman (and Platina), is not melted lard, but diced bacon. I have chosen to fry these first, before adding to the dough. The buckwheat grits are my addition to the original recipe. I had them somewhere in a kitchen cupboard and used trhem to give the bread more ‘bite’. But feel free to leave them out if you do not agree with my adaptation.
For a large bread of 2 pounds; preparation in advance 2½ hours including rising time; preparation 45 minutes.
250 gr (2 cups) whole wheat flour
250 gr (2 cups) white flour
4 Tbsp honey
1½ tsp salt
2 Tbsp soft butter
1 Tbsp fennel seeds
60 gr (¼ cup) buckwheat grits
2¾ dl (1⅛ cup) luke warm water
150 gr streaky bacon, diced
4 tsp (about 12 gr) dry yeast or 40 gr (1½ oz) compressed baker’s yeast
Preparation in advance
Fry the diced bacon on a small flame, drain them on kitchen towels..
When using fresh yeast, crumble it in a little warm water with a spoonful of flour and let it stand for fifteen minutes. Then add it to the flour with the rest of the water.
When using dry yeast, mix it with the flour together with the salt.
Mix salt, dry yeast if it is used, grits and fennel seeds through the flour and whole wheat flour. Stir the honey into the warm water and add it to the flour. When using fresh yeast, mix the water/flour/yeast through the rest of the water with the honey and add it to the flour. Knead until a nice supple but firm dough is formed. Put the dough in a large bowl and cover it with a moist cloth. Let the dough rise in a warm place for 45 minutes. Then add the fried bacon, knead again shortly, and let the dough rise for another 30 minutes.
Now give the bread the desired shape and let it rise another 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 200 °C/390 °F to 220 °C/425 °F.
Put the bread in the middle of the oven and let it bake for 45 minutes. To check whether the bread is done, tap it with a wooden spoon. If the bread sounds hollow, it is ready. Take the bread out of the oven and let it cool on a grid. If the bread is baked in a mould, remove it after five minutes. If the bread is allowed to cool in the mould, the breadcrust will become soggy because the excess moisture can’t escape.
This bread is really hefty. You can serve it with medieval or renaissance meals, but it also tastes good at breakfeast or lunch. Or serve it with pea soup.
All descriptions of ingredients
This is actually not a cereal, but a plant from the same family as rhubarb and sorrel. Buckwheat is native to the Far East, the temperate climate zone. Buckwheat has come to Europe by two ways: it first reached Europe by way of Russia; during the fifteenth century the plant was introduced in Germany. Later the plant reached Southern Europe through the Middle East (hence the French name for this plant: Sarassin). By the way, the English name buckwheat is derived from the Dutch boekweit, litt. ‘beech wheat’, because of its resemblance to beech nuts.
Since buckwheat contains no gluten, you can’t bake bread with just buckwheat. Famous dishes with buckwheat are blinis (Russian pancakes) and soba (Japanese noodles).
Because of the use of buckwheat grits this bread can only be served in an authentic way at meals from the fifteenth century and later. If you use rolled oats or something like that it can also be served at earlier meals.
The editions below were used by me. Links refer to available editions.
- E. Cockx-Indestege, Eenen nyeuwen coock boeck. Kookboek samengesteld door Gheeraert Vorselman en gedrukt te Antwerpen in 1560. (‘A new cookbook by Gheeraert Vorselman’) Wiesbaden, 1971.
- M.E. Milham, Platina: On Right Pleasure and Good Health: Critical Edition and Translation of “De Honesta Voluptate et Valetudine” (Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies, V. 168). Med.&Ren. Texts & Studies vol.168, Tempe/Arizona, 1998.
Recipe for Medieval Bread with fennel and bacon
A recipe for bread from the 15th and 16th century, for medieval and renaissance meals.