Apple Bread

Apple Bread


As you may know, I like nothing better than rummaging around in old recipe books, looking for long-neglected recipes and trying them out. This week I came across two such recipes, which I found incredibly exciting for different reasons (yes, I know I need to get out more – hush!).

The first was a recipe for pancakes, discovered in a manuscript book of recipes dated 1654-c.1685. Several things about this recipe piqued my interest – the recipe title that it was claiming to be The Best Sort Of Pancakes, the batter was generously spiced, it was mixed with water, and it specifically stated that making the recipe with milk or cream was not as good. Now I’ve only ever known pancake batter to be mixed with milk, so I  decided to take up the thrown gauntlet and quickly scribbled the recipe down for  trying later.

Fast forward a couple of days and I am in the midst of one of my internet chains of link-following and stumble across a website of 17th century Dutch recipe books. There were bits and pieces in English, but given my interest in Dutch recipes anyway, I thought it well worth bookmarking for later, especially since a transcript of the Middle Dutch had already been posted. When my husband came home that evening, I was telling him about the website and opened up the relevant browser window and scrolled down the list of recipes. I stopped scrolling at a random recipe and asked him if he could understand it enough to translate it for me. And here’s where it gets a bit spooky – because the recipe I had stopped at was the exact same pancake recipe I’d read 2 days earlier. Same instructions, in the same order, and the same note that mixing the batter with either milk or cream instead of water was not as good.

The date of the Dutch recipe book? 1667.

What I find fascinating is the fact that this Dutch recipe appears in a private household manuscript of this date. If the dating of the manuscript is a little conservative in range, it could well be as a result of the interest in all things Dutch stemming from the accession of the Dutch William III of Orange and his wife Mary (daughter of James II) – the word ‘pancake’ is obviously very close to its Dutch equivalent ‘pannenkoeken’. Frustratingly, the geographical location of the manuscript when written is not known – perhaps it was from a great house near the coast, where contact with The Netherlands through trade might explain how a cookery book travelled to and was translated in Restoration England.

So – what are the pancakes like? I couldn’t make you sit through all this rambling and not get to the crux of the matter. I mixed up a batch earlier and can honestly say the test pancakes were delicious! If you’d like to try them yourself, here is the recipe as written over 300 years ago:

Take 2 or 3 eggs and break them into a dish, and beat them well, then add unto them a pretty quantity of fair running water, and beat all together well, then put in cloves, mace, cinnamon and nutmeg and season it with salt which done, make it as thick as you think good with fine wheaten flour then fry the cakes as thin as may be with sweet butter or sweet cream and make them brown and so serve them up with sugar strewed upon them. Some mix it with milk or cream, but it is not so good.[1]

Well this is all very well, I hear you mutter, but it doesn’t explain the picture of the loaf of bread at the top of the page, so here’s how we get to that!

It’ll be shorter, I promise.

The second recipe I found was for Apple Bread, copied from the Ipswich Journal into the manuscript book from a Norfolk household in the early 19th century. It was the simplicity of the recipe that appealed – just 3 ingredients: Flour, yeast, apples. I mixed up a batch earlier this week and was delighted with the results – a lovely open textured bread with a bite/chew similar to sourdough, but with a delicate, underlying sweetness which, when toasted, almost tasted like honey. It went brilliantly, un-buttered, with some strong cheddar and a crisp apple.

To continue the week of coincidences, I later found this recipe reprinted word for word in my 1950 copy of Farmhouse Fare, recipes sent in to and collected by Farmer’s Weekly magazine. Which means that someone else copied the same recipe from the Ipswich Advertiser and kept it alive in their family for 150 years to be revived in 1950. So perhaps this is its 200-year re-revival!

It’s going to be a regular in this household from now on – I hope you enjoy it also.

Apple Bread

500g strong, white bread flour
1 sachet easy-blend yeast
4 Bramley Apples[2]

  • Put the apples in a saucepan and cover with water.
  • Bring to the boil, turn down the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes until the apples are soft and cooked. The skins might split, but as long as the water is just simmering, the apples should hold together – fast boiling water will get you apple soup!
  • Lift the apples from the water (you might need some water later). Remove the skins and scrape the cooked apple flesh into a bowl.
  • Sieve the cooked apple to make a smooth puree.
  • Put the flour and yeast into a bowl and stir to combine.
  • Add the apple puree gradually and stir to combine into a soft dough. you should need between 250-300g of apple puree. If you need more liquid, use some of the water the apples were cooked in.
  • If you have a mixer with a dough hook, work the dough for 10 minutes on medium speed. Otherwise work it by hand, but be careful not to add too much flour in the kneading – you want to keep the dough nice and soft.
  • Put the dough in a bowl, cover and leave the mixture to double in size – this could be anything from 3-8 hours.
  • When sufficiently risen, tip the dough out of the bowl and knock back.
  • Shape into loaves and put in greased loaf tins. I made one large loaf, as my Christmas rummaging in the Dutch thrift shops scored me an overly long loaf pan. The photo above shows just 1/3 of the loaf.
  • Cover lightly with a cloth and leave to rise for a further 30-45 minutes.
  • Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Bake for 30-40 minutes until golden brown and the base sounds hollow when tapped. If the bread appears cooked, but not sounding hollow, remove from the tin and return to the oven for 5-10 minutes to crisp up.
  • Cool completely on a wire rack before slicing.

