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Black beer bread

Black beer bread

Readers of this blog may have already spotted that we’re ‘Game of Thrones’ fans. ‘Game of Thrones’ is not only the name of HBO’s excellent TV series, it’s also the title of the first book in George RR Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice cycle of books and it made a cameo appearance in this post, where we were lolling around in the park drinking Birra del Borgo’s Rubus, reading and enjoying the sun.

I can’t remember what hyperlinked amble took me there, but Inn At The Crossroads is the officially recognised blog for recipes based on foods found in A Song of Fire and Ice. Being a baker, my attention was immediately grabbed by their bread recipes. Specifically black bread – something that’s mentioned in the books as common fare of the people of Winterfell and the North.

Here is Inn At The Crossroads’ first Black bread, and here is their Black bread redux, aka Black beer bread. I wanted to try something similar, but not using commercial yeast – as this didn’t seem to fit into the whole quasi-Medieval vibe of Martin’s world. Instead, I wanted to use beer barm, a byproduct of fermentation.

My first experiment with a real barm bread was pretty successful, though I didn’t use any actual beer or dark flours to make it, so it wasn’t really a black bread or a black beer bread. This, however, is.

Again, I used Mulino Marino Pan di Sempre, a stoneground organic white flour that is made with a blend of Triticum aestivum (that is, common bread wheat), Triticum spelta (spelt wheat) and Triticum monococcum (einkorn wheat), but I also added some wholewheat flour.

I made a leaven with the same barm as before, feeding it up with flour over a few days, then I made up a dough, using beer as the only other liquid, not water.

Now, I mentioned that Dan Lepard’s ‘The Handmade Loaf’ has a recipe he calls “Barm bread”, though he makes it without actual barm, just beer and a leaven. He also heats the beer, killing the yeasts, but retaining the flavour. I wanted to retain the live yeasts from a bottle-conditioned beer, so didn’t heat it.

Flour, dark ale and barm leaven for my Winterfell black bread

The beer I used was Birrificio Math’s La 27, a 4.8% dark beer from the brewery near Florence. They call it a stout, but stout, traditionally, meant strong, and more recently has come to be associated with more full-bodied creamy porters. It’s neither.

The La 27 has a solid fruity smell: specifically black berries like blackberries (!), elderberries and blackcurrants, with a touch of smokiness and a little chocolate, but taste-wise it’s dull, a little charcoal, but not much more depth of flavour. The body was thin and watery, and over-carbonated. The aftertaste was oddly bitter. It was black though, or black enough for a black beer bread.

So anyway, here’s the recipe. If you try it, don’t be afraid to adjust the quantities, as I was very much experimenting when I made it.

I made my beer barm leaven with barm, flour and some cooking water from farro grain; I’d say it was about 80% hydration, effectively. If you can’t get hold of a beer barm, a normal leaven/sourdough starter will suffice, though it won’t be quite as fun.

For the beer, use a non-pasteurised, non-filtered, bottle-conditioned dark ale, stout or porter (not Guinness).

280g beer barm leaven
400g flour (a mixture of white and wholegrain)
10g salt
250g dark ale, stout or porter

1. Combine the salt and flours.
2. Combine the leaven and beer, stirring well.

Winterfell black bread
3. Pour the liquidy gloop into the flour.
4. Bring together the dough. It’ll be pretty sticky. Which is good, albeit tricky to handle. Don’t agonise.
Winterfell black bread

5. Form a ball with the dough, put it in a bowl or plastic container, cover with plastic or a lid, then put in the fridge.
6. Leave in the fridge for around 14 hours.

Winterfell black bread
7. Take the dough out of the fridge and allow to come to room temperature (around 20C ideally).

Winterfell black bread
8. Form a ball, then put it – smooth-side down – in a bowl or proving basket lined with a floured cloth.

Winterfell black bread
9. Prove again for about 5-8 hours more. This will depend on the temperature of your room, the liveliness of the yeasts, etc. You want to leave it until it’s doubled in size and is soft to the touch, nicely aerated.

Winterfell black bread, final prove
10. Preheat your oven to 240C.
11. Upturn the ball onto a baking sheet (so the smooth-side is up), slash, then bake for 20 minutes.

