Convivencia, February 21, 2004

A note on the Bread:

For almost all medieval cultures, grain, and especially bread, was a major part of the meal. It wasn't just a food, it was also a dining utensil-- bread trenchers (plates) were used for many foods, polite diners were enjoined to wipe their knives on their bread to avoid soiling the tablecloth, and 'sops' were used to eat certain dishes. So bread is an important part of a feast in our period.

However, because of the nature of bread baking, we don't have a lot of written down recipes for regular bread from the period. One SCA author cites 7 total. Recipes for sweets, fritters, doughnuts and other bread items can be found, and there are flatbread-like items in the Islamic records.

I've chosen to present 3 different breads, two of them made by the wonderful Sarah bas Mordechai and one commercially purchased.

The Christian course includes 'manchet' or small white rolls, made by Sarah. These rolls would have been served to all higher class diners.

The second, Moorish course, includes commercially available flatbread (pitas), which can be used to spoon up your food. Flatbreads were a staple of Andalusian and other Moorish cuisine.

The third, Jewish course, includes Jewish-style challah. This distinctive bread is not really documentable to the Sephardic Jews, who generally, except on Passover, seemed to eat the same breads as their Christian neighbors. While the modern slightly sweetened egg bread, served in braids, appears to have come to America with Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jews, and be modern, there are a few egg breads in the extant recipes, including Rastons, an egg bread that is later hollowed out and rebaked
with butter:

"Take fayre Flowre, and + e whyte of Eyroun, and + e yolk, a lytel; + an take Warme Berme, and putte al + es to-gederys, and bete hem to-gederys with + in hond tyl it be schort and + ikke y-now, and caste Sugre y-now + er-to, and + enne lat reste a whyle; + an kaste in a fayre place in + e oven, and late bake y-now; and + en with a knyf cutte yt round a-boue in maner of a crowne, and kepe + e crust + at + ou kyttyst; and + an pyke al + e cromys with-ynne to-gederys, an pike hem smal with + yn knyf, and saue + e sydys and al + e cruste hole with-owte; and + an caste + er-in clarifiyd Botor, and mille + e cromes and + e botor to-gederes, and keuere it a-gen with + e cruste, + at + ou kyttest a-way; + an putte it in + e ovyn agen a lytil tyme; and + an take it out, and serue it forth."

In the Al-Andalus, there is a doughnut/fritter of leavened dough with egg that is braided:

The Making of Dafâir, Braids
Take what you will of white flour or of semolina, which is better in these things. Moisten it with hot water after sifting, and knead well, after adding some fine flour, leavening, and salt. Moisten it again and again until it has middling consistency. Then break into it, for each ratl of semolina, five eggs and a dirham of saffron, and beat all this very well, and put the dough in a dish, cover it and leave it to rise, and the way to tell when this is done is what was mentioned before [it holds an indentation]. When it has risen, clean a frying pan and fill it with fresh oil, then put it on the fire. When it starts to boil, make braids of the leavened dough like hair-braids, of a handspan or less in size. Coat them with oil and throw them in the oil and fry them until they brown. When their cooking is done, arrange them on an earthenware plate and pour over them skimmed honey spiced with pepper, cinnamon, Chinese cinnamon, and lavender. Sprinkle it with ground sugar and present it, God willing.

So, though Challah as we know it is not documentable to the Ashkenazi, I've chosen to share Sarah's wonderful baking with you anyway.