February 5, 2013

Barm bread (sourdough)

Poppy seed barm bread during the second rise

I've been busy baking and using my homemade sourdough starter recently. After trying the popular Taiwanese 65C tangzhong/water roux method, I came across a traditional British baking method called "barm" that is very similar, except you use ale instead of water to make the roux. Barm bread usually has a more flavor due to the use of beer, and has a lighter, fluffier crumb (texture) due to the gelatinous roux which allows the gluten in the flour absorb more moisture. The secret to making great bread is to have the dough as wet as possible. 

Making barm bread is a process that can be separated into two distinct parts: first you need to make the barm, then you use the barm to make the bread. 

  • 250ml (8.5 oz) ale -- while any bottle-conditioned beer works, I used Baird Brewing's Single-Take Session ale as I thought it would give a light, rustic flavor. A stout or porter will give you a darker, maltier barm.
  • 50g (1/2 cup) bread flour (sifted)
  • 4 tsp white leaven/sourdough starter, or 1 tsp active dry yeast

Baird beer from Numazu, Japan
  1. Heat the ale in a saucepan on medium heat until 65C (if you don't have a thermometer, don't worry, you can eyeball it. Wait until you see some bubbles form but don't let the ale boil over!)
  2. Remove from heat and whisk in the flour, stirring rapidly to avoid lumps forming. Don't worry if you get lumps, if needed you can strain them out with a sieve later after cooling. It should have a slightly translucent brown (exact darkness will depend on the type of beer you used) and have the consistency of hair gel/pomade.
  3. Put the ale-flour mixture into a small bowl and let cool to 20C (room temperature), then stir in the leaven or active dry yeast.
  4.  Cover with plastic wrap or a clean cloth, and let the barm sit overnight for up to 48 hours until nice and bubbly.  If it doesn't bubble, your yeast/starter is dead and you'll have to start again.
  5. The barm is now ready to use in making bread! It can replace your sourdough starter in most bread recipes.

Sourdough barm bread with poppy seeds:

  • 150g barm, from above (I used all of the barm made from the above recipe without measuring it, which turned out fine)
  • 250ml (8.5 oz) water
  • 500g bread (high-gluten) flour; or 400g bread flour and 100 g wholemeal/rye flour
  • 10g (2 tsp) salt
  • 2 tbsp poppy seeds (optional)

  1. Mix the barm and water together until the barm is completely dissolved. 
  2. Add the flour and salt, then mix until you get a wet, shaggy dough. It will be a sticky mess!
  3. Put in a bowl, cover and leave at room temperature for 12-18 hours. 
    • If your room is warmer than 20C, you might want to put the covered bowl in the fridge to keep the dough temperature down and allow time for the flavors to develop during the long fermentation. 
    • You can also split the rise time over two days: I made the dough after dinner one night, then put it in the fridge overnight. I took it out the next morning and left it on the countertop all day. When I came home from work 12 hours later, the dough had finished the first rise. 
  4. After the first rise has been completed (dough will be double in size), punch down the dough and scrape it out onto a floured surface.
  5. Shape the dough into whatever form you like. I made four oval rolls.
  6. If using poppy seeds, sprinkly on top now. 
  7. Place the shaped dough onto your baking sheet (I use Silpat to avoid the bread sticking to the metal pan, or you can use baking paper), and let rise in a quiet, dry area until doubled (1-2 hours).
  8. Bake in a preheated 220C/425F oven for 30-40 minutes or until golden brown.
  9. As with all bread, resist the temptation to eat or slice the bread as soon as you take it out of the oven! Let cool to room temperature before serving.

Golden-brown poppyseed barm rolls 

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