Black bread
12. Turn down the oven to 200C and bake for a further 20 minutes, or until the bread is done. This can be tricky to judge, but you want it to feel lighter, and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.
13. Cool on a wire rack.

Black bread

Now, the finished loaf looked rather pleasing, and had a lovely smell of chocolate, a scent that you get with certain stouts. Oddly, this smell wasn’t strong with the beer itself, but it’s come through with the baking.

Winterfell black bread

Taste-wise, it’s certainly pretty rustic but is oddly bitter-sweet. I’m not a chemist, but I wonder if the bitterness is related to the alcohod.

I’m sure it would have served very nicely for the hungry Brothers of the Night’s Watch, freezing their behinds off on the Wall. We, on the other hand, enjoyed it for breakfast on a mild late-summer Roman morning slathered with honey. Then for lunch with a lovely crunchy, sharp medium aged pecorino.

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Filed under Ale, beer, Breads

Birrificio Math’s La 16 amber ale with jasmine flowers

Birrificio Math La 16 bottle

Quite intrigued by this one. I’d enjoyed my previous experience of a brew from Math brewery (birrificio), La 68, a wheat beer I drank when experimenting with making fish and chips and the label on the La 16 said it was a Birra ambrata ai fiori di gelsomino – an amber beer with jasmine blossoms. The ingredients once more included the cryptic spezie too (spices – but what blimmin’ spices?). What’s not to like? Well, I was slightly wary of the 7% ABV. I would have thought I was getting used to Italian strong beers, but it seems to be going the other way. Especially as I drank this shortly after coming home from a trip to England, and enjoying several quality ales with less than 5% ABV.

One tricky factor at the moment is getting the temperature of the beer right. It’s been around 35C for several weeks now, peaking even higher a few weeks ago. Ergo, I keep my beers in the fridge, reasoning that I can take them out and let them warm up a bit before drinking. It’s not an exact science though; my food thermometer has died, so I’m having to guess when the beer is at the ideal 10C-ish.

Birrificio Math La 16 and glass

Maybe I guessed wrong this time, but drinking the La 16 I really got surprisingly little interesting perfume. I thought the jasmine flowers would make their presence felt, but I didn’t get that at all. Perhaps it was still too cold? Or perhaps it’s just not as great a beer as I was hoping. Tasting it too, I didn’t really get much floral or spicy. Very little fruitiness at all, just a fairly heavy malt and decided heavy hoppiness. So: not well balanced. Medium body, medium carbonation, pleasant coppery brown colour, borderline unpleasant taste.

It was assertively bitter, to the point of being too much, as if the hops have been cooked too long. Stewed, like an old cup of tea. Or at least it was too stewed for my taste. I’m really beginning to not enjoy these Italian strong ales (sometimes called “Belgian style” – but I dislike that expression. There are so many types of Belgian beer, it’s too vague). They’re just not subtle. Drinking them is like eating gelato (or ice-cream) too fast – you get that instant ache at the front of the brain. You’re punched with the hoppiness, with the high alcohol content.

Or as Loeser, the protagonist in Ned Beauman’s The Teleportation Accident, says when he opens a bottle of terrible (ersatz) champagne and has a swig: “It’s as if they’ve decided to incorporate the eventual hangover directly into the flavour as a sort of omen.”

Birrificio Math La 16 label

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Beer-battered fish and chips with mushy peas and tartar sauce

aerial photo

This post perhaps takes the blog on a slight tangent, but what the heck. It involves beer. And the project was an excuse to buy a selection of beers from a new shop on Viale Quattro Venti in Rome (number 265; it’s a branch of the small chain Gradi Plato). It’s one of a crop of shops that’s been springing up in the time we’ve lived in Rome that specialise in selling international and craft beers.

This guy had a global selection, so I asked him for something Italian, and light and golden, as I wanted to use it to make batter… and drink. We discussed various things, and although he didn’t really seem to understand the term “golden ale” (though I have seen it on other beer menus here), we bought a pils (that is a Pilsner lager), an APA and a wheat beer.

lineup9 md

Now if only I could remember the name and address of the shop. I can’t. But it’s here on streetview, the righthand closed shutter.

