Fifth Century Baking–Experimenting with Barley and Brewer’s Yeast

French Jaco made with brewer’s yeast–No-knead made with spent barley and brewer’s yeast…

Mixed, molded, baking like crazy. And as an aside, we’ve got mushrooms growing all over our yard, the roses are blooming for the last time before they get pruned, and epiphany and the blessing of the waters was awesome!

According to my research, a typical meal in an Anglo-Saxon household consisted of a pot of soup or stew and a loaf of bread. The breads ranged from brown and basic, to sweetened and full of surprises. And if it was a day for feasting, then the breads became more exotic, maybe even were served twice–one loaf with the first course (or sending): bread, soft cheese and stewed meat, and then again at the end (after the fish and veggie course), as a sweetened bread, paired with baked fruits. If they were REALLY having a party, then they would get out their roasting sticks, and serve their food on “trenchers,” large slices of coarse, stale bread used as plates. I’m still trying to imagine how that’s done.

With all the fresh foods available to us these days, we don’t need to rely so heavily on bread and grain for our diet, but it’s fun to see what food and life was like more than 1,500 years ago.  When it comes to bread baking, and the basic methods and ingredients, not a whole lot has changed.

Baking with Brewer’s Yeast

My first two experiments have proved interesting. I read somewhere on the web that brewer’s yeast wouldn’t rise a loaf of bread–but that’s just not true. Brian, at Telegraph Brewery, explained that at the brewery they are using the same strain of yeast that is found in bread baking–just that it has been honed a different way to encourage and enhance different flavors for their various batches of beer. Since I love making a very basic loaf of bread–the jaco that I mention from time to time–(the basic recipe is in the comments section of my Burning Down the House post, and also on my recipe page under French Bread) I thought I would try my basic batch simply using the yeast trub as a leavening agent, since there’s nothing fancy at all in that mix of bread and it would easily show the results of any changes. Here are my notes:

Jaco and Boule with Brewer’s Yeast

3 cups of unbleached white flour

3/4 cups of whole wheat flour

2 teaspoons salt

14 ounces water

2 tablespoons yeast trub (sucked off of Telegraph’s Robust Ale tank) instead of the typical 2 teaspoons of instant, dried yeast

Mixed: 2:35 pm–very soft and silky feeling. Finally doubled at 9:45 pm after having to proof in the oven for a bit at 100 degrees to get it moving. Molded at 9:45 pm–felt kind of floppy while molding. Retarded in fridge all night. Took out at 7:30 am–again, looked floppy, lacking structure. Heated oven, baked at 8:20 am–when I scored it, the dough was not floppy, but very dense and I realized that it should have risen on the counter for another couple of hours. Oh well. Here are the jaco and boule right before heading into the oven…

The bread structure, after its bake, was more open than I thought it would be, but it was still quite dense. The flavor was yummy–there was no trace of a beer taste. It was not overly yeasty. The brewer’s yeast responded like a sourdough might, taking its time to work through the dough. Next time I just need to be more patient. Here are the two loaves, baked… Not fabulous, but not horrid, either.

Mix Number Two–using the no-knead method

2 cups unbleached white

3/4 cups whole wheat

Heaping 1/2 cup spent barley from Telegraph

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

2/3 cup buttermilk

Rest of the liquid–used cool water–totaling 1 5/8 cup of liquid)

1 tablespoon yeast trub from the Robust Ale tank, instead of typical 1/4 teaspoon dried instant yeast

Mixed: 2:15 pm–the dough was a bit too wet, I think. Should have used only 1 1/2 cups of liquid or even less because of the moisture content already in the barley. Here, you can see the spent barley mixed in…

Molded 7:30 am the next day–it shaped just fine. Baked 8:50 am. Ate–that night. The crumb was a little too wet, but the spent barley added nice flavor and everyone gobbled it up with the meal. Thumbs up all around. The yeast didn’t work any differently than if I had added the typical 1/4 teaspoon of dried. Great outcome.

So, I think that the brewer and the baker must have been friends in ancient days. I’ll give you loaves of my bread for your table, if you give me some of your barm for my bread. Let’s be friends. Saint Brigid –at Kildare–created a thriving community of monastics (she was Abbess over both men and women) and of lay people, who engaged in all sorts of typical trades, plus there were artists galore who lived and thrived there… I think the bakers and brewers were good buds, maybe even with their workshops side by side–on the foody side of town.

Do you have friends that you trade with? Sharing our resources creates opportunities to share of ourselves–to help each other, and to minimize on that all–too-often act of opening our wallet. I swap babysitting, and carpool, but that’s about the extent of my world of trade. I’d like to expand on that idea. Tell me your stories of the Baker and the Brewer in your corner of the world…

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3 thoughts on “Fifth Century Baking–Experimenting with Barley and Brewer’s Yeast

  1. They all look yummy! I have now made two batches of the jacos… One loaf I turned into garlic bread to have with spaghetti…yum!!

    • Jaime–nice work! Two batches… that’s awesome. I had such fun baking with your mama in Phoenix. Hoping I can do the same with you and Mike this new year. Can’t wait to have you here in our home again.
      Blessings–and enjoy the rain!

  2. I was just reading through a late 18th century American cookbook that called for “emptins”, which was apparently what they called brewer’s yeast back then. It called for anywhere from 4-16 oz for various standard 2 loaf recipes!

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