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Bagels-art - 3/3/08


"Period Bagels?" by Mairi Ceilidh.


NOTE: See also the files: bagels-msg, jumbals-msg, fried-breads-msg, bread-msg, Litle-Morsels-art, pretzels-msg, yeasts-msg, fd-Jewish-msg.





This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.


These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org


Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author or translator.


While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.


Thank you,

Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous

stefan at florilegium.org



NOTE: This article was originally written as the documentation for an Arts & Sciences Contest entry at Pennsic AS XXXVIII, in 2003.


From the Libro Novo of
M. Christofaro di Messisbugo
published in Venetia, 1557


Brazzatelle Di Latte, E Zuccaro

(Bagels?  Period?!)



The preparation of rolls of milk and sugar
according to the instructions of M. Messisbugo,
including the translation thereof based on the
Italian-English dictionary of 1611
by John Florio of London,

the redaction and determination
of appropriate measures,
and the sampling to determine palatable flavor.




At the beginning of the recipe section of his Libro Novo Christofaro di Messisbugo had listed four recipes that are obviously set aside and printed in a style different from the other recipes in the book.  Though I have not completely translated all four of these recipes, they all appear to be some type of bread or roll, very rich with white sugar and rose water.  Because of their treatment in print, I am led to believe that these bread recipes are significant and perhaps hold some honor in the scheme of food, at least in Messisbugo's mind.  Is this because bread is considered to be the staff of life?  Could it be because the ingredients called for in these recipes (finest or best white flour, white sugar, costly spices in some cases) are held more dear than those used in the breads of the common man?  Was Messisbugo, who was the maitre de hotel or steward at the court of the Duke d'Este in Ferrara, perhaps magnifying these recipes for bread as a symbol of the elevated status of the household of which he was a part?


Background:  The Book and Its Author


I have found that information on the Libro Novo and M. Messisbugo is very scarce.  There are several sites on the Internet that list recipes by M. Messisbugo or supposed biographical information on him, but none with any concrete source material.  There are some references to his book, Banchetti, Compositioni di Vivande et Apparecchio Generale, published in 1549.  Some general sources I have seen indicate that Messisbugo died in 1548, so the Banchetti would have been published posthumously.  Then, eight years after the Banchetti first appeared, the Libro Novo was published, with much the same format as the Banchetti.  Since I do not, at this time have access to a copy of the Banchetti, I do not know whether or not they are the same book under different titles or if there are major differences in them.


Messisbugo was not a chef.  He was a steward at the court of the Duke of Este.  Yet he is revered even today for his contribution to the culinary arts.  In Ferrara, Italy, where he lived and worked, there is now a culinary school dedicated to preserving and spreading the knowledge that he imparted in these two books.  There are restaurants throughout Italy that use versions of recipes that are found in his books.


What information I do have on the Libro Novo or its author, M. Christofaro Messisbugo, (apart from the manuscript itself, which is rich with recipes and kitchen management information, but says nothing about the author) was obtained from some class notes I obtained, along with copies of the cookbook manuscript and dictionary, from Master Basilius Phocas of the Midrealm.  Master Basilius is himself in the process of translating the Libro Novo and has found a small amount of background information on M. Messisbugo.  While Master Basilius does not remember where he obtained this information (most likely a related document in Italian) I would still like to quote from his brief biographical sketch of M. Messisbugo:


"Christofaro di Messisbugo worked as a maitre d'hotel at the court of the Duke of Este in Ferrara during the first decades of the sixteenth century.  He was a gentleman in his own right, related to illustrious families, and, through his skill as a chief steward of the pleasures of the table, he earned such esteem that Charles V conferred on him in 1533 the title of Count Palatine.


"His functions ranged from seeing to the smallest details of the cooking to the organization of the court's most splendid celebrations.  Such was his authority that he brought together the fruits of his experience in a textbook (Banchetti, Compositioni di Vivande et Apparecchio Generale, 1549), written in three parts and destined for others in his profession.


"The first part deals with the domestic apparatus necessary for holding princely banquets: There is an inventory of indispensable kitchen utensils and household gadgets and a list of jobs to be performed by the staff and of the foodstuffs to be preserved.  The second part describes fourteen real feasts, chosen to illustrate different types of celebration.  The third part contains 315 recipes.  The precise nature of the information gives the book an especial value."