Anyway. As strangers in a strange land, we occasionally crave the foods of home. In this case, we’re Brits, and I’ve been craving fish and chips. You could say that the Roman filetto di baccalà when served with patatine fritte is basically the same thing, but… well, no. Just no. Filetto di baccalà is made with salt cod, and while it is battered, it can be made too far in advance meaning the batter can be flaccid, the fish mushy. Plus, I just need my condiments and sauces. It always bemuses us that while Romans have such a passion for deep-fried goodies – fritti – they tend to eat them dry and unaccompanied. A plate of fritti like suppli (rice balls with mozz in the centre, coated in breadcrumbs and deep-fried), fiori di zucca (zucchini/courgette flowers stuffed with mozz and anchovy, deep-fried in batter), and various fried animal bits like animelle (sweetbreads) really ought to be eaten with a nice tangy sauce, something involving tomatoes and peppers, like a tangy chili jam. Even ketchup would be nice. But no.

This craving for fish and chips means I’ve been experimenting with making it at home. I’d only tried this a few times when we lived in the UK as, frankly, why bother in a land of chippies and gastropubs selling fish and chips?

I read around for good recipes and then broadly went with Felicity Cloake’s advice from her “How to cook the perfect…” column in the Guardian. Though her recipe makes too much batter for my needs. And I forgot to chill the flour. Apparently having all the ingredients as cold as possible makes for a lighter batter, but mine sufficed just with cold beer. Of the three beers I bought, I used the pils, reasoning that it was more effervescent, and would help keep the batter light. Plus, I don’t actually much like pils to drink so was more keen on drinking the other two.

I used a Madonna Pils from Free Lions in Tuscania, near Viterbo, Lazio, a brewery founded by Andreas Fralleoni after a career in the banking industry. Leaving behind the evils of banking to make craft beers? Well done that man. (They only have a holding page online at the moment, but it features their funny little logo.) So while I found this pils a bit acrid and hoppy to drink, it made an excellent batter ingredient.

whisking batter

Beer batter recipe

This makes enough for about 4 medium sized fillets.

200g plain / all-purpose / 0 or 00 flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
280g cold beer – preferably something light with a good sparkle

1 Preheat the cooking oil. I used sunflower oil. The fat you fry in is a whole other argument. A true fish and chip aficionado would say it has to be beef fat/dripping, but, well, sod that. Sunflower oil is fine and doesn’t conflict with the flavour of fish.
2 Sieve together the flour and baking powder and add the salt.
3 Whisk in the beer to achieve a thick, creamy consistency.
4 Batter the fish and deep-fry straight away.

deepfrying

The last time we experimented with this, Fran was in charge of buying the fish. As the names of the fish on our local market stall remain such a challenge (she clearly didn’t refer to my handy list of fish names in Italian, English and Latin), when she explained what she wanted the fillets for they persuaded her to buy palombo. Which was unfortunate as this may well be small, potentially endangered species of hound shark.

This time round, I was in charge. Buying “sustainable” fish is always a tricky proposition, and frankly something that’s subject to a lot of greenwash and disinformation. My loose rule of thumb is to avoid tuna species, avoid monkfish species, avoid cod, and generally stick with things like anchovies and mackerel, ideally caught by small, local fishing boats.

In this case, I ended up buying some fish the vendors referred to as “local”: musdea, aka mostella, which I believe is a type of forkbeard, a relative of cod, Phycis  phycis or Phycis blennioides. Although neither are on the IUCN red list (they’ve not be assessed yet), the latter species is listed as one to avoid on the UK’s Marine Conservation Society site. Hopefully it’s not been so overfished in the Med, but I know that’s a vain hope. The only consolation is that we don’t do this too often. Sustainability is of course about making the right choices, but for a society like ours, predicated on over-consumption, realistically it’s also about doing the wrong things less frequently.

Anyway. After I’d fought the fillets to remove the bones, this forkbeard fried up really well. I don’t have an oil thermometer (though I would like one of those fancy IR guns, available from a corporate tax-dodger not very near you), so I just played it by ear. I did three batches, with the second two pretty much perfect. Apparently you want 185C or thereabouts for deep-frying fish in batter.

Fish & chips and ale

It went down very well with the other beers I’d purchased: La 68 from Math brewery in Florence, Tuscany, and Runner Ale from Pontino brewery, which seems to be part of All Grain SRL in Latina, southern Lazio.

