Thursday, January 9, 2014

Barmy Bread

In an accompanying post I outlined my interest in harvesting yeast from beer to bake bread. Here I will go through the steps I took to create a loaf from the active culture I made, as described there.

Three days after combining the yeasty dregs of some "stubbies" of Cooper's Pale Ale and wholemeal spelt flour, I had an active starter culture. Circumstances prevented me from beginning a leaven - the intermediate stage between starter and bread dough - until a day later, when the starter was receding from its peak of froth and bubble. So creating the leaven and feeding the starter were done in the same process.

Adapting a spelt bread recipe from Andrew Whitley's Bread Matters (also the basis for my "Pliny's Bread") I made a leaven from 150ml of my Cooper's Pale Ale starter (this was quite wet), adding 200g of wholemeal spelt and 60ml of water (less than Whitley's amount because the starter was so liquid).

This is pictured here.

I mixed the leaven at night. Next morning (second picture) there was some growth - if unspectacular - but plenty of bubbles visible (tip: a glass bowl is great for this sort of thing).
I decided to go ahead with the dough, dispersing 300g of the leaven in 300ml of water (the remainder went back into the barm/starter), then adding 200g of strong white flour and 100g each of wholemeal spelt and white spelt. In addition, I added some salt and a raisin mush (50g raisins soaked in 50ml of water then blitzed).

I kneaded for a few minutes, then rested the dough for an hour before stretching and folding, dusting with flour and putting it in a well-floured banetton (third picture).

This shows the signs of my final working of the dough, stretching it around the edge into the centre of what would become the bottom of the loaf (hence uppermost in the basket).

I was not wildly optimistic about what would happen next, given the sluggishness of the leaven. I came home to a very welcome sight, shown in the following picture.
The dough had doubled in size, and after about 8 hours at a summer room temperature was absolutely ready to bake - still just showing the slightest amount of elasticity when pushed gently with a finger.

I tipped this out gently onto a baking stone at 230C/450F  (slashing it across the top), reducing after 10 minutes to 200/400, baking for a further 30. To my further relief the moderate hydration and the flour mixture didn't lead to much lateral expansion (spelt breads have a tendency to puddle, especially if wet), and the result was at or beyond my expectations.

And it's delicious. It's one of the best breads I've made, taking into account the flavour as well as the behaviour in the basket and on the stone. I'll try to keep this Cooper's Ale barm going, and plan to branch out and compare a few other local and imported craft beers - all in the name of science of course...

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