And welcome to the second Great British Bake Off themed post. This week on the show it’s Bread Week, and so I’ve rustled up a little 18th century loaf for you to try, if you fancy baking along with the series this year.
I found this recipe in a French book on the skills of the artisan, specifically “Description et détails des arts du meunier: du vermicelier et du boulenger”, published in 1767 and written by Paul-Jacques Malouin regarding the skills of the miller, the pasta maker and the baker. If you’re wanting to dust off your rusty school-learned French, there’s a free e-book available for download here.
Helpfully, Monsieur Malouin included some illustrative engravings in his book, with notes on the various utensils and accoutrements of the trade, as well as identifying different loaves.
Some, like the loaf above, were to be enjoyed at specific meals, and the loaf here was known as type of soup bread – it’s special shape making it easy to tear off pieces during the meal. It was called artichoke bread, for its resemblance, albeit somewhat stylised, to a globe artichoke.
The illustration for the engraving is a tad small, but it gives the general idea of shape, if not size. An additional detail is that Monsieur Malouin suggests this bread be the last of a series of four breads that could be made from the one batch of dough. In order to retain it’s shape, the dough for this loaf needs to be rather stiff, ideal for making out of the trimmings and scraping of other, more refined, loaves.
I probably added a little too much liquid for the loaf in the photograph, as the ‘leaves’ have sagged somewhat. A short (3 minute) video clip of a real French artian baker, Monsier Jaques Mahou, forming artichoke loaves is available here, alas, we do not get to see them emerge from the oven. Edit: Many thanks to Karan (see comments below) who pointed out that we CAN see cooked versions of this, and Monsieur Mahou’s other artisan breads emerging from the oven HERE
I’ve just used my standard white bread recipe, with the one difference of making the liquid half milk and half water. Using milk makes for a softer crust, so mix it with the water how you like. If you prefer an extremely crusty loaf, omit it altogether, or for a super-soft crust, use all milk or even cream.
500g strong white bread flour
1 sachet easy-blend yeast
200ml warm water
200ml warm milk
- Put all the dry ingredients into a bowl and mix.
- Stir the milk and water together and gradually add to the dry ingredients until the mixture comes together into a firmer-than-usual dough.
- Knead for 10 minutes until the dough becomes smooth and elastic.
- Return the dough to the bowl, cover with oiled cling film and set aside to rise until doubled in size.
- Tip out the dough and pat down to remove the air.
- Shaping the loaf:
- Roll out the dough to a length of between 80-100cm, and between 5-8cm wide (Figure 1 above).
- Using a dough scraper or a sharp knife, make a series of cuts half-way through the dough all along one side, about 2-3cm apart (Figure 2 above).
- Scatter some flour over and between the slices, as this will help prevent them sticking together, as well as making for a nice floury loaf like the one above.
- Starting from the right (or left – it matters not one bit), roll up the dough as per Figure 3 above. If you’ve not already seen it – and maybe even if you already have – watch the video of Monsieur Mahou shape his loaf.
- Tuck the final piece underneath the loaf to help keep its shape and place on parchment paper or a floured baking sheet.
- Tease out the individual ‘leaves’ and, when you’re happy with the overall shape, cover the dough lightly with a cloth and allow to rise for 30 minutes.
- NB If you’re not happy with the shape, whether the leaves stuck together too much or the dough is too soft, just knead it back into one mass and roll it out again. As previously mentioned, the dough should be on the firm side in order to help hold the shape, so re-keading with a little extra flour can only be of benefit.
- Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
- Bake for 30-40 minutes until risen and well browned and sounding hollow when tapped on the bottom.
- Cool on a wire rack.
Serving suggestion: When you’re happy with the technique, shake things up a little by using differently-flavoured doughs: my Herb and Walnut springs to mind. And don’t think you’re limited to eating it with soup – a flavoured bread would be fantastic with some big, robustly-flavoured dips! Have fun!