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Real beer barm bread mark II

Barm bread

A few years ago, I was given a bottle of barm by my brewer friend Michele Sensidoni, of Mastri Birrai Umbri. For those who don’t know, barm is the yeast, and yeasty foam, formed by vigorously reproducing yeasts during the fermentation process in brewing. I used it to make some bread. Last week, I was lucky enough to visit Holler Boys, a new Sussex brewery, and meet its owner and brewer Steve Keegan.

Steve is a friend of a friend, and former managing director of Late Knights Brewery, which he set up in south London in 2012. It expanded fast and they opened several pubs, but things drew to a close in Autumn 2016. I’ll tell that story in another post soon, in the meantime, here’s another experimental barm bread.

I got up this morning – well, I was woken up by the Raver, 19 months, at the not too uncivilised hour of 6.50 – and found the dough crawling out of its proving basket. So, yes, this is one of those blog posts that talks about a bit of a cock-up, not an expert success story.

Barm

 

When we visited, Steve was busy making new brews and one of his conditioning tanks, named Wayne, was bubbling away. I asked Steve if I could have a scoop of the froth, the barm.

Barmy starter
Back home, I mixed with flour and water over the course of three days, much like you would feed a sourdough starter. It wasn’t that vigorous, but it was alive. The barm I’d got from Michele had involved a lot more liquid and yeasty bits. This scoop of bubbles, however, was a bit of a gamble, as it obviously didn’t contain quite such a density of yeasts.

Barm starter

In the evening of the third day – sounding a tad Biblical – I made up a dough. Here’s the recipe.

350g beer barm starter, at 100% hydration (ie, I fed it on equal quantities of flour and water)
8g fine sea salt
300g water
500g strong white bread flour

Ignoring the small amount of liquid in the initial scoop of barm, the total liquid in the dough was about 475g, the flour 675g, making a dough hydration of 70% (475/675 x 100).

1. Bring the barm starter, salt, water and flour together to form a soft dough in a roomy bowl.
2. Turn out onto a lightly oiled work surface and knead. Knead it briefly, form a ball, then put back into the bowl, lightly oiled. Cover and leave 10 minutes.
3. Knead again, put back in the bowl, cover and leave 10 minutes again.
4. Repeat a few more times then put back in the bowl, cover and put the fridge for 24 hours.

Before final prove

Now, this is where I went wrong. I wanted to give it a final prove in a proving basket, but I misjudged the liveliness of the dough – the barm starter had turned out to be more vigorous than I thought. I thought I could give it a final prove at room temperature (in this case 17-18C), overnight, for about 9 hours. I probably should have done it in the fridge.

Oops

The dough spilled over the edges of the proving basket, which was too small for the amount of dough, and stuck. It was overproved and had a bad skin where the dough had dried out. I was forced to prise it out (destroying stucture) and reform the ball, give it a short final prove, then resort to baking in a preheated casserole dish, rather than slid off a peel onto a hot baking stone as I’d planned.

I don’t think there’s any point continuing with a numbered recipe now, as it went wrong. But when I say “wrong”, I mean that I learned a lesson. If I can get hold of some more barm, I’ll know to trust it more for leavening.

The result isn’t what I was aiming for, and its crumb structure is a slight disappointment, but the flavour is good. Fran says she can taste a beeriness, a bitterness. T-Rex, three, enjoyed it too, until he decided he didn’t, and said “Yuck”. I’d like to think this wasn’t an entirely failed experiment: all I had to start with was a few grams of foam, it was fun and the results are tasty. I just got the timings wrong. Hey, I’ve only made real barm bread twice!

Barm bread crumb shot

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Barm bread

Balm bread (Admiral's ale)

This was another pass on Dan Lepard’s barm bread from The Handmade Loaf. (I posted an earlier attempt here.)

Very nice it was too.

To make the barm, you need 250g of bottle-conditioned ale. In this case, I used the delicious Admiral’s Ale, produced by the St Austell Brewery in Cornwall (or the “Snozzle brewery”…). Heat it to 70C, then remove from the heat and whisk in 50g strong white flour. Transfer it to a bowl, then allow to cool. When it’s 20c, stir in 4 tsp of white leaven and leave overnight.

Well, I did that and it wasn’t very active the next day, so I bunged in a few more teaspoons of leaven, and left it another 24 hours. By that stage, well, to quote Colin Clive as Henry Frankenstein: “Look! It’s moving. It’s alive. It’s alive… It’s alive, it’s moving! It’s alive! It’s alive! It’s alive!”

Dan L’s bread recipe calls for 150g of barm, but as I had around 300g, I just used the whole lot. My barm mix had quite a lot of liquid under the bubbling foam on top, so the dough came out very wet when combined with 500g of water and 1kg of flour. I used mostly strong white, but finished a pack of wholemeal and even bunged in some millet flour; I also add a few tablespoons of sesame seeds and sunflower seeds.

As the dough was very wet, I differed a little from Dan’s recipe, where he uses the 10 second knead every 10 minutes for half an hour; then a 10 second knead after half an hour; then two more 10 second kneads over the next two hours. Instead, I just did the Bertinet method (strick your fingers into the messy mass, lift, flip it away from you; repeat for several minutes) for around 5-10 mins, then added enough flour to make a maneagable ball (an extra 150g ish), then did a few more short kneads and a few turns.

We went out for about two hours, then I formed two balls and left them in bowls lined with tea towels rubbed with flour. I left them for around 3 hours till doubled in size, then baked them at 220C on my baking stone, for around 45-50 mins each.

The result was a lovely moist loaf, with reasonable air-holes and a slight flavour coming through from the other flours and nuts I added. Perfect for this week’s sarnies (cheddar, alfalfa sprout, coarse mustard and mayo)!

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