Wednesday, 23 September 2009

More on bakers and brewers' barm

I still haven't figured out why bakers stopped using beer yeast from the local brewery in the early nineteenth century, though I have a few ideas. I now think my porter beer/black malt theory is a load of rubbish, and have an alternative to put forward. It could easily be just as wrong, but might be interesting.

Dan Lepard says on this thread on his forum "Wheat prices were high during 1790 - 1810". Due to the rise in malt taxes in this period it also became more expensive to brew. In addition, industrial common brewers were fast displacing the production of beer in private homes and on the premises in pubs, as you could buy it cheaper from the common brewer than you could make it yourself.

So we have a double whammy: there were far fewer people producing ale-barm and the cost of producing it had increased too. With higher prices and decreased availability of ale-barm it looks like bakers were squeezed all round, not just by wheat prices.

I assume that a typical bakery around 1800 would be a very small operation with maybe a master and apprentice and one shop. Possibly they had even counted among those who had recently given up brewing themselves and no longer had their own supply of free yeast.

I am fascinated by the relationships between brewers and bakers. I can't help but think there must be something deeper behind such a significant change in practice.

Beer historian Ron Pattinson says here:

This period saw a key change in British brewing practices. Though brewers had already been aware of the better yield of pale malt compared to brown, it was only with the introduction of the hydrometer that this could be quantified. It became apparent that, despite the lower price of brown malt, it was still cheaper to brew from pale malt. Brown malt produced only about two thirds as much fermentable material as pale.

But I can't for the life of me think what possible adverse effect moving to mostly pale malt would have on the yeast.

Monday, 21 September 2009

My bread is retarded

A bad habit of mine in the past has been over-proving my bread dough. The result was generally that I had a wobbly dough which would start spreading as soon as I took it out of the proving basket, and gave me round, flat loaves. They still tasted good though.

Depending on how much time I have, I now usually retard the dough overnight in the fridge, letting it rise very, very slowly at a cold temperature. An advantage of this is that cold dough is easier to slash, for some reason that I don't yet understand. I baked a loaf this morning from just such dough (mostly white with a bit of spelt and rye) and the slashes opened up beautifully.

There's no photo because I have mislaid my camera and I will have eaten all the bread by the time I find it, so you'll just have to imagine it, or just trust me that it looks great.

Thursday, 3 September 2009


I have been brewing recently, just not as much as I'd hoped. I still need to get my electric boiler and coolbox mashtun built and ask my local breweries if they'll flog me some malt.

Mild. Mashed warm at 70ºC. Mostly pale malt with some chocolate malt and 10% Coco Pops.
Hopped with Challenger and Bramling Cross and fermented with White Shield yeast.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Sourdough pizza

I've been making a lot of pizza recently. I'd kind of got out of the habit. I used to make it regularly, but when I moved to my current abode with its weedy electric oven, I found my old method produced heavy, doughy focaccia instead.

Now I've started rolling out the dough thinner, and since my visit to Franco Manca in Brixton I've experimented with a sourdough base. I never thought it would make such a difference, but it does. I used this recipe from a sourdough guru (though he insists "All this praise is jolly nice of course so long as it is appreciated that the original yeasted recipe is Carol Field's. All I did was convert it to sourdough a long time back.") for the dough and the pizza tastes so much better.

I didn't have a written recipe before; it was more: half fill a bowl with flour, bit of salt, glug of olive oil, yeast, glug of lager, enough water to make a dough. And it worked.

I always enjoyed making the yeast dough because it was ready so quickly. Yet after having tasted a naturally leavened dough with a 20 hour fermentation, I don't want to go back. Of course my oven doesn't go up to 500ºC like a proper pizza oven, but it's still nicer than a yeast dough.

I've also learnt not to leave the dough out at room temperature. The gluten will degrade within a day im summer; you can really feel the difference by the second day when it has already lost its strength and you have to add more flour just to stop it falling apart. It's really weird the way it feels almost liquid-like rather than stretchy and pliable.

The person who taught me to make pizza said old dough was better than freshly made, and he was right, but that's only if it's kept in the fridge.