Readers of this blog may have already spotted that we’re ‘Game of Thrones’ fans. ‘Game of Thrones’ is not only the name of HBO’s excellent TV series, it’s also the title of the first book in George RR Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice cycle of books and it made a cameo appearance in this post, where we were lolling around in the park drinking Birra del Borgo’s Rubus, reading and enjoying the sun.
I can’t remember what hyperlinked amble took me there, but Inn At The Crossroads is the officially recognised blog for recipes based on foods found in A Song of Fire and Ice. Being a baker, my attention was immediately grabbed by their bread recipes. Specifically black bread – something that’s mentioned in the books as common fare of the people of Winterfell and the North.
Here is Inn At The Crossroads’ first Black bread, and here is their Black bread redux, aka Black beer bread. I wanted to try something similar, but not using commercial yeast – as this didn’t seem to fit into the whole quasi-Medieval vibe of Martin’s world. Instead, I wanted to use beer barm, a byproduct of fermentation.
My first experiment with a real barm bread was pretty successful, though I didn’t use any actual beer or dark flours to make it, so it wasn’t really a black bread or a black beer bread. This, however, is.
Again, I used Mulino Marino Pan di Sempre, a stoneground organic white flour that is made with a blend of Triticum aestivum (that is, common bread wheat), Triticum spelta (spelt wheat) and Triticum monococcum (einkorn wheat), but I also added some wholewheat flour.
I made a leaven with the same barm as before, feeding it up with flour over a few days, then I made up a dough, using beer as the only other liquid, not water.
Now, I mentioned that Dan Lepard’s ‘The Handmade Loaf’ has a recipe he calls “Barm bread”, though he makes it without actual barm, just beer and a leaven. He also heats the beer, killing the yeasts, but retaining the flavour. I wanted to retain the live yeasts from a bottle-conditioned beer, so didn’t heat it.
The beer I used was Birrificio Math’s La 27, a 4.8% dark beer from the brewery near Florence. They call it a stout, but stout, traditionally, meant strong, and more recently has come to be associated with more full-bodied creamy porters. It’s neither.
The La 27 has a solid fruity smell: specifically black berries like blackberries (!), elderberries and blackcurrants, with a touch of smokiness and a little chocolate, but taste-wise it’s dull, a little charcoal, but not much more depth of flavour. The body was thin and watery, and over-carbonated. The aftertaste was oddly bitter. It was black though, or black enough for a black beer bread.
So anyway, here’s the recipe. If you try it, don’t be afraid to adjust the quantities, as I was very much experimenting when I made it.
I made my beer barm leaven with barm, flour and some cooking water from farro grain; I’d say it was about 80% hydration, effectively. If you can’t get hold of a beer barm, a normal leaven/sourdough starter will suffice, though it won’t be quite as fun.
For the beer, use a non-pasteurised, non-filtered, bottle-conditioned dark ale, stout or porter (not Guinness).
280g beer barm leaven
400g flour (a mixture of white and wholegrain)
250g dark ale, stout or porter
1. Combine the salt and flours.
2. Combine the leaven and beer, stirring well.
3. Pour the liquidy gloop into the flour.
4. Bring together the dough. It’ll be pretty sticky. Which is good, albeit tricky to handle. Don’t agonise.
5. Form a ball with the dough, put it in a bowl or plastic container, cover with plastic or a lid, then put in the fridge.
6. Leave in the fridge for around 14 hours.
7. Take the dough out of the fridge and allow to come to room temperature (around 20C ideally).
8. Form a ball, then put it – smooth-side down – in a bowl or proving basket lined with a floured cloth.
9. Prove again for about 5-8 hours more. This will depend on the temperature of your room, the liveliness of the yeasts, etc. You want to leave it until it’s doubled in size and is soft to the touch, nicely aerated.
10. Preheat your oven to 240C.
11. Upturn the ball onto a baking sheet (so the smooth-side is up), slash, then bake for 20 minutes.
12. Turn down the oven to 200C and bake for a further 20 minutes, or until the bread is done. This can be tricky to judge, but you want it to feel lighter, and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.
13. Cool on a wire rack.
Now, the finished loaf looked rather pleasing, and had a lovely smell of chocolate, a scent that you get with certain stouts. Oddly, this smell wasn’t strong with the beer itself, but it’s come through with the baking.
Taste-wise, it’s certainly pretty rustic but is oddly bitter-sweet. I’m not a chemist, but I wonder if the bitterness is related to the alcohod.
I’m sure it would have served very nicely for the hungry Brothers of the Night’s Watch, freezing their behinds off on the Wall. We, on the other hand, enjoyed it for breakfast on a mild late-summer Roman morning slathered with honey. Then for lunch with a lovely crunchy, sharp medium aged pecorino.