Now that I’ve made the former first lady’s peach preserves, I needed some bread to enjoy it! I chose this recipe, again from the Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery for the fun explanation that came with it, courtesy of the transcriber, Karen Hess.
Hess spends quite a bit of time explaining the difference between English bread, French bread, and the English version of French bread! It’s a fascinating read but it basically boils down to ingredients-and an emphasis on a soft loaf with a soft crust.
I was also drawn to the idea of using beer to activate the yeast! It just sounded fun and as Hess points out, in the days before Fleishman’s jarred variety, yeast was usually the by-product of the beer making process. We’re coming full circle!
The hardest part of making this recipe was the measurements. You’ll remember that in Martha’s time, baking for the week was done on one day so making 12 loaves of bread was a necessity, whereas I really only wanted two loaves.
I also did not punch down this recipe and let rise a second time, as Martha does not include that step in the process. The bread is a soft, dense loaf with a soft crust. It freezes very well and makes the most excellent grilled cheese sandwiches! The best part is that Martha specifically instructs you to do NO KNEADING!
Here are Martha’s instructions:
Take a gallon of flowre & put to it a little salt, a pinte of ale years, a quart of new milke heated, but not too hot. Poure these into ye flowre, & mix them with one hand, you must not knead it at all. You heat a woolen cloth and poure your paste on it, flower ye cloth, & lap it uup. You make it into a dosin of loves & set you on a peele, flowred, & lay a warm wollen cloth on. Your ovene must be allmoste hot when you mix your bread. Heat your oven pritty hot, & chip your bread when it comes out.
A peele is a baker’s wooden paddle. Lap it up means to fold it over. Hess says the instruction about having your oven at a certain temperature before mixing the bread was put in because in Martha’s day, it took as long as two hours to heat an oven to the appropriate temperature for making bread.
1 cup beer
2 1/4 tsp dried yeast
7 1/2 cup flour
2 tsp. salt
2 cups warm milk
Mix the yeast into the beer and let it sit 10 minutes until the mixture is foamy. Meanwhile, sift the salt into the flour and put dry ingredients into large mixing bowl. If you have a stand mixer, attach the dough hook.
When the yeast is ready, add it to the flour, turn on your mixer and then begin to slowly add the milk. You may not need all 2 cups depending on the weather and the moisture in your kitchen-on the day I made my bread, I only used a cup and a half. You want to add just enough that the dough stops sticking to the sides of the mixing bowl and forms a smooth-looking mass. Don’t knead the dough any further.
Take it out and divide it into two halves.
Place each half in a greased loaf pan and cover it very loosely with a piece of saran wrap that’s been sprayed with cooking spray so the dough doesn’t stick to it as it rises.
Set it in a warm place to rise until it’s about double in size.
Heat your oven to 450 degrees. Bake the loaves for 15 minutes or until they are golden brown on top and baked through.