This is traditional medieval bread made in Elizabethian times, made with beer and wholemeal bread flour. Great rustic bread perfect with soups, stews or made into sandwiches.
I love visiting medieval and historical fairs and have always loved researching historic recipes. Today I wanted to share with you a simple bread made with beer, which was popular in Elizabethan times in England.
It’s based on a medieval ale bread recipe found in ‘Daily life in Elizabethan England’ by Jeffery Singman and I’ve adapted it slightly to suit modern times (and taste!).
Why bake this medieval recipe ?
- Great bread to bake with a flavour twist (the beer!)
- Recipe is based on medieval bread recipe & you’ll be baking a piece of history!
- Perfect bread to serve with soup, stews or made into sandwiches
- Great bread to bring to a medieval-themed party, historical reenactments days or medieval fairs
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Notes on Ingredients & Substitutions for this medieval bread recipe
White flour was expensive and only used in wealthy houses in medieval times. Most people had only access to whole meal bread flour (made from wheat) and rye flour. Wholemeal flour was a lot less expensive than white bread flour in Elizabethian times as it was considered to be a ‘wastage’ from making white flour.
These days, you can make this recipe from any bread flour you like, but wholemeal bread flour (or brown bread flour) works great with this recipe and compliments the flavour of the beer well (plus you’ll be keeping this medieval bread recipe authentic).
Another option is to use 50% wholemeal bread flour and 50% white bread flour, which will make the bread nice and light, but still add great flavour.
Don’t worry about making your bread alcoholic, it won’t be! Any alcohol still remaining in the bread will be destroyed by the oven temperature when you bake your bread.
Beer was used in the olden times because it was the only way to leaven (rise) the bread. Brewers yeast, which can be found in beer, works very similarly to bakers yeast.
The only difference is that you would need larger volume of beer to contain the same yeast content like a teaspoon of concentrated dry bakers yeast, so it’s not really practical.
Because the yeast levels in beer are much lower than in regular yeast, raising your bread by beer on it’s own would take a considerably longer period of time. It’s not impossible and you could certainly use beer to revive sourdough starter or to add to sourdough bread, which does use natural yeast.
Adding beer into bread is not coincidental, when you understand how commercial bakers yeast was invented – I always find this story fascinating:
In medieval times, the brewery was often located next to the bread kitchen with hot ovens as the beer needed warm environment to develop. The story goes, that somebody added (or probably knocked over…) a bit of beer mixture to the bread mixture, by mistake and after a while, they noticed that the bread was rising a lot quicker than usual.
From that moment, the bakers have experimented with adding beer or the beer yeast to the bread dough to make it rise faster.
Depending on what beer you use, you might end up with a slightly different bread flavour, but that’s part of the fun!
Start with 320 ml (or about 1 1/2 cup) of the beer and add more if the dough feels tight as you knead it. Wholemeal flour soaks up more water, so bear that in mind.
The traditional yeast as we know it wasn’t invented until mid 19 century, so the original recipe relies only on the brewers yeast from the beer to rise your bread.
You are welcome to omit the yeast completely and wait until the beer yeast does it’s magic.
If you want to do this, I’d recommend that you use about 1 1/2 teaspoon of sugar and mix it with the beer. This will help to speed up the yeast and your bread will rise quicker, but it will still take 2-3 times longer than without it. If you want to split this recipe over few days, you can also rise your beer bread in the fridge overnight.
For everyone else who is happy to cheat, just add about 1 teaspoon of dry active yeast to your bread mix. This is still considerably less than for normal yeasted breads which would be made with water.
You can use any fine salt – cooking or table salt for this medieval beer bread recipe. If you are using sea salt or large granules of salt, dissolve the salt in a bit of water before adding it to the bread dough mixture.
This is because you don’t want to dissolve the salt with the beer as this might slow down the yeast.
Your bread will be edible without salt, but I’d recommend adding some for flavour.
What kind of beer is best for beer bread ?
Pretty much any beer is fine to use in this recipe, but I’d stay clear of fruity flavoured beers or beers not made by the traditional method.
Depending on what type of beer you use, your bread might taste slightly differently.
For example dark black beers or stouts usually have higher sugar content, so your bread will be darker in colour with lovely rounded flavour and crusty bread crumb (the sugar in beer will caramelise on the top of the bread).
Always make sure that the beer is at least room temperature (18-23C) before adding it to the bread flour.
If you take the beer directly from the fridge it will be too cold and the yeast will take forever to start working. You can easily warm up your beer in microwave (make it only slightly lukewarm) but please don’t heat it up too much as heat will destroy the natural yeast in the beer.
- Non-alcoholic beers (with yeast )
- Pale ales
- Wheat beers
- Heineken beer
What beer is not suitable for this beer bread?
Since were are using the beer to rise the bread and not just to flavour it, we need to make sure that the beer does contain yeast.
So, the beers that are not suitable for this medieval beer bread recipe is any type that contains no yeast or low yeast.
