I know I was going to do ale barm bread, but a friend of mine gave me some mead barm at Tir Righ Arts and Sciences back in October. I decided to use that… in November… yeah, this post’s been on the back burner a while.
Mead barm is easy to keep alive, just add honey and water and it will keep growing for a long time. I made three batches of it. I just used my basic medieval bread recipe and used the mead barm instead of the yeast. Because of this I didn’t need to add as much water to make it similar, but more on that in a moment.
First, mead barm does not have as much leavening power as modern bread yeast. Not a big surprise there. I treated it like sourdough and didn’t punch down the dough, as I figured it wouldn’t have a second rise. My first attempt turned out rather flat. I suspect this was because the bread stuck to the bowl it was rising in, and because of that when I took it out I killed a lot of the leaven. Mead barm does not create a very strong leaven. I suspect one of the issues was that there was a very low yeast to liquid content in the barm. I’ll have to try to fix that when I do ale barm.
It created a very flat but tasty loaf. Most of the mead and honey flavour was gone, leaving just a hint of sweetness in the bread.
My second attempt was better. I used more of the barm, which both increased the moisture content and brought in more yeast. Unlike modern commercial yeast mead barm needs to grow. For that it needs food (gluten or honey), moisture, and warmth. This time I lined my bowl with linen after kneading it. That took care of the problem I had last time with killing the leavening. I kneaded, put it in the bowl with the linen, let it rise, then turned it out onto my baking stone.
This time it wasn’t quite as flat, but similar to last time there was no mead taste to it. I chalk this one up as a success. I’ve learned a few things for the future. First, when the recipe says “then temper all these together, without any more liquor, as hard as ye can handle it” I suspect that I’ve got some proportions off. As with the stated amount of liquid I don’t think I could get a good rise out of the bread in a 1/2 hour. I’m going to have to re-do the recipe and see if I got anything wrong.
I also learned that linen is my friend. We are now saving the linen scraps from when we make clothing so I can use it to aid my bread making. I’m going to try using some heavier linen to help me make long loaves and see if that works.
And finally I learned that barm isn’t that hard to use. I’m looking forward to trying the ale barm bread soon.