What I have learned of publication and reprinting practices in the Renaissance period convince me that the Libro Novo could be a later edition of the Banchetti.  They are only eight years apart but the Libro Novo does have the three sections that Master Basilius describes in the Banchetti.  


Brazzatelle Di Latte, E Zuccaro


The recipe that I have chosen to translate, redact and execute is one of the breads in this quartet of highlighted recipes. Brazzatelle Di Latte, E Zuccaro translates as Rolls of Milk and Sugar.  The addition of a larger than usual number of eggs and rose water creates a bread that is light, tender and delightfully rich.


The one point that many modern cooks find confounding in period recipes is the lack of mention of what we would consider to be a key ingredient, such as any sort of leavening agent in this bread.  Does that mean that this would have been an unleavened bread?  I think not.  As we have learned through experience, the most obvious ingredients are often not mentioned in a recipe, because the cooks of the time just knew that they had to be added in order to obtain the desired result.  (The absence of any mention of salt in many period recipes is a good example of this.  Did they really not use it, or was it just understood that it was supposed to be there?)  The fact that the recipe calls for the dough to be set to rise, and that the rolls are to be boiled until they float, a function of the rolls rising, makes it obvious that some leavening agent was used.


And what of this boiling of the rolls before they are baked?  This is the point that drew me to this recipe in the first place. There are few types of bread today that are prepared in this manner.  The fact of this unusual treatment peaked my curiosity to the point that I had to try to reproduce what the 16th century Italians did, using what the recipe told me and the knowledge that I have of modern bread baking.


If one interprets this recipe in modern terms, it would appear that it produces a roll similar to today's bagel.  This certainly gives a different slant to what we think we know today about bagels.  While I make no concrete assertions about this roll actually being the forerunner of the bagel, I will give some back ground on bagels as well as a couple of recipes which I found interesting.


But is it Really a Bagel?


According to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language a bagel is, "a glazed ring-shaped roll with a tough, chewy texture, made from plain yeast dough that is dropped briefly into nearly boiling water and then baked."  The New Oxford American Dictionary tells us that a bagel is, "a dense bread roll in the shape of a ring, made by boiling dough and then baking it."


There is some debate amongst historians about the origin of bagels. There are numerous etiologies of the word bagel. In Yiddish, it was beygel, from the Middle High German bouc and Old High German boug, both meaning a ring or bracelet. Another possibly origin is from the German word bgel, for a round loaf of bread. Some historians credit a Viennese baker for creating the bagel to commemorate the victory of Polish King Jan III Sobieski over the Turks in 1683. The bread was formed into the shape of a buegel or stirrup, because the liberated Austrians had clung too the king's stirrups as he rode by. Author Leo Rosten notes in The Joys of Yiddish that the first printed mention of the word bagel is in the Community Regulations of Cracow for 1610, which stated that the item was given as a gift to women in childbirth. Some cultures regard the circular shape as the continuous life cycle and good luck. [1]


The rolls created using the recipe from the Libro Novo, though boiled prior to baking, as a bagel would be, are not tough nor chewy nor dense.  My experience has been that this method, with this particular set of ingredients, produces a firm but light bread that has a wonderful flavor.


There is a possibility that the differences between period and modern yeast could account for the texture of these rolls, but I rather doubt it.  I believe that this recipe is meant to display the best of the genre, and that the texture of these rolls, as produced using modern methods, is as it should be.


What I Did


I would like to be able to say that I used totally period methods to prepare and cook these rolls.  I did not.  I also cannot verify that the ingredients that I used are very closely related to what would have been available to a 16th century baker.  I chose to use commercial bread flour, because I am familiar with how it manages in dough, and I like predictability.  I used packaged yeast for the same reason.  The dough was mixed by hand, the rolls boiled on my propane camp stove, and baked in my modern propane oven.

There are two points of the preparation that I would like to change in the future. It is my desire to do further research into period leavening agents, and experiment with some of them in future projects.  The big change I intend to make, though, is the method of baking.  Some day I will have a stone oven in my back yard so that I can bake in a more authentic manner (and I think it would be really fun!).  It is also my desire to construct a portable clay oven that could be transported for teaching/display/playing purposes.


