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…

Fifth Century–The Brewer and the Baker

Three loaves of Jim’s Irish Brown Bread–from Jim Lahey’s My Bread

Mixed Tuesday and Wednesday eves

Molded–Baked–All that…

Gave one loaf to neighbors on the next block that we sort of, kind of know. Ate one loaf. Gave the third loaf to Brian at Telegraph Brewing. Here he is by his shiny tanks…

These past two days have been all about brown, Irish-style bread. Who would think that bread made with a small scoop of bran, a lot of wheat, both white and whole, plus buttermilk and brown ale would be so very good! The loaf that we saved for ourselves was gobbled up in no time. It’s already being requested as a favorite by the kids. We slathered the slices with a hazelnut chocolate spread. Oh, my…

Most of what went into these loaves makes them quite authentic to Saint Brigid’s time. There would have been both whole wheat and “fine” (white–what they preferred, if they could afford it) flour available. There would have been buttermilk, especially as Brigid and her mom tended cows, including one white cow with red ears… And there would have been brown ale. Brewers and bakers back then were important folks to have around. Have you ever seen this poem attributed to Saint Brigid, where she wishes lakes of beer for everyone? There are a variety of translations from the original; this is one that I like:

I would like the angels of Heaven to be among us.
I would like an abundance of peace.
I would like full vessels of charity.
I would like rich treasures of mercy.
I would like cheerfulness to preside over all.
I would like Jesus to be present.
I would like the three Marys of illustrious renown to be with us.
I would like the friends of Heaven to be gathered around us from all parts.
I would like myself to be a rent payer to the Lord; that I should suffer distress, that he would bestow a good blessing upon me.
I would like a great lake of beer for the King of Kings.
I would like to be watching Heaven’s family drinking it through all eternity.


So, there I was hanging out with my husband and my four year-old at Telegraph Brewing Company here in Santa Barbara.

Brian, the proprietor and Master Beer Guy, was kind enough to give us a quick tour and talk to us about “spent barley” and “yeast trub” and the whole world of brewer’s yeasties. Though I have some very potent sourdough starter at my disposal, and I do think the sour starter is a very valid method of rising dough that was used in the fifth century–a method that pre-dated those cute little packets of instant yeast :)–brewer’s yeast is mentioned so often in my research that I just had to try and see what all the fuss was about.

Brian first let me taste some of the spent barley–it was sweet and warm and delicious, reminding me of a satisfying, hot morning cereal–and then bagged some up for me to bring home and bake with. Here it is, still warm in its copper tank…

This barley is the grain that is going to eventually make a batch of experimental brown ale that Brian is trying out. Normally he sends his spent barley off to a farmer in Carpinteria, who uses it in his compost mix, but today that farmer got one baggy less, thanks to me! I’m anxious to fiddle with barley. It seems to be the poorest of the grains used in the fifth century–the one that monastics seem to have used frequently in their bread baking. I’ve never eaten bread made with barley, have you? I have a batch of slow-rise bread working right now, that has some of that barley mixed into it.

After a quick tour of the brewery we got down to brewer’s yeast business. Brian opened the tap off the bottom of his Robust Ale, which he makes each spring, and after a plug of hops sludged its way out…

The nice brown, batter-like yeast mixture filled the cup. Ooh, it smelled so good, so alive and ready for adventure.

So we headed home and I immediately got to work. I’m sure Saint Brigid’s days were full of chores, too. I had laundry, and dishes, and notes to write, but I wanted to get some dough working as well. While the baby played, and the washer trudged through another cycle in the other room, I mixed up a new starter, using just the brown ale brewer’s yeast, mixing it with a cup of flour and a bit of water. My very own Telegraph Starter. I then mixed up a batch of barley/wheat bread, using brewer’s yeast instead of the typical 1/4 teaspoon of instant yeast… and also started a batch of French bread, using just the yeast trub as a leavening agent. We’ll see. So fun to experiment with all these natural grains and methods. So fun to head back several centuries and pretend to be a part of another time.

Tomorrow I’ll let you know the results of today’s play.

In the meantime, I know one thing. The people in Haiti are suffering, and I’m here baking in my cozy kitchen. One reason I love to bake, and knead by hand, is so I can pray while I work that dough, watching it change before my eyes… Please join me in praying for those people, who could use more than a loaf or two of bread. Who could use some mercy, and many hands reaching their way in love.

Fifth Century Oat Bread

Proper, right out of the cookbook, Oat Bread; Also, a very round loaf of no-knead rye for us

Mixed: 1:50 pm

Molded: 3:05 pm

Retarded: 4:05 pm

Baked: 4:40 pm

Gave to neighbors, well, landlord of the neighbors, on the next block

All this month I’m having fun trying to bake with ingredients and methods that you’d find way back in the fifth century. Saint Brigid, who lived in the 400’s, inspired me to begin baking for my neighbors in the first place. Her crazy love for Christ, and endless mercy on those who crossed her path, have been increasingly on my mind these past few years. I’ve needed someone to help uproot me out of my chair and reach out to those around me a bit more.

I’ve been fiddling with recipes from Tastes of Anglo-Saxon England and followed a recipe for Aetena Hlaf or oat bread by the letter. Ooh, it smelled yummy. In the spirit of Saint Brigid, I wanted to give the loaf to someone who might be in need of love, or maybe just bread, so I headed to a house about a block away that has been in constant disrepair. The folks are always losing and/or chasing after their dogs, and the house looks a lot tumble down–and the folks living there, just… seem… stretched, or struggling… I haven’t been neighborly enough to remember their names, but I have fetched their pooches now and again so have smelled the cigarette smoke and seen the upset interior of their living room.

Anyway, they moved.

I gave the bread to the landlord, who is gutting the house. Boxes and furniture and stuff is all over the curb. (Hence the photo above.) Pray with me that this family finds a better group of neighbors–neighbors who don’t wait years to finally bring them a loaf of bread.

Fifth Century

I’m having fun this month researching more deeply the eating habits of ancient Irish folk. Before we bagged up the loaf of oat bread, we had Viking marauders come and hang out near our warm, honeyed, wheaty, oaty gift. We talked to the Vikings about Saint Brigid, explained who she is and weaved some playmobil plastic into Saint Brigid crosses for them. (Just kidding. That would be REALLY hard…) You could visibly see them swooning to the smell of the hot bread. We play with our food here.

Speaking of play. On Thursday I’m going to a local brewing company to get a tour and then bring home some sludge, some dregs, some barm, no, they call it “yeast trub.” Love that! I’m going to bake with that trub. Here’s what Brian, at the brewing company, told me about the brewer’s yeast I will find at their brewery.

“By dregs, I think you are referring to what we call “yeast trub”… it’s what’s left over in the fermenter after the beer is finished and we have moved it on to the next steps in our process. Yeast trub is a pancake-batter-like “sludge” of living and dead yeast, protein matter than dropped out of the beer, bits of hops and small grain pieces that may have made it over to the fermenter from the brew kettle, and a bit of beer of course.”

I can’t tell you how excited I am to get my hands on some of this sludge. In my reading, I’ve noticed how often brewer’s yeast is referred to in the baking of bread during ancient days… I’m pretty sure they didn’t have tidy little envelopes of instant yeast stacked neatly in their cupboards. Brewer’s yeast was a natural byproduct of making ale, which was a staple in the 400’s. Ale, and mead, and flavored butters, and greens, and stews and so many things sweetened with honey. Those are some of the ingredients that helped fuel Saint Brigid and those around her.

I’m having such fun. Can you tell? Stay tuned…