A Refined Renaissance Bread by Mistress Rachaol Makrieth
    The recipe used to prepare this entry was translated by Master Basilius Phocas OL. The bread was prepared using only metal, wooden or ceramic utensils. A wood-fired oven would have been period, but was unavailable to me. I used a gas oven. While I discuss the ingredients at length in the body of this documentation, I made modifications for this specific entry. I used only unbleached all-purpose soft wheat flour. My sourdough starter was weak, so in addition t the starter I used commercial dry yeast to boost the rising action. Organic and free-range eggs were not available at my market at this time. In this entry, each bread is 9 oncia (about 255 grams) and Messisbugo directs this weight in the title. I braided them because I love the way they look, and it fits the instructions.
The dishes and cloth used in the display are not period. The bread itself would have been placed at an individual setting with one or two other baked goods, perhaps a biscotti or other biscuit. I chose to serve these breads with ginger preserves and butter. I have no evidence this bread would have been served in this way, and I do not assert that it was a possibility. I simply provided these to complement the flavor of the bread, and to create a pleasing (though modern) presentation. However, ginger was highly favored as a flavoring by the author of this recipe, and ginger preserve may be interpreted as appropriate in that regard.
 

During the first half of the 1500’s Christoforo Messisbugo was the scalco, or steward for Don Hippolito d’Este, cardinal of Ferrara. His duties included planning and executing lavish feasts for his lord and numerous noble guests. Messisbugo created sumptuous banquets featuring gilded pastry castles, fantastically folded napkins, course after course of marvelous gourmet delicacies, and all on a budget. Messisbugo’s skill at creating an atmosphere of unlimited wealth eventually netted him a noble title. We are most fortunate that he left The Libro Novo with recipes and menus that give a glimpse into that elegant Renaissance world.      
At each place on the feasting table would be pastries and breads to whet the appetite, and accompany the meal. The first recipe Messisbugo writes in The Libro Novo is Pani de latte e Zuccaro, or Bread of Milk and Sugar. Messisbugo includes it in a section named “The Most Important Foods”. Pane di Latte et Zucchero is a deliciously refined bread using the rich milk, butter, eggs and rosewater, and it is beautifully shaped by braiding or twisting. The result is tender yet firm bread that is a joy to eat.

 
Pani de latte e Zuccaro di Oncie noue l’uno.
Fatto che hauerai la tua Sconza, o leuaturo, pigliarai di fiori di farina burattata libra. 35. e tanto meno, quanto meno sera quella di che haurai fatto il leuaturo, e libra.6.di Zuccaro ben bianco, e Torli d’Uova. 75. e libre .3. d’Acqua rosata, e libre .6.di latte fresco, e oncie.6 di butiro fresco, e impatarai in tuo Pane avuertirai bene, che l’acqua, o latte non scottaasse, e farai  anchora che Torli d’Uova suian caldetti, &, li scalderai, ponendoli nell acqua calda, e li porrai, il conveniente sale, e farai la pasta, si che non siane dura, ne tenera, ma piu tosto ch’habbia del saldetto, e la gramarai molto bene, e poi farai il tuo pane, e lo lasciaraiben leuare, e lo cuocerai con grande ordine, si che non pigli troppo fuoco, ma che a tuo Guiditio stiabene, e questo pane e piu bello a farlo tondo, che intorto, o in pinzoni, sia dopoi piu grande, o pui picciolo, come tu vorrai: ti governerai adunque secondo questo modo, che provato.
 
Bread of Milk and Sugar Each One Nine Ounces
To first make fifty breads of milk and sugar of nine ounces each. Having made your yeast froth or yeast you will take thirty five pounds of the flower of wheat sifted, and a much less amount, so that it will be enough to have made the yeast, six pounds of good white sugar, and 75 egg yolks, three pounds of rose water, and six pounds of fresh milk, and six ounces of fresh butter, and you will mix your bread, you will note well that the water or the milk does not scorch, and you will make certain the egg yolks are to be warm, and you will scald them, putting in the hot water, and you will put suitable salt, and you will make the dough, so that it is not hard or tender, but more hard than you would have it firm, and you will knead it very well, and then you will make your bread, and you will leave it to rise well, and you will cook them with serious method so that they do not take too much fir, but that at your very good judgment and this bread is made more beautiful by making them round, that twist or in buns, then they can be made larger or smaller, whatever you will want: you will govern yourself to one according to the way it is proven.

Discussion of Ingredients
    In the United States we do not have the same ingredients as modern Italians much less Renaissance Ferrara. Research is needed to find clues about what would have been available during the period. I made many tests of this bread, using a variety of flours, eggs, amounts of rose water, and types of leavening. As I became familiar with the ingredients I refined the recipe, and it became tastier and more authentic each time I used a more period ingredient.

