In the days before we could hop down to a shop buy a loaf of bread — in the days before you could even hop down to the mill shop and buy a bag of flour — us Northern European folk had to rely on something a bit more basic. That stuff was called maslin and was, in a fashion, bread.
The word — maslin — comes from the French miscelin for mix. A mix is precisely what maslin was. Wheat, the best of flours, was too expensive for Southerners to afford and too not available for Northerners. Barley existed copiously since it was essential for the production of ale, and ale remains essential for the production of just about anything else in Britain. Peas were cheap so were generally chucked in in some proportion. Rye’s a hardy old grain that any eejit can grow, and oats really aren’t that bad.
A mix thus chosen, crudely based on whichever starvation rations were most available, a batch of maslin was started. These batches would be nothing if not jolly large. The mediaeval Brit ate nearly one-and-a-half kilos of bread a day — some eighty percent of his diet — so a family of five would have needed about 42 modern bagged loaves a week. That’s a lot of bread.
The really repellent thing about maslin is that it’s got a bit of a gluten problem. Wheat, not coincidentally, is just about the most gluten rich cereal out there. Bread with only a very small amount of wheat is thus lacking in gluten. Bread without gluten has a tendency to turn into a sort of baked cake of wallpaper paste.
This is certainly what I expected maslin to taste like when I first made it. My misgivings were pretty big. Quite surprisingly, however, what I got was far from unpleasant. In fact, it was rather good. Doubting my own tastebuds, I took my maslin on tour, offering bits of it to everyone I could find (and, seriously, I gave bits of maslin to more than a hundred people by the end) and an overwhelming majority of them completely agreed with me.
Fearing that I might be asking a leading question (‘Isn’t this the best bread you’ve ever tasted? Huh? Huh?’) I told them it was disgusting, that I’d pay them to eat it, that an old woman had tried some and died shortly afterwards. Still they praised and still they raved.
Unlock then your mediaeval forbears’ accumulated memories and make a maslin for posterity’s sake.
- 200g rye or spelt flour
- 100g gram or chickpea flour
- 50g rolled oats
- 75g other flours: buckwheat flour, barley flour etc
- 5g instant yeast
- 10g salt
- 200g water
- Begin by putting all of the dry ingredient into a bowl and mixing them together.
- Empty onto a board and make a well in the middle.
- Pour the water into this well and begin mixing with your fingers, working slowly outwards.
- When a ball of dough has been formed (it’ll have the consistency of a firm toothpaste) begin to knead. Use a machine if you like.
- There’s not much gluten present to activate, so there won’t be any noticeable change.
- After five minutes, place onto a small baking sheet (or preferably into a proving basket) and leave in the fridge for 24–48 hours.
- Preheat oven to 230ºC, then put the proofed loaf into it and cook for 30 minutes.