I have made these rolls at home, and  I have made them in a commercial kitchen. I was more satisfied with the results I achieved at home, with fewer modern conveniences.  Using a commercial proofer to rise the dough is difficult to control, and can result in over extended rolls, which do not boil or bake as nicely as those made with a gentler, slower rising method.  At home I set them on the stove with a tea towel over them and ignored them until they looked right (that, incidentally, is a very technical cooking term).  I would also advise against baking these rolls (or any bread, for that matter) in a convection oven.  The steady, gentle heat of a conventional oven is much more controllable and predictable.


Hopefully, a sample of these rolls will give you some insight into the breads enjoyed by Italians of a certain strata in the 16th century.  For me, the journey to this finished product has been an adventure, full of surprises and fun.  I hope you enjoy eating them as much as I enjoyed making them.




Direct Translation (my way of dealing with a foreign text):


Brazzatelle Di Latte, E Zuccaro

Rolls             of   Milk and  Sugar


A fare 50. Brazzatelle, di oncie.4.l'una Piglairai libra.15. di fiore di farina,

To make 50 rolls                of 4 ounces each    take           15 pounds  of best     flour


d'acqua rosa onci.3.di latte libre.3. e di Zuccaro bianco libre.2. Voua

rose   water  3 ounced  milk 3 pounds  white sugar 2 pounds     eggs


numero.25.di butiro oncie.4. e queste cose insieme grammerai molto bene.  

   25            butter 4 ounces    and these things thus together   knead    very well.


Poi farai le tue Brazzatelle, secundo l'ordine che saranno levate, farai

Then make as rolls                     and then       set   them     to rise                      make


bogliere la tua acqua, e le getterai detro dette brazzatelle a cuocere, e come

to boil     the      water     and     cast      quickly the    rolls             to   boil        and  when


verrano di sopra li caurai fuori, & le porrai in acqua fresca, e quando d'ini le

it  comes     up           take       out       and   put      in   water    fresh   and  then   from that


leverai le porrai a cuocere nel forno. E se li uorrai porre anesi dentro,

lift    then    put    to  cook  in the oven.  And if you are willing put anise within


sera buona opera.

it is  good deed.



Translation by Master Basilius Phocas of the Middle Kingdom (included as a cross-reference):


Bagels of Milk and Sugar


To make fifty bagels of four ounces each you will take fifteen pounds of best flour, three ounces of rose water, three pounds of milk, two pounds of white sugar, twenty-five eggs. four ounces of butter, and you will knead these things together very well.  Then you will make your bagels according to the method you want to use, and then you will let rise with careful attention, and after it has risen you will boil your water, and then you will place inside the above mentioned bagels to cook, and when they come to the top you will take out, and then you will put in fresh water, and when you have removed them from within you will put them to cook in the oven, and if you want to put inside anise, it is a good deed.




Special thanks for making the texts of the Libro Novo and the Italian-English Dictionary available to me, as well as for the inspiration and encouragement in this project go to Master Basilius Phocas of the Middle Kingdom.  Master Basilius received the Order of the Laurel for cooking in AS 29 (1995 Gregorian).  


Brazzatelle D Latte, E Zuccaro


Modern Redaction (as I interpreted the translation and prepared the recipe)


4 pounds bread flour

1 1/2 T. rose water

1C. milk

3/4 C. sugar

6 large eggs

2T. butter

2 t. salt

1 T. active dry yeast

1C. warm water

Several pinches anise seeds (optional)


1.     Dissolve yeast in 1 C. warm water and set aside.

2.     Scald the milk in a small saucepan, add the butter and allow to melt, add the rosewater and cool.  Place in a large bowl with the dissolved yeast, and add the sugar.

3.     Add about 4 cups of flour and the salt to the liquid mixture.  Stir until roughly combined; continue adding flour, about q cup at the time until it is difficult to stir. Turn onto a floured surface and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes, adding flour if needed.

4.     Leave the dough to rise, punch down.  Cut dough into 4 ounce pieces.  Shape each piece as you like; preferably roll into a rope about 12 inches long, joining the ends to make a ring.  Place the rolls on an oiled baking sheet and allow to rise for 45 minutes, or until about double in size.

5.     Preheat the oven to 400 F.  Heat a large pot fill with water to a simmer.  Boil the rolls, four to six at the time (do not let them be crowded in the pot) for about five minutes on each side, or until they are well puffed and float. Place the boiled rolls on an oiled baking sheet, sprinkle with anise seeds, if desired.  Bake for 40 minutes, or until golden brown.


