Rastons Are Medieval Brede (Bread) Made With Ale & This Recipe Is From An Original 15th Century Recipe (From Harleian Manuscript 279)

The first challenge when cooking from the original manuscripts is being able to read it. It’s written in medieval script, written using a quill and home made ink, perhaps made from acorns. To make it easier here is a typed version .. typed many centuries later of course!

Why Discuss Mediaeval Bread On A Gardening Site?

Simple. Food production doesn’t end in the garden. It goes into the kitchen. And by studying medieval cooking we also lean a lot about what was grown and imported inn medieval times.

This post links back to the grains we can grow in gardens, and on allotments, today.

Brede and Rastons:

Take fayre Flowre and the whyte of Eyroun and the yolke, a lytel. Than take Warme Berme, and pute al these to-gederys and bete hem to-gederys with thin hond tyl it be schort and thikke y-now, and caste Sugre y-now there-to, and thenne lat reste a whyle. An kaste in a fyre place in the oven and late bake y-now And then with a knyf cutte yt round a-bove in manner of a crowne, and kepe the crust that thou kyttest, and than caste ther-in clarifiyd Boter and Mille the comes and the botere to-gederes, and kevere it a-yen with the crust that thou kyttest a-way. Than putte it in the ovyn ayen a lytil tyme and than take it out, and serve it forth. 

A very rough translation would be ….

Take fair flour and the white of eggs and the yolk, a little. Then take warm barm, and put all these together and beat them together with your hand till it be short and thick enough, and cast enough sugar there-to, and then let it rest a while. And cast in a fire place in the oven and let bake enough. And then with a knife cut it round above in manner of a crown, and keep the crust that you cut, and then cast therein clarified butter and mix the crumbs and the butter together, and cover it again with the crust that you cut away. Then put it in the oven again a little time and then take it out, and serve it forth.

That’s a bit clearer but you might still struggle with some of it. For example what is fair flour and what is barm?

Let me explain by providing the modern recipe.

Raston Ingredients

1lb / 450g fair flour (this is whatever flour you have, In medieval times this breed would have been for Royalty and the wealthy, peasants couldn’t afford to us to much butter in it. So go for a bread flour, ideally whole wheat as it is a bit closer the original recipe.

2 egg whites, 1 egg yolk (use the spare egg yolk for an egg wash over the bread)

2 tablespoons (25g) brown sugar .. or any other sugar you have

Beer, ideally 1 cup ye olde warm ale. A nice hop rich mix would be better than a lager!

1 packet (7g) dry yeast .. they would have used a live yeast culture and I suggest this is more authentic

Butter, around 100-150 grams

A baker’s pinch of salt .. call it 20 gram if you insist on measuring things

OK, so my measures may seem a bit slap dash. But to one fair the cooks and bakers in medieval times didn’t have electronic scales and would have taken a scoop of this and a fist full of that. .. A bit like I cook today!

Raston Preparation Method

1. Warm the beer to around body heat to very slightly warmer. dd the yeast and leave in a warm place. Once foamy (about 10-20 minutes depending on kitchen temperature), add the egg whites and 1 yolk, plus the sugar and mix together. 

2. Sift flour into a large bowl and stir in the salt. Add in the beer/ale mixture and combine. Bring the dough together, turn out and knead until dough is smooth and stretchy. Place it in a bowl and cover with a damp cloth (or clingfilm) and allow to rise until doubled in size (about 1 hour or so depending how warm your kitchen is).

4. Once the dough has risen enough, punch it back down and turn it out onto a lightly floured board. Divide into equal pieces, for as many rastons as you want to make. Shape it into round loaves. Place loaves on your baking tray. Allow to rise for 20-30 minutes. 

5. Brush the loaves with the extra egg yolk and optionally score the top of the rastons. Bake in the oven for 25 – 30 minutes. Allow to cool on a wire rack. 

6. Melt the butter

7. Behead the rastons! Either just slice the top off or cut a zigzag crown pattern around the top of the loaf. Remove the lid. Now either drizzle the butter in or make a cavity in the bottom of the raston and mix the extracted bread with butter before stuffing it back in. Replace lid back on. Reheat in the cooling oven for 5-7 minutes. Then “serve it forth”. 

These raston are best served warm. I’m guessing that when cooked some chefs would have varied the recipe and added ingredients such as onions, chopped bacon, cheese or spices simply because that is how new recipes evolve.

A cooked medieval Raston

What’s In a Name? Rastons

The word Raston is probably Old or Middle Dutch, modern Dutch uses the word rusten to mean to rest. And this could refer to the resting period when the Raton are taken from the oven, rested to cool before the top is removed. I’ve seen a few references also to Old French.

How Successful Is This Rastons Recipe?

The first time I cooked rastons I had mixed success. The aroma when it is being cooked was amazing. It smelt like a brewery .. and I like that. And the flavour was wonderful.

BUT … my bread didn’t rise very well that first time and the bread was VERY heavy. And though delicious, I had to go back to the drawing board. Putting a little flour in the ale with the yeast seems to have cracked the problem. It seems to activate better and getting to to rise before being “put to the fire” has not been a problem.

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