Elizabeth David in English Bread and Yeast Cookery mentions the idea of ‘Barm’ bread, which is basically bread that contains unfiltered ale and hence brewer’s yeast rather than baker’s yeast. Unfortunately there isn’t much in the way of detailed recipes for it, and it is precisely on the details of beer and yeast that it falls down.
Enter Dan Lepard. This guy is a genius. He writes in the Guardian, and he has a superb book on bread called The Handmade Loaf, and if you’re interested in bread you should get it. We haven’t bought bread in months. I make the sourdough all the time, and my sourdough turns out light with huge bubbles and a super crust, not like the sort of grey lead-bread it always was before.
Ever since I saw Babette’s Feast, I was taken with the idea of beer bread, or the ollebrod that the danish sisters get her to make at the start. I’ve baked with stout and ale before, but they’re usually just flavourings in a normal yeast bread. Lepard’s Barm bread is more authentic, since it adds the yeast from a bottle conditioned beer to the starter, which is partly made up of a normal sourdough leaven. The sourdough leaven draws its rising power not from bread yeast but from wild microbes and Lactobacillus delbrueckii, the same culture responsible for both lambic beer and yoghurt. Lepard’s leaven recipe involves yoghurt and raisins, another wild yeast carrier.
The barm involves mixing up a starter from the normal leaven that you use for sourdough, but adding bottle conditioned beer, mixed with flour. The beer is heated, and flour whisked in. I was worried at this point that the heating would kill off the yeast in the beer, so I decided to add some of the Krauesening yeast (the stuff that foams at the top of beer fermentation) from a brew I happened to have in full swing to the mix also. the whole mixture is left overnight.
The next day, you make a bread largely in the same way as a sourdough, kneading at gradually larger intervals until the loaf gets left in a proving basket for four hours before slashing and baking. Proving baskets are expensive, but I just bought a cheap wicker basket and lined it with unbleached artist’s linen that I got in Murphy Sheehy in Dublin, it’s around 20e a yard, but half a yard was more than enough, I still have buckets left.
The loaf was delicious, airy, and above all you could taste the beer and bitter hops.