Real beer barm bread

Beer barm bread

Once Upon A Time
Once upon a time, breweries and bakeries lived side-by-side harmoniously. Brewers merrily went about their noble work, mashing, sparging, fermenting. One blessed by-product of the process was a foam that frothily formed on top of the fermenting liquor. The dusty baker from next door would welcome consignments of this malty foam – barm – and use its natural yeastiness to leaven his dough.

And so it went for long ages.

Until some learned men in the late 18th and 19th centuries improved humankind’s understanding of bacteria and yeasts. By the late 19th century, yeast specifically cultivated for bread-making had become commercially available in block, then in dry, granulated form. And slowly, sadly, the close bond between breweries and bakeries faded away.

This idea of bread being made with brewery by-products has intrigued me for ages, but not having had a ready supply of barm, I’ve never actually tried it before.

A Dan Lepard beer bread

Beer breads
Dan Lepard in ‘The Handmade Loafʼ does a loaf he calls “Barm bread”, but it’s made using a bottle conditioned beer, that is then heated. This seems counter-intuitive, as it kills the yeasts in the beer, but apparently it’s to cook off some of the alcohol, which retards the action of any yeast in the mix. Lepard was effectively using the beer as a flavouring, and then re-introducing yeasts, I believe; so however lovely the results were, it wasn’t a genuine barm bread. (One of my attempts using his method a few years ago is picture above.)

My recent enjoyment of Game of Thrones and the Song of Fire and Ice novels, the source for his great HBO TV series, lead me to the Inn At The Crossroads. This inspired blog features involves real-world interpretations of the fantasy world foods mentioned by George RR Martin in his books, and it got me thinking again about pre-industrial yeast bread-making.

Westeros’ finest
Specifically, I was checking out The Inn At The Crossroads’ bread recipes. They have a few for Martin’s black bread, with the second version made using dark ale, stout or porter. Okay, thought I, that looks fun. But I had one criticism. Surely in Martin’s quasi-Medieval world, they wouldn’t have had “1 packet yeast”; bread would surely have been made with the barm method.

I made a comment along these lines, and one of the site’s creators, Chelsea Monroe-Cassel replied, saying “I agree that this would be the very best way to make this bread!” She also said, “I’ve made several trub breads, with great success.” I’d not heard of trub bread too, but this one is made using the sediment from the fermenter.

Beer barm

My project slightly moved away from the black bread theme, though, as initially I just wanted to make a bread with barm, and with flour with older grain – ie arguably more medieval – varieties.

I bought some Mulino Marino Pan di Sempre, a stoneground organic flour that is made with a blend of Triticum aestivum (that is, common bread wheat), Triticum spelta (spelt wheat) and Triticum monococcum (einkorn wheat).

My friend Michele Sensidoni, a brewer, kindly furnished me with a bottle of barm. It wasn’t very prepossessing stuff: gloopy, brown and malty, separating slightly, but it was exciting to finally get my hands on the stuff.

Beer barm and Mulino Marino Pan di Sempre flour

100g barm
100g flour
Mixed and left overnight. My kitchen was at around 23C. The next day this was clearly alive, and reasonably vigorous. Here’s the before and after shots:

Beer barm leaven Beer barm leaven

I formed a dough with:
200g barm leaven (ie, all of the above)
500g flour
10g salt
300g water

Adjust the water if necessary; you want a nice moist dough.

Beer barm bread, dough

I then put all this in a container and left it in the fridge for 24 hours.

I then took it out of the fridge, and let it come back to RT (again, around 23C).

Beer barm bread dough, before final prove

After a few hours, I formed a ball, and put it in a proving basket lined with a floured cloth.

I let it prove again at RT for around 9 hours.

Beer barm bread dough, proved

I preheated the oven to 230C.

Beer barm bread, pre-bake

When the dough was nice and swollen and soft, I baked it for 20 minutes, then turned down the oven to 210C and baked for another 20 minutes.

Beer barm bread, fresh from oven

The results are very pleasing. It’s got a chewy crust, a reasonably open crumb and a taste that’s subtly sour. Yay.

Crumb CU

Oh, and for etymology geeks (like me), the British English word barmy, meaning a bit bonkers, crazy, comes from barm. As a barm is the foamy scum that results from fermentation, someone who is barmy is a bit bubbly, excitable, unpredictable and possibly even frothing at the mouth. Don’t worry though, making and eating this bread won’t have that effect on you. [insert suitable smiley here to compensate for lame attempt at humour]


Filed under Ale, beer, Breads, Recipes

29 responses to “Real beer barm bread

  1. I learn something new everyday. fascinating.

  2. I’ve been looking at blogs where people make bread with beer yeast, this looks really good and also very interesting! Good to see a Game of Thrones inspired bread. 🙂

  3. What a fine experiment. Of course, if you don’t have a master brewer as a friend, it could be tricky getting hold of some barm. I wonder if anyone would consider marketing it. Or whether it could actually be dried and reconstituted.