[1]  I used 250ml water, 0.5tsp each of the spices, pinch of salt. No idea on flour, I whisked it in by the spoonful until it was somewhere between single and double cream in thickness.

[2] If you’re not from the UK, Bramley Apples are a tart, green-skinned cooking apple. When cooked, the flesh froths up into a cloud of fluffy apple puree. If you can’t get Bramley Apples, then use a sharp, green eating apple, but you will need to work a bit harder in order to get a smooth puree.

18 Comments on “Apple Bread”

  1. Henny says:

    A realy nice story about the “pannenkoeken”! And I think the Apple Bread is delicious, I’ll try it..

  2. carrietxxxxx says:

    Also fascinated in the history of recipes.I think we can learn a lot from the days when local produce was the only kind available and had to be stored carefully to last -like apples.It sounds lovely .A real ploughmans lunch !

    Had to laugh at buying the loaf tin on your travels .I was on holiday ,saw a fete at Marazion and bought a large kruggel or is it bundt style cake pan .I had to carry it round all day clattering about in my bag ,as if I didn’t have enough to carry already all round St Michaels Mount -everybody was laughing at me!

    • MAB says:

      Wotchers Carrie! My impulse buying of kitchenalia is such a regular feature of our holidays my husband doesn’t bat an eye any more 😉 M-A

  3. Kirsten says:

    Wow, what a great story. Could you please post the link to the website on 17th century Dutch recipe books?

    Thanks for the story and recipes, I can’t wait to test them!

    • MAB says:

      Wotchers Kirsten! I certainly can post a link – I didn’t think anyone else would be interested, to be honest, but here you go: Enjoy! M-A 😀

      • Kirsten says:

        Ha ha, well I’m Dutch and I studied bookhistory many years ago, so that might help 🙂

      • Leontine says:

        You might have more Dutch followers than you think, here is another one! I haven’t got the time to look for all those recipes and am interested in history and good and honest cooking with a twist so I am happily reading your blog and trying some when I get a chance.
        Best wishes,

  4. mairead says:

    Lovely to see a recipe for Apple Bread which uses the whole fruit. I have made bread before using apple juice for the liquid which was lovely, but this sounds much nicer. You can call it one of your 5-a-day!

  5. cookandbaker says:

    Thanks, Mary-Anne! Sounds like an easy bread recipe and I can imagine the appley aroma of it. I suppose it’ll be also nice with a touch of sugar and cinnamon and a tiny pinch of salt, but then, I suppose why not go the whole hog and through in some raisins? 😉

    I was wondering whether you thought using apple compote/puree (the sort of – usually Dutch – stuff that comes in jars at health food stores that’s 100% apple) would yield the same results.

    Also, was wondering whether something like this – without the yeast – could be made into a sourdough if the starter of some flour and some apple puree was left for a sufficient amount of time somewhere warm. I’ve come across some sourdough recipes that use fruit juice to feed the microorganisms in the flour to get them to catalyse etc.

    • MAB says:

      The apple puree would be heat-treated to prolong shelf-life, so I’m not sure you’d get the same fresh taste as when starting with fresh apple, but why not try it and see how it goes? As for the sourdough, I don’t see why it shouldn’t work – it’s my understanding that sourdough uses yeast initially, and I’ve only ever made starter during the summer, when I can put the bowl outside to attract spores, but again, just experiment and see how you do. D

      • cookandbaker says:

        Hey, M-A, thanks for getting back to me! I see what you mean…true, the aroma of freshly stewed apples won’t be coming through in the same way.

        My sourdough – I’ve posted a recipe with pics on my blog – contains no ready made yeast. I’ve made it twice by getting a starter happening solely with buttermilk, live yoghurt, and plain flour, which, once fermented, is used as the leavening agent. Turned out great only once out of two attempts. I’ve know mixed some apple juice that’s gone sour/gassy with some flour to see if I could get it to turn into a sourdough starter and hope I don’t poison myself :s

        Happy baking!

      • cookandbaker says:

        Hey, M-A, I managed to get sourdough bread out of nothing other than apple juice which had gone off and flour! No yeast at all other than what developed over three days. Just posted the recipe with photos on my blog! :))

  6. I love these recipes. apple bread sounds amazing! You are such a wonderful baking inspiration. thanks for sharing

  7. Interesting as always MAB. I saw a recipe for Apple Sourdough in Dan Lepard’s book which looked good too. xx

  8. Oh dear, less apple bread and more scumble bread. Is it supposed to smell alcoholic?
    I started it late on Thursday, and the first prove was in the kitchen for 2 hours, and then tucked into bed in the fridge overnight. I shaped, proved and cooked it this morning.
    We were hoping for a delicate apple flavour to use for pork and stuffing sandwiches tomorrow……
    It looks pretty much like yours but smells like cider! Also, i was surprised to find that i really missed the usual salt, and this is from someone who rarely cooks with it on account of the toddler.
    Any thoughts? Can we eat it do you think?
    Best wishes

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