- Lagers with low or filtered out yeast such as Stella Artois
- Non-alcoholic beers – some non-alcoholic beers have also no or very low yeast content
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Can you get drunk from eating beer bread?
No, you can’t not! The alcohol will be killed off by the high temperature as you bake the bread, leaving only the flavour of beer in your bread. It’s perfectly safe bread to serve for the whole family.
But if you are still concerned about potential alcohol in the bread, you can use non-alcoholic beer.
What can you serve beer bread with?
This traditional medieval beer bread has slightly darker and richer flavour than normal type of bread, which makes it a perfect bread to eat with pate, meats, game meat and rich cheeses.
It’s also perfect with a real butter and a bowl of hot soup or served with meat or vegetable stews.
You can cut the bread in thinner slices and make the bread into sandwiches or cut regular slices and make open sandwiches if you prefer.
This beer bread is also great toasted and served with butter with breakfast scrambled eggs, omelette or other savoury breakfast dishes.
How to make Elizabethan beer bread recipe
Measure out the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl.
Add the dry active yeast and stir in.
Warm up the beer a little bit (either in a microwave or on the hop). Make it only lukewarm and definitely don’t boil or simmer.
Pour into the flour mixture.
Bring together and knead for 10 minutes until you get nice and elastic bread dough. Resist to add more flour to your work bench as you are kneading to keep your bread soft and light in texture when baked.
Let the dough rise for about 45 minutes or until it doubles in size (make sure it’s covered and somewhere warm).
Deflate the dough and shape into your chosen bread shape.
Cover the bread with a teatowel or another plastic bowl and let it rise until is double in size.
Preheat your oven to the highest setting and when your bread is ready score the top with a sharp knife before placing in the oven.
Lower the oven temperature after about 10 minutes, depending on how brown you want your bread to be and carry on baking for another 20 minutes or so.
Check when your bread is ready by tapping it on the bottom and cool down on a wired rack.
Advanced bread baking tip + time saving tip
If you want to make your bread softer, try my scalded flour bread baking method with this recipe. It will make the bread lighter and you’ll only need to prove the bread once.
My recipe will give you a large 800 grams (under 2 pounds) loaf of bread when baked. This is a large loaf, that will give you about 20 slices (from smaller to large size) and should be sufficient for a family of 4 for at least 2 meals.
You can also make this recipe into bread rolls. This will give you 12 medium-sized rolls.
Can I scale up or down this beer bread recipe?
You can easily scale up (or down) the beer bread recipe. I can easily triple the recipe and knead (by hand) dough that’s made from 1,5 kg. It’s quite a lot if you are a beginner, so I’d suggest only double the recipe to start off with.
Alternatively, you can also knead this dough in the mixer, but you’d need to check the capacity of your dough mixer (as if you use too much dough you might damage the mixer engine).
When doubling the recipe ingredients, use the recipe quantities and click on 2x and the recipe card will multiply the ingredients for you.
The kneading, proving and baking time will remain the same, whether you double or triple the ingredients.
You will also need more baking trays and make sure that you have enough space in your oven (or stagger the baking time, if you can’t fit all baking trays in at the same time).
How to store your beer bread
Keep your bread in a bread bin or plastic bag inside the bread bin or other suitable container.
How long will your beer bread last for
This beer bread lasts for good few days, but make sure that you store it correctly to prevent getting the bread mouldy or drying out.
I find, that this type of traditional beer bread last a good 4-5 days. It can be sometimes a bit longer, but the bread will start to dry out after the 3rd day, which makes it perfect for toast.
Can you freeze traditional beer bread?
If you know that you can’t finish your bread within 3 days, I would recommend to freeze the beer bread. I usually slice the bread before freezing and then only take out 1-2 slices as and when I need them.
Elizabethan Beer Bread (Medieval Recipe)
- 500 grams whole wheat bread flour or 4 cups
- 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
- 1 1/2 teaspoon of salt
- 320 ml beer 1 1/3 cup (approx) – small bottle or regular beer can
- Measure out the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl.
- Add the dry active yeast and stir in.
- Warm up the beer a little bit (either in a microwave or on the hop). Make it only lukewarm and definitely don't boil or simmer.
- Pour into the flour mixture.
- Bring together and knead for 10 minutes until you get nice and elastic bread dough.
- Let the dough rise for about 45 minutes or until it doubles in size (make sure it's covered and somewhere warm).
- Deflate the dough and shape into your chosen bread shape.
- Cover the bread with a teatowel or another plastic bowl and let it rise until is double in size.
- Preheat your oven to the highest setting and when your bread is ready score the top with a sharp knife before placing in the oven.
- Lower the oven temperature after about 10 minutes, depending on how brown you want your bread to be and carry on baking for another 20 minutes or so.
- Check when your bread is ready by tapping it on the bottom and cool down on a wired rack.
This blog post was originally written on 28 December 2020 and last updated on 3 April 2023