I think that it’s fair to say that I’ve baked more breads from other countries than my own. Crispy French baguettes, airy Italian ciabattas and spicy Indian flat breads have all formed part of my baking repertoire. Even Algerian breads have graced these pages. But traditional British breads have been few and far between.
Somehow this doesn’t feel quite right so I’ve started to look at some of the British breads that have fallen from favour, starting with the Guildford Manchet. First, the history bit.
The manchet dates back to Tudor times and was a white bread made from the finest wheat and hence eaten by the wealthy. It’s size was described as being not enough for one person so was a roll rather than a loaf. Elizabeth David describes it as “the common ancestor… of most of our breakfast breads, baps, tea cakes, muffins [and] soft rolls.” In Surrey the Manchet took on a slightly different form and this is the version below.
The Guildford Manchets are constructed in a similar way to puff pastry or a croissant. Like its continental cousin it’s supposed to be torn apart rather than neatly cut with knife and is best served warm with butter. Recipes vary with some being all butter, but this one is a combination of butter and lard. You can find the original version here but these breads don’t keep well (though you can freeze them) and so I’ve come up with my own slimmed down version.
First rub in 15g of unsalted butter into 250g of strong white flour as if making shortcrust pastry. Add 1/2 tsp of easy blend yeast, 1/2 tsp of caster sugar and 1/2 tsp salt.
Then add 85g of milk and 80g of water. Mix and then knead til soft. Leave for about an hour until doubled in size.
Meanwhile mash together with a fork a further 45g of butter with 15g lard. Leave in the fridge until the dough is ready.
When the dough has risen, pop it onto a floured work surface and slash a deep cross into it. Ease each of the quarters out to form a cross.
Fold each of the lobes over the butter and lard so that it is completely covered in dough. Then roll it out into a rectangle about 30cm long.
Fold the bottom third up over the middle third and then fold the top third down. Rotate 90 degrees and repeat 3 times. If the fat starts to seep through the dough, wrap it in clingfilm and rest in the fridge for about 15 min. Use more flour if it starts to stick to the work surface.
When you’ve done your final rotation, cut the dough into 8 pieces. Pull the edges of each piece into the middle to form a small bun. Make sure to seal it on the bottom. You want the keep the distinct layers so make sure you don’t just roll it up. If you want to freeze some you can open freeze them at this stage and defrost and prove before baking.
If not leave to prove for 20 mins on baking trays lined with greaseproof paper.
Preheat the oven to 200C. Brush the manchets with milk and bake for about 25min until golden and crispy.
Eat whilst still warm with butter or possibly apricot jam.
They won’t keep for more than a day so if you find you have any left they can still be frozen once baked. Just defrost, coat again with milk and bake for 15 min at 150C to refresh them and bring them back to their crispy best. These little rolls have quickly become one of my favourite breads to bake and eat so do give them a try. Let’s get the Guildford Manchet back on British breakfast tables!