ChewsWise Blog

ChewsWise Blog

I'll drink to that: Beer barm bread with spent grains

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Ahhh, beer making. I don't partake of this sport, but my step-mom, Patty, does, with a passion. And I have to say her IPA will put rivals to shame. But here's the thing. She's been brewing this beer for a few years, and even grows the hops in the backyard. I have long wanted to make a bread with the "wort" (that is, the pre-fermented beer) and the "spent grains" (the malted barley soaked in hot water that, with hops, makes the wort). This is the ultimate beer bread and the method goes back to England and Scotland, and probably much earlier historically, considering barley beer and bread built the pyramids.

British baker Dan Lepard explains that the mildly antiseptic qualities of hops prevent the barm leaven from turning sour. This might seem odd, given that hops are bitter, but in a small dose of leaven they actually sweeten the bread.

Hops give beer its slight bitterness, and were once used by both brewers and bakers to ward off a disagreeable sourness. Bakers would use a modified beer-making process, known as "barm," beating flour into a hot, liquid mix of hops and malt, so that the starch gelatinized. This proved a perfect medium for fermentation once seeded with a little barm from the previous weeks baking. This mixture could be kept for a week, as the bitter hops would keep the mixture sweet tasting. 

Until the 20th C., when the use of commerical yeast became commplace, bakers struggled to make bread as cleanly flavored and white as they could. Sourness was considered a bad thing ... The newly available processed yeast made it possible to mix and bake dough quickly which meant that the bacteria did not have time to develop and sour the loaf. Bakers rejoiced except a few.

In Scotland, for example, the bakers weren't so taken with this new, clean-tasting bread. Comparing the two breads, one made in the old style with barm, and another with the new-fangled yeast, both bakers and customers preferred the old style. But barm-making was laborious, and the new yeast convenient. And convenience won.

That quote is from Lepard's The Art of Handmade Bread: Contemporary European Recipes for the Home Baker. He gives a simple recipe to make a barm, which involves heating beer to 158 F. Since I had an actual brewer on hand, I also had the real thing -- wort. And so I heated a cup of the wort to the appropriate temperature and whisked in one-half cup flour. Once the temperature dropped to 75 F, I seeded the leaven not with a bit of last week's barm, but with a tablespoon of ripe sourdough starter. Then I waited. 

The next morning, the barm was bubbly and alive with a foamy top. Loosely using Lepard's Barm Bread recipe, I made the loaf, but with a couple of additions: I added around a cup of the malted barely spent grains which had been strained out of the wort the day before. I also added a small amount of spelt flour (that was just sitting around and needed a use). After I mixed and folded the dough so it had developed a moderate gluten structure, I folded the grains into the dough. (You can see the flecked barley in the slice above). The bread took awhile to rise, as it was pretty cool -- three hours for the first rise with a couple of folds along the way. Then I shaped the loaf and let it rise another 3-1/2 hours covered by a towel on a sheet pan. Finally, I plopped the loaf into a hot dutch oven and baked it. The loaf rose beautifully. 

Later, when we cut into the bread, it had the feint nutty smell of roasted barley. It also had a wonderfully complex flavor, with just the mildest note of bitter hops. We buttered a couple of slices, popped open two IPAs, and enjoyed our brewers feast. 

I could see why the Scots liked a nice barm loaf. Convenience be damned. 

submitted to yeastspotting