Wheat Flour: Triticum. The flour of Italy is the species Triticum aestivum, which is divided into two categories, soft wheat (grano tenero)and hard wheat (grano duro). Lynn Rosetto Kasper notes that the wheat grown in the Po river valley has low protein content because of the heat, moisture, and soil type (pg.480).
There are five grades of grano tenero, and they are classified by the amount of husk and whole grain that remain after sifting. The appearance and the whole grain content determine the grade of the flour. “00” is the most refined Italian flour , and “0” contains about 70% of the grain or 30% of the bran and germ, it is therefore slightly darker and coarser. American flour is measured by it’s protein content, or strength. American bread flour has 13-15% protein, all-purpose flour has a protein of 11 or 12 percent, and pastry flour is 4-9% protein. American all-purpose flour is a bit stronger than Italian “0” flour (pg. 35).
The Italian practice of grading flour by appearance is helpful when deciding the type flour to use in Renaissance recipes. The baker can see the amount of whole grain incorporated in the flour, and this visual judgment is almost certainly how a Renaissance baker would have selected flour. Messisbugo directs the baker to choose “flower of wheat sifted”. I decided this could mean “0” flour and a low protein rather than high protein bread flour.  I tried bread flour initially, but the texture of the bread was heavy, dense and dry. After reading about modern Italian breads and the tradition of using a lower protein flour, I decided to mimic the “0” flour. The result was remarkably different, even using the same amount of flour. It was lighter, and tender and more enjoyable.
Carol Field and Lynne Rosetto Kasper recommend mixing one part cake flour to four parts all-purpose to approximate “0” flour. I use these proportions in my work with these recipes. It is possible that bolting and sifting flour achieved a higher rate of perfection during the Renaissance, but it probably retained a small amount of bran.  To compensate I use stone ground, organic flours in these proportions: One part white pastry flour, one part whole wheat flour, and three parts all-purpose flour.

Yeast:  Yeast can drastically affect bread’s flavor and texture. Today, we are used to dried instant yeast which imparts it’s own flavor to bread, mostly because it speeds up the time needed to raise the dough, therefore, it doesn’t really have a chance to blend (or develop) with the other flavors. The flavor of instant yeast is quite different from a sourdough leavening. It is also a modern innovation that makes bread making a faster job.
Messisbugo says this about yeast in his recipe, “Having made your yeast froth or yeast you will take thirty five pounds of the flower of wheat sifted, and a much less amount, so that it will be enough to have made the yeast”. He appears to be asking the baker to make a sourdough starter. You can accomplish this by stirring one part water and two parts flour in an open container and allowing it to sit until it captures wild airborne yeast and lactobacilli (in other words; creates it’s own bubbles). The flavor of a sourdough will be quite distinct from region to region due to combinations of local yeasts and bacillus. It also takes a longer time to proof (or rise), and therefore, the flavor develops and becomes a subtle part of the bread’s flavor. I use a sourdough starter purchased through the Internet because I am not happy with the results of my homemade starters.

Other ingredients:  
I use medium eggs to approximate the type of egg that may have been available in Ferrara . Using eggs from free-range chickens creates a subtle flavor difference in the context of this bread. However, I am pleased with the results using ordinary grocery store eggs.
The Venetians were refining sugar into loaves during the Renaissance (Fitzgibbon, pg.457). They were foremost in refining technique and trade. This is fine bread, and I continue to choose white sugar because it conforms to the mind set of using the most extravagant ingredients.
Butter  was a symbol of wealth and it was used to enrich fillings and tenderize pastries. European butter tends to have lower water content than US butter. However, the difference is minimal in this bread recipe. I also suggest using organic whole milk because it is richer, and adds to the tenderness of the pane.  
Rosewater was the flavoring of choice in the Mediterranean. The Middle East had a revolutionary impact on European cooking since the Middle Ages. Rosewater does have a unique flavor that works well with the rich ingredients, and is subtle rather than “perfume-y”.
Messisbugo mentions adding “suitable salt”. This phrase is similar to “add salt to taste”. I used an amount that was appropriate for two large loaves of bread.]

Weights and Measures
Weights and measures did not become truly standardized in most parts of the world until the 20th century. Therefore, in past centuries, an “ounce” in London, England would be somewhat different from an “oncia” in Ferrara, Italy. In fact, an “oncia” in Ferrara was measurably different from an “oncia” in Venice, a mere 50 miles away. This is because the weights that were used as standards were produced locally. The smithy in Ferrara had their own samples to produce their scales as did local smithies all over the “measuring world”. While the measures were very similar, there were differences. Standards for weights and measures were created over time, but those standards are quite different than those of the past. For instance, a U.S. pound today is 16 ounces. During the Renaissance it was closer to 12 ounces.
In general, it is safe to increase ingredients proportionally. However this method does not always work well, especially with baking recipes. Yeast, salt, and flavorings (i.e. rose water) are items in this recipe that do not follow this generality.
A fantastic resource on this subject was written by Ronald Edward Zupk. He compiled weights and measures of Italy from the Middle Ages to the 19th century (A daunting task indeed). His book sheds light on the mystery of period weights and measures (see bibliography for info). I have used weight measures for this recipe because it is a much more accurate way of measuring baking ingredients. If you use the volume measurements be prepared to add more or less flour depending on how the dough combines. Please refer to Appendix A for the list of measures used in this recipe and others

