My latest thing (because I needed more hobbies) is baking. Specifically, I’m trying to make a plausibly Anglo-Saxon bread. I’m starting with Ann Hagen’s A Handbook of Anglo-Saxon Food and A second Handbook of Anglo-Saxon Food and Drink and will use her bibliography to find additional sources.
So far, what I have is this:
Yeast-risen wheat bread was certainly known at the time. Yeast sources would’ve been either barm from ale-brewing, a sourdough starter (either captured wild yeast or saved from the last time you made bread), or dried yeast. Yeast could be dried by spreading the liquid yeast source on a platter or tub, letting that layer dry, and repeating until you had a cake of it. Birch sticks could be dipped in a yeast mixture and allowed to dry. (Hagen, 15-16)
Lots of grains were eaten in Anglo-Saxon England, including barley, wheat, rye, and oats. Wheat was best for bread-making, particularly if you could afford to sieve it finely enough to get white flour. (Hagen mentions that “germ and bran dilute the bread-making qualities of flour” (16) and I would hazard a guess that that’s based primarily on getting a higher proportion of gluten. Gluten is found in the endosperm of the grain, rather than the germ or the bran. (Thanks, Wikipedia!)
I want to find out a little more about the different varieties of wheat, since that makes a difference too. I’m not sure what kind would’ve been grown at the time.
Loaf Shape and Size
Hagen mentions illustrations showing round loaves that look similar in size to a modern medium loaf. There seem to have been two vaguely standard sizes, since she notes a lot of sources referring to set quantities of small and large loaves (in rents, wills, etc.).
This is an area I need to dig into much more. Leechdoms (which I need to get my hands on) mentions a cake with cumin and march seed, and there are mentions in wills of “well-seasoned” loaves that appear to be for religious feast days (Hagen 19-20).
Flavorings would of course be limited by what was available at the time and place. In 735, when he died, Bede left his spices to the other monks. This was “said to include lavender, aniseed, buckwheat, cinnamon, cloves, cubebs, cumin, coriander, cardamom…cypress roots (galangale), ginger (raw and preserved), gromic, licorice, and sugar” (Second Handbook, Hagen, 182-183). So I think I can reasonably use a combination of spices from that list for a “well-seasoned” bread.