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Medieval Sourdough


Heritage is the buzzword in the bread baking world at the moment and it doesn’t come more authentic than from my friend, the small-scale grower, John Letts. We’ve had a delivery of this year’s harvest including blends that had been sold out since last November such as the very special Neolithic Blend Eincorn, along with the Iron Age Emmer and Spelt. While a big benefit of heritage blends over modern strains is that come-what-may, you (nearly) always get a crop since the genetic diversity within the blend means that some of them at least will survive whatever the weather does. On the other hand, small-scale growers have a hard time predicting two years ahead how much of a specific grain is going to be in demand – and so until Heritage Harvest has grown big enough, this is always a risk with such a scarce product.

My favourite is the Medieval Peasant’s Blend, partly as the name makes me smile and partly as I think the flavour is really good. As the flour contains peas and broad beans, it makes for a very lively flour, a good one to try making your first heritage loaf with…and this is a hot topic for Vanessa who has just the recipe.

Medieval Sourdough

My advice when baking with heritage grains is to start by baking a small 1lb loaf and use a natural, long, slow fermentation. This allows you to get familiar with the flour before over committing. When you are experimenting with a new flour, making a mistake with a large loaf can be costly.

This is a no-knead loaf, so you could quite easily practice and make a loaf every day without much effort at all. In order to make this as close as possible to what would be a medieval loaf, I have used John Letts’s Medieval Peasant’s Blend, which contains ground peas and beans. You have to take this into account when proving as peas and beans both contain high levels of nitrogen and this can turbo-charge the sourdough starter or yeast, so despite it not having the high gluten levels of modern flour, you will still get a moist, well risen loaf that is full of flavour. In medieval times, bread also included many other things that were in season, so I have added a seed mix of sesame, sunflower and pumpkin seeds. There is also significant evidence that medieval bakers would have used mead or ale. This would have been from a more artisanal one than available today. Although I used water in this recipe, feel free to use cider or ale. Something very interesting is that modernisation of flour often resulted in loss of flavour and the one thing you can say about this medieval loaf is that it has a moist, nutty, malty flavour; it has the wonderful flavour of a wholemeal, nutty loaf without being heavy.

Method

Whisk the levain with the water until frothy, add the salt, seeds, flour and stir. Mix into a dough, until everything is fully incorporated. Expect the dough to be sticky and pliable.

Grease your tin with the lard or butter and place the dough into the tin. Scatter a few more seeds on top. Leave until it is risen by 25%, the dough will be approaching the top of the tin.

Preheat the oven to 180C and bake for 35 minutes. Check to see if baked with a skewer. If it doesn't come out clean then turn down to 160C and bake for a further 5 minutes and test again.

Proving time: Dependent on room temperature; the warmer the environment the quicker the prove.

Total weight of loaf: 450g (1lb)

Specific flour used: Lammas Fayre Medieval Blend Peasant’s Flour

Ingredients:

50g Levain (refreshed sourdough starter) 170g room temperature freshly filtered water 6g salt 50g mixed seeds, plus extra for scattering 250g Lammas Fayre Medieval Blend Peasant’s Flour 1 tbsp lard or butter, for greasing

Featured Products

Medieval Peasant's Blend Flour | £4.60

A very special flour from Lammas Fayre, this authentic Medieval blend of flour has been produced from the same cereals, peas and broadbeans as those grown and eaten by peasants in the medieval period of Britain.

Heritage Blend Wholemeal Flour | £4.60

A very special flour from Lammas Fayre, this organic heritage wholemeal flour has been produced from over 200 genetically diverse wheat varieties.

Medieval Blend Maslin (Wheat and Rye) Flour | £4.60

Medieval blend of wheat and rye (Maslin) from Lammas Fayre, this authentic Medieval blend of flour has been produced from authentic cereals the same as those grown in the Medieval period of British history.

Do you have a sourdough question for Vanessa? Send it to us and the best ones will appear in our next postbag edition and receive a dough whisk.

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