Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Back to sourdough

I think my infatuation with beer yeast for bread is coming to an end. It is tremendous fun when freshly harvested and full of life, but goes dormant quickly in the fridge so you never quite know how much of a rise it will give the bread. Sourdough starter is a good bit more predictable. Back to sourdough, back to rye. I've missed them.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

APA first tasting

My second attempt at a hoppy Oregon-style pale ale isn't too convincing yet, although it's still very young. It tastes very thick and sweet and is lacking in the hop aroma. I think I might still be mashing too hot, even though my thermometer told me it was 66ºC. I will try to mash a couple of degrees cooler next time, stir the mash more to be sure the thermometer is giving me an accurate figure, and may resort to using a hop tea for aroma.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

19th century Parisian barm part I

Dan Lepard's fantastic book The Handmade Loaf includes a recipe for barm bread.

Barms in the sense in which Dan uses the word are a particular development in the evolution of bakers' leavening agents. Historically they come after the use of beer yeast obtained from a brewery, and were in turn superseded by the use of compressed yeast.

The book mentions historical barms being made of malt and hops, but does not go into detail. His simplified recipe for modern readers who don't have malt and hops lying around involves heating up a bottle of real ale and stirring flour into it. This has caused a little confusion, as people assume that the yeast sediment in the bottle has something to do with the leavening of the dough. Actually, the use of a bottle-conditioned beer is something of a red herring.

I do have malt and hops lying around, so decided to try doing the whole thing from scratch. The procedure is similar to making wort for beer up until the wort is drained off the grain. Since the use of barm survived longest in Scotland when bakers in England had moved on to using compressed yeast, I also felt a duty to look into local history.

A small ad in the Scotsman:

BAKER (Foreman) Wanted immediately, competent, to take entire Management and work Parisian Barm. Good wages. Jas. Murdoch, Bonnyrigg.

With the help of some old baking textbooks found online, this one for example, we discover that barm was not universally held in high esteem at the time:

Bread prepared by the aid of barms is generally of poor volume and colour, rather liable to be holey, with dull bloom and texture somewhat variable, but the flavour as a rule is good.

Monica Spiller is someone who has written about barms. However, her method uses malt flour and hot water, so again is not done from scratch.

She has a detailed document with various interesting recipes. Interestingly, it includes a section on sprouting and drying wheat grains. This is, of course, effectively malting them, but for whatever reason she doesn't use the term.

An old domestic science book, Hand-Book Of Household Science by Juniata L. Shepperd suggests:

Yeast which is made with hops is able to overcome the power of foreign ferments longer than that made without hops, because the bitter of the hops is not suited to bacterial growth, but since one can use but little of a yeast made with hops without injuring the flavor of the bread, and a weak yeast acts so slowly as to cause disastrous results, it is better to make yeast oftener without hops, and use plenty of it in bread making.

It is clear from the rest of this document that the author is of the school of thought that considered acidity in bread a defect, but that is by the way:

There is another variety of patent yeast known as "flour barm." This is extensively used in Scotland. The chief peculiarity of bread from this is its decidedly acid taste, thought to be due principally to lactic acid. Much salt is used in making this bread, and it has not the flavor of what, in some other countries, is called the best bread.

William Jago’s classic The technology of bread-making, including the chemistry and analytical and practical testing of wheat flour, and other materials employed in bread-making and confectionery (1911) gives three variations; a compound barm (malt and hops), a virgin barm (spontaneous fermentation, flour and water only), and Parisian barm (malt and flour).

The source is given as a Mr Meikle who was apparently a bakery writer familiar with the Scottish baking trade. Meikle's descriptions are interesting because they show an evolution of practice beginning with, and developing away from, beer-brewing techniques. The first barm mentioned, compound barm, is essentially unboiled wort, made with malt, hops and water, then inoculated with an existing culture (this is the "Store" referred to in the recipe below).

Virgin barm, containing water and flour only, differs from a sourdough starter in that it's made with boiling water. Strictly speaking virgin barm should be allowed to ferment spontaneously, but even in 1911 Meikle was saying he had never actually seen this practice; bakers would add "store". Parisian barm includes malt again, together with scalded flour, but no hops.