    • I’m hoping to try some home-brewing at some point, so that should give a decent supply. I’m also creating a leaven with some, though I’m not sure how much the original yeast/bacteria culture from the barm will prevail in that. As for drying it – hm. What do you think would be the best way to do that? A food dehydrator ideally, or in a pot above a cooking range? (I don’t have either of those.)

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  5. I have just wandered over here from rachels blog and am thrilled to have found you. I use a kefir yeasts for my breads and though we make wine and cider we have yet to make beer, though I am sure the modern home made beer is a far cry from the old beers with their weight in years. Thank you for such an interesting read.. c

    • Thanks Cecilia. Bread made with kefir yeast sounds fascinating. I wonder what strains of yeast they are – if they differ markedly from the Saccharomyces cerevisiae most commonly used in beer, wine and bread production.

  6. Nice work on this!
    Do you suppose that a similar result (i.e. a starter) can come out of using simply organic beer?
    I’ve been doing some starter experimentation lately – some feel that the wild yeasts are all in the flour, others like myself beilieve they are in the air – its clear that yeast is in beer – so why not. May as well crack one and give it a go!

    • Yep, worth a try – should be effective if you use unpasteurised, unfiltered, unfined beer with lots of good live yeast still in it. Be interested to hear how you get on.

      • I finally did. I used an oat stout and red fife flour. I let it ferment for about 36 hours (20C) , 18 or so was autolyse. I wanted to give as much advantage as I could to the yeasts. I also added a heaping tablespoon of honey to my 800g dough.
        Yes the yeast worked. I did get a wonderfully complex, delicious and intense loaf albeit with a very dense crumb, I’ve saved about 75g of it which I will use to further experiment with.
        I would like to find out an ideal rising temperature for this kind of yeast, but in any case, It should not have gone more than 24 hours before baking. The addition of the honey was critical both for taste and rising.
        Once I have some free time I will blog about it in some more detail.

        Further to the starter experiments noted above: My best starters have come using organic ww flour, reverse osmosis water, in a jar with the lid ON which proves that the yeasts are all in the flour.

      • Fascinating. Wish I could find a good source again now.

        I’m not in a position to have consistent proving/rising temperatures sadly. We used to have an airing cupboard with a hot water cylinder but that’s gone now, so somewhat at the mercy of the weather, and few degree changes in ambient temp in the house.

        Ditto, I’m nbusing organic ww flour at the moment for my normal starter, but I do find organic rye gives a livelier mess. I use tapwater put through a Brita filter. Ditto, lid on too.

      • A brilliantly formulated post 🤣😂 in Bury St Edmunds the baker and brewer (Green king and the friendly loaf Bakery) come together and produce a whole wheat seeded Barm loaf. I was searching for the calorie value when I found your post. I am still oblivious to the calories but thoroughly enjoyed reading your post. I have Haemochromatosis and am trying to find a bread not fortified with iron as I plan to live a while longer … white bread is out permanently.

  7. A good source for beer yeast? Do you have any local micro breweries? I’m sure they would also be interested in your work in this area. So far yours is the only blog using straight beer and flour – no other leaveners like baking .
    That’s the fun of it, isn’t it!

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  9. Gizem

    Hello Daniel! What do you think about keep using the remaining trub? I’ve made a bread last week with trub leaven and put the remaining trub in the fridge. After one week, today I’ve fed that remaining trub starter again and right now I want to bake a new bread with that.

    Do you think it’s appropriate to keep using same trub starter for weeks by feeding it regularly and keeping it in the fridge?

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  11. Reblogged this on Louise Redmann – Unpenned and commented:
    Making medieval bread using barm:

  12. Interesting post! Can you tell me what the bread smelled like? Could you smell the barm, or did it smell like the breads we buy in the bakeries? Thanks!

  13. like you i started on dan lepards barm bread loved it but wanted to go to the source and do it for real. Ive just sourced 2 pints of trub and want to get going. My question is how long will it last in my fridge?

    • Good question. A couple of days I’d imagine, but it might start getting a bit sour if you leave it too long, as the yeasts die off. Let me know how you get on.

      • shit. i was hoping a little longer – especially by putting them to sleep in the fridge…right better get moving….thanks for that – it was a great delight to come across a baker looking into the past as i feel baking is very tied in with history and culture. Its part of the reason i love it so much. Keeps me earthed

  14. Alice

    As far as I know, in the UK at least, breweries are legally obligated to give you their left-over barm.

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