Just For Fun


Here are two modern recipes for bagels.  The first is given because it is very basic, and seems to fit the dictionary definitions of the end produce.  The second is given because it is too much fun to be left out.


Basic Bagels [2]


1 1/2 C warm water
2 1/2 tsp. Yeast

1 T sugar
1 T salt
4 1/2 - 5 1/2 C flour
2 T molasses


optional toppings of choice:
sesame seeds
poppy seeds
kosher salt
onion bits, etc.


Makes 1 Dozen

Combine 1/4 cup warm water, 1 tsp. sugar and yeast in a large bowl. Stir to dissolve, then let stand for about 5 minutes or until foamy. Stir in remaining 1 1/4 cups warm water, sugar, salt and about 4 cups of flour and mix until well combined. Mix in enough of the remaining flour until you have a soft dough.

Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 5-8 minutes. Shape into a ball and place in a greased bowl. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place for until doubled, about an hour and a half.

Punch down dough and divide into 12 pieces. Cover with the towel again and let rest for 20 minutes.


With floured hands, roll each piece of dough into a rope 12-14 in length. Wrap the rope into a circle and pinch to close. Repeat with remaining pieces.


Preheat oven to 375 F. Bring a large pot of water, mixed with the molasses, to a boil.

Drop a couple of bagels into the water at a time, poaching them for about 20 seconds. Use a slotted spoon to transfer bagels to an ungreased baking sheet, (or one that's covered in parchment paper). Sprinkle with toppings, if desired, and bake for about 20 minutes, or until crusty and browned.  


Real Honest Jewish Purist's Bagels [3]


Gentle reader, it is assumed that you know from bagels.







First, pour three cups of hot water into the mixing bowl. The water should be hot, but not so hot that you can't bear to put your fingers in it for several seconds at a time. Add the sugar or honey and stir it with your fingers (a good way to make sure the water is not too hot) or with a wire whisk to dissolve. Sprinkle the yeast over the surface of the water, and stir to dissolve.


Wait about ten minutes for the yeast to begin to revive and grow. This is known as "proofing" the yeast, which simply means that you're checking to make sure your yeast is viable. Skipping this step could result in your trying to make bagels with dead yeast, which results in bagels so hard and potentially dangerous that they are banned under the terms of the Geneva Convention. You will know that the yeast is okay if it begins to foam and exude a sweetish, slightly beery smell.


At this point, add about three cups of flour as well as the 2 tsp of salt to the water and yeast and begin mixing it in. Some people subscribe to the theory that it is easier to tell what's going on with the dough if you use your hands rather than a spoon to mix things into the dough, but others prefer the less physically direct spoon. As an advocate of the bare-knuckles school of baking, I proffer the following advice: clip your fingernails, take off your rings and wristwatch, and wash your hands thoroughly to the elbows, like a surgeon. Then you may dive into the dough with impunity. I generally use my right hand to mix, so that my left is free to add flour and other ingredients and to hold the bowl steady. Left-handed people might find that the reverse works better for them. Having one hand clean and free to perform various tasks works best.


When you have incorporated the first three cups of lour, the dough should begin to become thick-ish. Add more flour, a half-cup or so at a time, and mix each addition thoroughly before adding more flour. As the dough gets thicker, add less and less flour at a time. Soon you will begin to knead it by hand (if you're using your hands to mix the dough in the first place, this segue is hardly noticeable). If you have a big enough and shallow enough bowl, use it as the kneading bowl, otherwise use that clean, dry, flat countertop or tabletop mentioned in the "Equipment" list above. Sprinkle your work surface or bowl with a handful of flour, put your dough on top, and start kneading. Add bits of flour if necessary to keep the dough from sticking (to your hands, to the bowl or countertop, etc....). Soon you should have a nice stiff dough. It will be quite elastic, but heavy and stiffer than a normal bread dough. Do not make it too dry, however... it should still give easily and stretch easily without tearing.


Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, and cover with one of your clean kitchen towels, dampened somewhat by getting it wet and then wringing it out thoroughly. If you swish the dough around in the bowl, you can get the whole ball of dough covered with a very thin film of oil, which will keep it from drying out.