Meikle's Parisian recipe:

15 lbs. Water
3 3/4 lbs. Malt } mash at 160º F.

22 lbs. Flour.
35 lbs. Water at 212º F.
10 lbs. Store.
To lie 12 hours before storing or until it reaches 76º F. ; ready 50
hours afterwards.

The Bread and Biscuit Baker's & Sugar-Boiler's Assistant by Robt. Wells gives a Parisian barm recipe using hops, but it is unfortunately too vague for me to convert the recipe, unless anyone can tell me how much "as much flour as can be nicely stirred in with the barm-stick" is. The basic idea is 1 part malt to 5 parts water for the mash, then add three times as much boiling hop tea.

Why does Wells include hops in Parisian barm and Jago not? I don't know, but I don't see any reason to conclude that one is more "correct." The Meikle-Jago categorisation is pleasingly tidy, but that is not enough in itself to settle the matter.

As mentioned by Shepperd above, one of the reasons to move away from beer yeast in the first place was because the hops made it bitter (it would be fascinating to look into whether this coincides with a shift to using more hops in beer-brewing, thus creating a problem where there had been none before).

On the other hand, barm without hops didn't keep as well. Possibly some bakers just continued using hops and others didn't. It certainly shows that disputes over what is or isn't a poolish, a sourdough, a barm etc. predate internet bread-geek forums.

In part II I will compare a couple of old recipes, convert them to modern units and post the recipe I'm going to use. Part III will involve using the barm to make bread using the quarter-sponge method which was apparently the contemporary method most used.

Last bottle of KK

I drank the last bottle of KK the other night. This was brewed at the end of November so it's had three months maturation in the bottle. It was pretty harsh tasting back then as I used about four times the recommended amount of gypsum in it trying to achieve that nice sulphurous Burton taste. Now it's smoothed down quite a bit and is pleasantly bitter. As it's now all gone, I need to make some more. I will use a tad less gypsum, but not ver much.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Smokebeer tasting

My Smokebeer was a bit of a disaster, as previously posted. I spilt some and as it was only a small experimental batch in the first place, I only got three bottles out of it. It also turned out that I'd primed the bottles with too much sugar, so the first one I opened foamed and gushed all over the place. That was pretty horrible, as I'm not too keen on highly carbonated beer anyway (I think this is my main problem with many Trappist beers). On tasting that bottle, it seemed very harsh.

I took the remaining bottles and loosened the crown caps carefully to let the excess CO2 out, ending up with a puddle of beer on the counter and bottles two-thirds full of beer when they'd finished foaming. I sealed the caps again and put them in the fridge, and when I opened one this morning it still had good carbonation despite releasing all that gas and having a night in the fridge.

What is it like? Well, it's pretty nice (if you like smoked beer). It's pretty yeasty, but I'm not too concerned about that in an experimental beer. It's also very pale; I imagined, thinking of the dark Bamberger Rauchbier, that a 100% smoked malt beer would be darker. Either they're using different smoked malt, or adding a few percent of Munich for colour. It has a fresh aroma which makes me think of the toilets at Schlenkerla! This is not as bad as it sounds. Possibly it's a tad on the bitter side, so I might ease off on the hops next time.

So, drinkable first effort, and it's not like I'm not going to brew smoked beer again, because I am. I'll have many attempts at it.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Fermenty things I haven't done yet

I have never made real ginger beer with a ginger beer plant.

I would also like to try making soy sauce, although a brief look suggests the process of making soy sauce is incredibly disgusting.


I need to buy some more jars to keep various cultures of grey-beige goop in. Having not just one, but several sourdough and yeast cultures in your fridge doesn't make you that sad, does it?

Beer yeast bread

Simple recipe for this quick bread I made last night.

250g wholemeal wheat flour
250g strong white wheat flour
10g salt
15g yeast gunge (saved from the bottom of the APA fermenting bucket)
330g water (66% hydration)
Some caraway seeds

Mix all the ingredients together and let rest for 15 minutes. Stretch and fold to a smooth dough on an oiled board. Return to bowl and let sit for another 15 minutes. Stretch and fold again and shape, and set aside to rise.

