Medieval Recipe: York Mayne Bread

Posted 9 January 2011 by

This is probably the most unusual loaf of bread I’ve ever made. This recipe for Medieval York Mayne bread comes from Marguerite Patten’s 500 Recipes for Bread and Scones, an incredibly battered book that used to belong to my grandmother. The book is full of her comments and modifications next to recipes, with some obscured by cut-outs of what are presumably better versions she found elsewhere. There are no marks next to this recipe, so I don’t know if she ever made mayne bread.

Loaf of York mayne bread with several slices cut from it.

As Marguerite explains, this recipe comes from the 16th century and there are indeed many mentions on the Internet of mayne bread from the middle ages. The term apparently derives from the French pain de mayne (“pain” being bread, “main” being hand) and was sometimes known as paynmayn. Mayne bread was considered the “bread of nobles”, made from wheat flour, as opposed to bread eaten by ordinary Medieval folk made from cheaper grains like rye.

I have no idea if all mayne bread featured these ingredients (caraway seeds, coriander seeds and rose water), or if there were many variations. This recipe is fir York mayne bread. According to the Leamington Courier, the bread was popular with monarchs in the 13th and 14th centuries. Apparently it was traditional to bury a loaf of mayne bread to promote fertility and prosperity, a ritual that still goes on at the Medieval village at Kenilworth Castle.

Ingredients (makes 1 loaf):

  • 1/2 oz. yeast
  • 1/4 pint warm milk and water (see instructions)
  • 12 oz. plain flour
  • 6-8 oz. sugar
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp caraway seeds
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 2 egg whites
  • 2 tsp rose water

Activate the yeast by mixing it with the warm milk and leaving it for 10 minutes until frothy. Combine the flour, sugar, coriander and caraway seeds.

Caraway seeds and coriander seeds on a plate

Caraway seeds and coriander seeds

Add the egg yolks, rose water and milk/yeast mixture and stir in. Add the liquid a little at a time, so you only use what you need. You probably won’t need the full amount. At this point, as you smell the rosewater, you remember that this isn’t going to be your average loaf of bread.

Flour, egg yolks, caraway seeds and coriander seeds to make York Mayne bread.

Beat the egg whites until they are stiff and stir into to the dough. I added the full amount of liquid all at once, so ended up with a very wet dough and had to add more flour.

Wet dough mixture for York mayne bread

Very wet eggy dough, it needed more flour at this point.

At this point, add any extra flour if needed, or liquid if it is too dry. Knead the dough, cover and leave it in a warm place to prove.

A ball of dough for York mayne bread, being left to prove.

Knead the dough again and either place it in a large bread tin, or shape into a loaf. Cover the dough and leave it to rise again. Bake the mayne bread at 400°F or 200°C for 20-25 minutes. As it cooks, you’ll smell more of that rose water scent and wonder if you’re baking a loaf that’s going to taste of perfume.

Loaf of york mayne breadSo how did it turn out, I hear you ask. Well, it’s dense. Very dense. It’s a bit cakey due to the eggs, but it came out very heavy. It’s not the best rising weather, so perhaps a little more patience with rising would help the texture.

Closeup of crust of a loaf of York mayne bread

The taste? Well, this bread is very sweet, and the flavours of caraway, coriander and rosewater all come through strongly. It’s different from any other bread I’ve had, and I can’t imagine our ancestors (or their lords) eating this on a regular basis. I’m not sure what 21st century Yorkshire folk would think of it either! It might work incorporated into some kind of dessert and would probably be more palatable if the amount of sugar was cut, along with the amount of spices and rose water. I’m not saying it’s inedible, there is that tradition of burying it to bring prosperity and fertility…

Slices of York mayne breadI will be submitting this recipe to Wild Yeast’s YeastSpotting.

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One Response to Medieval Recipe: York Mayne Bread

  1. Violeta says:

    beautiful… interesantno

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