Monday, 5 October 2009
Barm bread a la Dan Lepard
In my continuing attempts to discover what proper Parisian barm is like, I baked Dan Lepard's barm bread from his book The Handmade Loaf. His short-cut barm (intended for people who don't have malt and hops lying around the kitchen ) involves gelatinizing some flour with hot beer, then inoculating that (once cool) with a leaven or yeast culture.
Things I learned:
1. Measure the hot beer and flour separately, then combine them swiftly with a whisk. If you try to pour beer onto the flour while keeping an eye on the scales, tenacious clumps will develop that are near impossible to remove again.
2. The barm didn't appear to be fermenting when I looked at it next morning. This is nothing to worry about.
The barm is stiff on mixing, as the flour cooks, then it liquidises on cooling.
My only quibble with the recipe is that Dan tells you to use a bottle-conditioned ale for it. This is a massive red herring because it makes people assume that the live yeast in the beer has something to do with making the bread rise. But it doesn't, as the yeast dies at about 40ºC, long before it reaches the 70ºC where you're supposed to stir it into the flour.
You use bottle-conditioned ale for the same reasons you use stone-ground organic flour. If you don't understand these reasons, the recipe will still work.
I made this as a control experiment, to see whether my Parisian barm from scratch tastes any different. It does, however, make fine bread anyway.
It tastes great. I used 3% salt rather than the usual 2%, and you can taste the difference. The crumb is cream-coloured, firm and spongy. The crust is crunchy and ever so slightly burnt. It reminds me of the Scottish plain loaves my mum used to feed me when I was a kid, but much nicer. As Scottish bakers were the last in Britain to cease using barms, this kind of makes sense. I now need to find out how they get that odd gelatinized texture nowadays.
Bizarrely, it tastes more of beer that when I've used beer as the liquid in a straight dough.