Go to the pub for two hours and drink Harviestoun Bitter and Twisted. On returning, bake in a 200ºC oven for 20 minutes, then 150ºC for a further 25 minutes.

This is nice. Soft chewy crust, soft elastic crumb. It tastes quite salty although it only has the usual 2% salt.

The yeast is quite bitter on its own and has great gobs of hops in it. I'm not sure if I detect any bitterness in the finished bread; maybe I'm just used to it.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Old baking textbooks

Normally I'd be the last person to suggest restricting oneself to online research, but I was surprised how many old baking textbooks are available online, thanks to archive.org, Google Books and scribd.com.

There's The Student's Technology of Breadmaking and Flour Confectionery (1966); an unfortunately re-typeset version of Bread and Biscuit Baker's & Sugar-Boiler's Assistant (circa 1890); and most impressively, William Jago’s classic The technology of bread-making, including the chemistry and analytical and practical testing of wheat flour, and other materials employed in bread-making and confectionery (1911).

These will come in very handy as I look into old doughmaking techniques.

Mint Beer and APA (A Pale Ale)

I've just bottled my APA and mint beer, and both are tasting quite promising. The mint beer is intensely minty, more so than I expected. The APA is not hoppy enough, and a bit on the sweet and heavy side. Perhaps I am mashing too hot.

And no mould! I shall add bleach to my cleaning routine every time in future.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Tasting my first two all-grain brews

Unfortunately my Broken Scales Guesswork Ale developed a thin layer of mould on top. I went ahead and bottled it anyway and I seem to have added a goodly amount of sugar, as it's well carbonated after less than a week. It tastes strange, but not bad. It has sort of creamy, vanilla-y flavours and a little bit of hot alcohol, although that may be me projecting and associating the vanilla with whisky. It's very full in body, perhaps I was mashing too hot after all. Because I know it has Bramling Cross hops in it, which are notorious for blackcurrant aroma, I wonder if what I called vanilla is actually the hops.

Meanwhile, Pale Ale with Hops and Dimethyl Sulfide is calming down; it's drinkable if heavily chilled. I'm in two minds as to whether to drink it up and get rid of it, or push it to the back of the shelf and see if it gets any nicer.

Attempt #2 at US-style Pale Ale

This is what the DMS disaster was intended to have been, my second attempt at this style. This time, instead of lager malt I used low colour Maris Otter and I approximately doubled the amount of hops (First Gold and Cascades for bittering, more Cascade for finishing, of course). Rather than sparge and end up with too much wort, I just diluted the first runnings with water and kept the second for my experimental mint beer. I still ended up with a starting gravity of 1060, just what I was looking for.

Mashing went more smoothly that my first couple of attempts, I think because I actually bothered to calculate what temperature the hot water should be so that I get my target mash temperature without adding cold or boiling water.

I brewed this on Saturday and peeked in the fermenting bucket yesterday. The yeast head has formed and subsided again already! That S-04 yeast is mental fast. That's actually a bit of a pain as I was hoping to harvest some of the yeast.

I hope the mould that got at Brown Bitter Beer has been vanquished. I gave the bucket a good long soak in bleach before using it again.

Mint beer

I can't remember where I got the idea for this. I think I was drunk at the time, but since then I've been meaning to do an experimental mint beer.

Mint beer has been done before, but most commercial examples seem to be mint stouts. While Mint Imperial Stout (mint imperials + imperial stout, geddit?) is a catchy name, I thought mint might also be nice in a hoppy pale ale. I think of the menthol harmonising with the resiny, citrussy American hops.

I brewed up some left-over wort and malt extract with a few Cascades, boiled it for an hour or so, and added a handful of fresh mint, stalks and all, five minutes before the end of the boil together with the finishing hops (more Cascade). I am quite looking forward to tasting it. I imagine the fresh mint will make it more reminiscent of Moroccan mint tea than the Fry's Chocolate Cream aroma that using oil or sweeties in a stout might give.