Place the bowl with the dough in it in a dry, warm (but not hot) place, free from drafts. Allow it to rise until doubled in volume. Some people try to accelerate rising by putting the dough in the oven, where the pilot lights keep the temperature slightly elevated. If it's cold in your kitchen, you can try this, but remember to leave the oven door open or it may become too hot and begin to kill the yeast and cook the dough. An ambient temperature of about 80 degrees Fahrenheit (25 centigrade) is ideal for rising dough.


While the dough is rising, fill your stockpot with about a gallon of water and set it on the fire to boil. When it reaches a boil, add the malt syrup or sugar and reduce the heat so that the water just barely simmers; the surface of the water should hardly move.


Once the dough has risen, turn it onto your work surface, punch it down, and divide immediately into as many hunks as you want to make bagels. For this recipe, you will probably end up with about 15 bagels, so you will divide the dough into 15 roughly even-sized hunks. Begin forming the bagels. There are two schools of thought on this. One method of bagel formation involves shaping the dough into a rough sphere, then poking a hole through the middle with a finger and then pulling at the dough around the hole to make the bagel. This is the hole-centric method. The dough-centric method involves making a long cylindrical "snake" of dough and wrapping it around your hand into a loop and mashing the ends together. Whatever you like to do is fine. DO NOT, however, give in to the temptation of using a doughnut or cookie cutter to shape your bagels. This will push them out of the realm of Jewish Bagel Authenticity and give them a distinctly Protestant air. The bagels will not be perfectly shaped. They will not be symmetrical. This is normal. This is okay. Enjoy the diversity. Just like snowflakes, no two genuine bagels are exactly alike.


Begin to preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.


Once the bagels are formed, let them sit for about 10 minutes. They will begin to rise slightly. Ideally, they will rise by about one-fourth volume... a technique called "half-proofing" the dough. At the end of the half-proofing, drop the bagels into the simmering water one by one. You don't want to crowd them, and so there should only be two or three bagels simmering at any given time. The bagels should sink first, and then gracefully float to the top of the simmering water. If they float, it's not a big deal, but it does mean that you'll have a somewhat more bready (and less bagely) texture. Let the bagel simmer for about three minutes, then turn them over with a skimmer or a slotted spoon. Simmer another three minutes, and then lift the bagels out of the water and set them on a clean kitchen towel that has been spread on the countertop for this purpose. The bagels should be pretty and shiny, thanks to the malt syrup or sugar in the boiling water.


Once all the bagels have been boiled, prepare your baking sheets by sprinkling them with cornmeal. Then arrange the bagels on the prepared baking sheets and put them in the oven. Let them bake for about 25 minutes, then remove from the oven, turn them over and put them back in the oven to finish baking for about ten minutes more. This will help to prevent flat-bottomed bagels.


Remove from the oven and cool on wire racks, or on dry clean towels if you have no racks. Do not attempt to cut them until they are cool... hot bagels slice abominably and you'll end up with a wadded mass of bagel pulp. Don't do it.




[1]       Bagels, http://homecooking.about.com/library/weekly/aa011998.htm


[2]       Bagels, http://www.fabulousfoods.com/school/cstech/bagels.html">http://www.fabulousfoods.com/school/cstech/bagels.html


[3]       REL HONEST JEWISH PURIST'S BAGELS, http://homecooking.about.com/gi/dynamic/offsite.htm?site=http://www.jewish%2Dfood.org/recipes/brea0007.htm




American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th edition, Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, 2000, Page 133


Florio, John, Queen Anna's New World of Words, or Dictionarie, London, 1611


Messisbugo, Christofaro, Libro Novo, Venetia,1557


Master Basilius Phocas, telephone interview, January 2001, personal interview, August 2001,  August 2002


The New Oxford American Dictionary, Oxford University Press, New York, 2000,

page 121


Bagels (the modern recipe), http://www.fabulousfoods.com/school/cstech/bagels.html

Tasty Bagels, Bagel History, http://www.tastybagels.com/products.htm

REAL HONEST JEWISH PURIST'S BAGELS, http://homecooking.about.com/gi/dynamic/offsite.htm?site=http://www.jewish%2Dfood.org/recipes/brea0007.htm


Copyright 2003 by <author's regular name>, <mailing address>. <jjterlouw at earthlink.net>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited.  Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author receives a copy.


If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org