What is trencher bread and how was it used

It is believed that trencher bread was first mentioned in fifteenth century books on etiquette (David, 1977) though its origins are likely to be much earlier than the references. Trenchers were coarse slices of bread, from loaves four days old, used instead of a plate at a medieval meal. After the trencher had served its purpose as a plate and had been saturated by the sauces and juices of the meal laid upon it, it was eaten by the servant, cut up for the poor or given to the dogs.

Trencher bread was made from coarsely milled flour which probably comprised some wholemeal (wheat) flour and some whole barley or rye flour. The wholemeal flour may have been sieved to remove the fine white flour that would be used in the making of manchet bread. Manchet bread was the finest and whitest variety and only eaten by the nobility. The coarse flour was made up into large, flat, round dense loaves which were probably baked in an oven, though occasionally they were baked on a hot plate. The loaf was probably turned half way through baking to give two flat, firm crusts and an even layer of crumb.

The trencher loaves were stored for four days and then prepared by the servant using a special knife for the purpose. (The upper crust was destined to be the nobleman's plate and may well be the origins of the phrase 'upper crust.') It is believed that the top and bottom crusts were removed, along with the side crusts leaving a square, crustless loaf about two to three centimetres high. This ' loaf' was then made into one or two square plates on which a serving of meat could be placed. In later periods the trencher bread was replaced by wooden or pewter platters.

A recipe and method for trencher bread:

g/mix

lb/sack

Wholemeal flour

1120

186.5

Whole barley flour

560

93.5

Salt

24

4

Yeast

12

2

Water

1140 ml

190

Mix the dough on twin arm low-speed mixer for about 20 min and then ferment in bulk for half an hour. Scale dough pieces to 1.8kg (4lb), mould into a ball, rest for 10 min and pin out to discs 267 mm (10.5 inches) in diameter. Place dough on greased baking sheets, prove for about 50 min and bake for 45 min in an oven at 204 °C (400 °F). Once cool, wrap the loaf in a tea towel and store for four days. On the fourth day cut the loaf in the correct way to give one or more trenchers.

Reference

DAVID, E. (1977) English Bread and Yeast Cookery, Allen Lane Penguin Books Ltd, London, UK.

Continue reading here: What is the product known as a Grant loaf

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