Math don’t have a proper site up yet, and I don’t know anything about them, but I love their style already. The design is cool and La 68’s label includes a funny little fellow with a speech bubble with this beguiling epigram: Il disordine é l’ordine meno il potere, “Disorder is order without the power/means/ability” The beer itself was a fresh summer beverage: a 5% wheat beer whose ingredients also include spezie, “spices”. I’m not sure which, but it had a nice limey flavour and subtle hoppiness.

La 68

Like La 68, Runner Ale isn’t in my Italian craft beers guide, but it’s similarly very drinkable: notably because, unlike many of the Italian craft beers I encounter, it’s not overly strong, at only 4.5% ABV. It’s an (Italian) American Pale Ale. APA style beers seem very popular in the Italian microbrewery scene and, despite me being British, it’s a style I’m really enjoying at the moment. Italian APAs are often light yet full-bodied, tasty without being aggressively bitter or hoppy. And as with the La 68, the Runner Ale’s bottle also comes with a quirky quote, in this case Come tuo avvocato ti consiglio di andare a tavoletta. It’s attributed to Dr Gonzo, Hunter S Thompson’s creation, and I think it means “As your lawyer, I advise you to go to the bar.”

runner ale

Sides and condiments

As you can see, I went the whole hog here and did chips, tartar sauce and mushy peas. I’ll admit the chips were not proper chips. As I don’t have a proper deep-fat fryer or even a pan with a frying basket, I couldn’t be bothered. I’d read up Cloake and discussed proper chips with friends (the knowledgeable Oli Monday saying they were best when “oil-blanched”, frozen, then deep-fried a second time) for my last experiment, but this time I just cut chip shapes and roasted them, without any pre-cooking, with plenty of sunflower oil and salt. They tasted good even if they weren’t proper chips.

nice spread

As for the tartar sauce. I just had to. As I said above, fried food needs condiments. One of things that drives me made about British pubs is getting tartar sauce in those tiny sachets. I need about 10 per meal. So here I made a decent bowlful for the three of us.

Tartar sauce ingredients
1 egg yolk
1 cup / 240g oil (half-half sunflower oil and extra virgin olive oil)
1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard
A good handful of cornichons or gherkins, roughly chopped
A good handful of capers, rinsed, soaked, drained, squeezed out and roughly chopped
A good handful of parsley, roughly chopped
Some water, lemon juice and salt and pepper

1 Put the yolk in a bowl and whisk it a little with the Dijon.
2 Start adding the oil, whisking constantly, starting with just a few drops.
3 When the oil and yolk starts to emulsify, you can pour in the oil, whisking continuously.
4 When the mayo starts to thicken, thin it down with lemon juice and water, to taste.
5 Add the cornichons, capers, parsley and taste – your capers could be quite salty still, so you might not need to add more salt.
6 Add more lemon juice to taste.

And last but not least: mushy peas

Years ago, there was a great ad campaign in Britain that called some industrial brand of mushy peas “Yorkshire caviar”. Funny, if not entirely true. The industrial stuff, made with dried marrowfat peas (that is, big old starchy peas, Pisum sativum) rehydrated and dyed green, can be pretty nasty. Homemade mushy peas, however, are delicious.

To serve 3-4

1 About four good handfuls of peas. I used half-half frozen and freshly podded. (It’s the end of peas season here; if it’s not pea season, just use frozen peas.)
(Yes yes, I’m not being very accurate here but I didn’t bother to weigh any of these things. Say about 350-400g)
2 Place the peas in a pan with a good knob of butter, say 30g.
3 Add a handful of fresh mint, roughly chopped.
4 Add enough water to cover then bring to the boil and simmer for about 10 minutes, until the peas are tender.
5 Drain (keeping the cooking water) then puree with a zizzer (er, hand-blender), food processor, or just mash with a work to the desired consistency, adding more of the cooking water as necessary.
6 Add a bit more butter if you fancy it and season to taste with salt. You could add black pepper, but frankly with something so lovely and pea-y and minty, I don’t think it’s needed.

Serve it all together, warm and lovely. With good quality craft beers – chosen according to your taste and the season, naturally.

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