Shaping
Messisbugo gives many options for shaping the breads of milk and sugar. He says, “this bread is made more beautiful by making them round, that twist or in buns, then they can be made larger or smaller, whatever you will want: you will govern yourself to one according to the way it is proven”. He wants these breads to be lovely and implies that your imagination should dictate the shape. Messisbugo also seems to suggest that the baker will decide the final shape according to how the dough rises or “the way it is proven”. If the dough has little energy it will braid or twist nicely, because the bread will not puff up and obscure the details. However, a round shape may be less pleasing in this case because it won’t puff. Of course, Messisbugo may simply be telling the baker use the shape that has “proven” most pleasing to his own senses.


Twisted Bread of Milk and Sugar  (Makes 2 large loaves)
 2 TBS instant yeast
1-cup lukewarm water
or
2 cups sourdough starter
2 lbs or 6 ½ cups  all-purpose flour
 ¾ lb or 3 cups whole wheat flour
 ¾ lbs or 3 cups cake flour, sifted together
9 ounces or 1 ¼ cup white sugar
8 medium egg yolks
3 ounces or ½ cup rosewater
12 ounces 1 2/3 cups whole milk
1 ounce or 2 TB butter
½ ounce or 1 ½ TB salt

1.    Preheat the oven to 375F.
2.    Sift the flours together into a large container.
3.    Dissolve yeast in the warm water in a very large bowl and mix in about 10 ounces or 2 cups of all-purpose flour to make a sponge.
-Or-
If you use starter, add 6 ounces or 1 cup of the flour mixture and stir until the flour is incorporated.
Allow this to rise in the bowl covered with a dishtowel in a warm part of the room for one hour.
4.    Heat sugar, egg yolks, rosewater, milk, salt and butter in a medium saucepan until the butter is melted. Set aside to cool.
5.    Add the milk mixture to the sponge mixture and stir until roughly mixed. Add 10 ounces of the flour and stir until roughly mixed, and continue to add the flour in 10-ounce increments until it is too difficult to stir. Place the remaining flour on the kneading surface and turn the dough out of the bowl on top of it. Add flour as you knead until the dough no longer sticks to the surface after this point add no more flour. Continue to knead about 10 minutes or until the dough feels firm and smooth in texture.
6.    Put the dough back in the bowl and cover with a damp cloth. Let it rise to double its bulk in a warm place. When it has doubled punch the dough down and remove it from the bowl.
7.    Divide the dough in half. Set aside one half and work with the remaining half. Divide that half into thirds, and roll each third into a “snake”. Press the three “snakes” at one end and braid them and press them together at the end.
8.    Place the shaped dough on a baking sheet that has about ¼ cup flour scattered on its surface. Allow the bread to rise until it is nearly doubled in size, and place in the oven. Bake until the crust is a matte golden brown, about 45-55 minutes. Alternatively, brush the surface of each loaf with an egg wash of 1 egg to ½ cup water. Bake about 45-55 minutes until the bread has a deep glossy brown top crust, and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped with your fingers.  
Conclusions
Very few bread recipes come to us from the Middle Ages or the Renaissance. We are blessed to have this “artisan” recipe from Christoforo Messisbugo. He gives us a number of clues about period bread making, including leavening and shaping. The Bread of Milk and Sugar is delicious on it’s own, with preserves, or (my favorite) as French toast.

My deepest thanks to Master Basilius Phocas for his guidance and translation of this recipe!

Bibliography
Primary Sources
Di Messisbugo, Christoforo Libro Novo: Venice: 1557, Reprinted Bologna: Arnoldo Forni, 1973.
Modern Sources
    Field, Carol; The Italian Baker: New York, HarperCollins, 1985.
    Fitzgibbon, Theodora; The Food of the Western World: New York, Quadrangle/The New York Times Book Co., 1976.
    Kasper, Lynne Rosetto; The Splendid Table: New York, 1992.
    Root, Waverly; Food: New York, Smithmark, 1980.
    Zupko, Ronald Edward; Italian Weights and Measures From the Middle Ages to the Nineteenth Century. US ISSN 0065-9738.

Copyright 2007 by Mistress Rachaol Makrieth, permission is given to use this work for scholarly research and non-profit use provided that credit is given.  If you wish to contact the author please contact me (Helewyse) by email at helewyse at yahoo dot com.