Fifth Century–Roasted Barley Bread

Two loaves of roasted barley bread

Mixed: 8:45 pm

Molded: 1:30 pm next day

Baked: 3:45 pm

Gave one loaf to the Dunn’s–ate the other

Ever since visiting Telegraph Brewery, here in Santa Barbara, I’ve been wanting to use the rest of the spent barley that was scooped out of that very cool copper cooking contraption. It’s one of those impressive machines that the brewers in the fifth century would have given many cows and sheep for. My first use of the barley came straight from the copper tub and I mixed it into my dough, the barley still warm and plump and sweet from being boiled. Using the barley this way was delicious in the bread–it added flavor, texture and taste, and I would bake bread again and again like this if I lived down the road from the brewery and could sneak over for scoops on the sly. I posted about this bread a week or so ago.

Another probable fifth century use for the spent barley I’ve been thinking about is–drying, then roasting, then grinding the barley, to mix in with the wheat flour. It doesn’t sound that outlandish, does it? Roasting is not a new idea–we roast tea leaves and coffee beans and veggies, and the Ancient Celts were formidable roasters–it was their festal and favorite way of cooking meat. I don’t think I’m too far off thinking that maybe some baker cousin of Saint Brigid had red hair, was a bit odd like I am, and roasted barley on occasion to put in her bread.

I set to work.

First I spread the plump and boiled barley out on a cookie sheet. The oven had been used that evening, so once it cooled I put the sheet of barley inside to dry over night. It dried for about 18 hours before I cranked up the oven to broil, then placed the barley back in for three minutes.

I’m famous in this house for burning things. The oven was just dinging three minutes when I pulled the smoking tray out. We ran for the doors and windows so the smoke alarm didn’t sound. Sure enough, the barley in the middle portion of the cookie sheet was burnt. Oh, well. I decided that in the fifth century, folks probably burned things too. So I let the barley cool, then scooped half of it into my small, wooden mortar.

I ground the pestle around for a long while–maybe even 15 minutes–having to switch back and forth between hands, until the mix became as fine as I could make it. Then I called my effervescent daughter, spooned the second half of the barley from the tray into the mortar, and asked her to have at it.

Once the mix was finished, I couldn’t resist smelling it. My nose just wandered that way… I wanted to brew it, and taste it. It reminded me of a roasted green tea that I like to drink– Hoji-cha–and it even smelled a bit like coffee.

On to the bread. This was to be as fifth century as I could make it. Here’s my mix:

3 cups of unbleached white, wheat flour

1/3 cup of roasted and hand ground barley

2 tablespoons of Telegraph yeasties

1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt (not Celtic, though. I saw some at the store and it was too pricey for me at $9/container)

1 1/2 cups well water (just kidding–no wells around here. Used the cool water out of the filtered faucet…)

The bread behaved beautifully. I’m convinced that this brewer’s yeast direction is not only a fifth century thing to do, but that we twenty tenners could learn a lesson or two about being nice to the ale makers. Instant yeast is expensive, and both the straight yeast that is siphoned off the beer tanks, and the brewer’s yeast starter I’ve created (liquid brewer’s yeast mixed with flour) have worked beautifully with the no-knead, pain a la Suzanne, method. Yes, befriend a brewer. Not only could you swap loaves of bread for glasses of ale, and maybe swap some stories while you’re at it, but both the spent barley and the yeast are worth having in your fridge on baking day…

So, the roasted barley in the bread made it almost black. I was surprised at the color; I didn’t expect 1/3 cup of ground barley to make such an impact.

And the flavor was…good… but odd. Perfect toasted, with butter and something sweet, like pomegranate jam, or cinnamon sugar, but not a good bread for a potluck or to bring as a hostess gift. Unless you’re bringing it through a time warp, back to Saint Brigid and her household. I bet she’d love this creative loaf. And while you’re taking a loaf of roasted barley bread back to Saint Brigid, go ahead and take back one of those copper beer boilers, too. You could set up shop brewing, and I could set up shop baking, and we’d be friends, having a good ole time, and you’d gladly let me slyly scoop your warm spent barley out of your copper pot.

Just think. No cell phones. No flat screens TVs and Superbowl Sundays. No carpooling in our Volvos. Instead there’d be brewers, and bakers, and candlestick makers, and chieftains trying to marry you off to poets, and bards strumming away, singing around the campfire… It might be cold and rainy at times. And the houses might be smoky (from my roasting efforts!). But we could settle in Kildare, and cheer on the monks illuminating the manuscripts, and sing with the nuns in the Cathedral, and share the work of our hands with a growing community of those fun-loving, crazy Irish, who, at that time, still went to war dressed in not much more than their swords and shields…

Amazing where a story on roasting barley can lead you…

Cheers!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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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.