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
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.
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
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
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
Twisted Bread of Milk and Sugar (Makes 2 large loaves)
2 TBS instant yeast
1-cup lukewarm water
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 375F.
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.
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.
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!
Di Messisbugo, Christoforo Libro Novo: Venice: 1557, Reprinted Bologna: Arnoldo
Field, Carol; The Italian Baker: New York, HarperCollins,
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.