Monday, February 1, 2016

Barm Dumplings: A Truly Barmy Experience!

Barm Dumplings

The Recipe: Barm Dumplings

A New and Easy Method of Cookery by Elizabeth Clelland (Edinburgh, 1755)

About the Recipe
As a food historian, I have known about barm for a long time. Barm is essentially the yeast that can be drawn off fermenting malt, usually ale malt. It appears to have been a common type of yeast available from local breweries. Ale barm produces a sweet not sour taste in the bread. The method for leavening dough with ale barm was actually developed by Gaelic people in Scotland, Ireland and England.  Anecdotally, the term to describe flighty people,"barmy", refers back to the unpredictability of the ale barm.

So barm was essentially yeast. Confusion over this term emerged over time because the word "barm" could be sometime used to define sourdough or levain.   It was the type of yeast used to create the Manchet loaf for British nobility. On the other hand, Maslin, the bread of the lower classes was raised with a sourdough starter. Continental Europeans also tended to use sourdough levain starters for their breads.

For this challenge, I needed to detect how to recreate barm in the 21st century. Needless to say, it would be very helpful to be good friends with a brewer. I am not. So, I had to keep digging to find a substitution for authentic ale barm. After several Google searches, I finally found a fellow blogger who offered up a method for making barm. Please go to the Bewitching Kitchen blog post for details on making Barm and Barm Bread (I will detail it below too but I want to give credit where it is due).

What I discovered is that I needed the following to make the barm:

  • 125g Bottle Conditioned Ale 
Why Bottle Conditioned? Bottle conditioned ales ferment and get their bubbles from live yeast cultures contained in the bottled beer. You can actually see the yeast in the bottom of the bottle. This is the historic way of getting those bubbles in beer. Most modern beers get their carbonation from "forced carbonation" where CO2 is pumped into the beer to give it the right amount of bubbles. Using bottle conditioned beer therefore makes a lot of sense--if you want ale yeast, buy a beer that actually contains it!

Here is a good ale to use:

  • 25g Bread Flour
This one is pretty straight forward so no need to elaborate.

  • 2 Teaspoons Levain (sourdough)
Here is where I needed to do some more detecting. While I have worked with sourdoughs in the past, I wanted to make one that was historic. After searching through my many historic cookbooks, I found a very simple instruction in a recipe for Home Made Yeast from The International Jewish Cookbook by Florence Kreisler Greenbaum (New York: 1919). The recipe is interesting because it gives a lengthy direction to make yeast using potatoes, hops, water, and yeast!  I have seen so many of these recipes that infuriate me because these recipes for yeast actually contain yeast as an ingredient!!  However, this recipe offers an alternative when yeast is not available. Here it is:

Now, I was ready to make my own levain with a historic recipe.

Making the Sourdough Levain:
I found a website called Culinate which gave some measurement direction and used those directions as a guide. 

  1. Mix together 1 cup all-purpose flour with 3/4 Cup water in a clear container.
  2. Mark a line where the top of the mixture reaches.  This way you can know exactly if the mixture starts fermenting and rising after 48 hours. Then cover it with plastic wrap and leave out at room temperature for 48 hours.
  3. Check it regularly and stir to incorporate all of the liquid that pulls out of the mixture. Just stir it all together again. 
  4. After 48 hours the mixture should be bubbly and smell a bit sour (I wanted it to be sour but not too sour so did not let it go longer than 48 hours, though you could).
Here is what it looked like:
Sourdough Starter on Day 1: Mark the line when you start so
you can determine how much it rises after 48 hours.

For full disclosure, I made a batch of bread with the first batch of this sourdough that I made. I was actually surprised at how well the levain worked to raise the bread and make it really tasty. To make the bread: I added the levain to about 4 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour and 1 tablespoon of salt. I kneaded it on a floured board for about 8 minutes and let it raise for 8 hours.  Here is what it looked like:

Sourdough Bread - Delicious!

Making the Barm:
Please refer to the blog, Bewitching Kitchen, for specific directions on making the barm. Here are some items to note:

  • I followed the directions exactly which is really important because this is essentially chemistry which leaves no room for winging it.
  • My first batch of barm was a total loss because I heated the ale above the directed 160º F. I made a big gloopy mess of paste. A big waste of time and supplies.
  • The second batch was heated precisely to 160º F as directed and worked much better than the first batch. Here is how it should look:

  • I allowed the barm to ferment longer than the 30 hours given in the directions. My went for about 60 hours, mainly because I couldn't get back to it sooner.

Making the Barm Dumplings:

  • 1/2 Cup Barm (from above)
  • 1 Large Egg
  • 1/4 Cup Warm Water
  • 2 1/2 Cups Bread Flour, plus a bit more for the board
  • In a medium size bowl, whisk together the barm, egg, and warm water. 
  • Using a spatula, add the flour and mix until all the flour is absorbed into the wet ingredients.
  • Turn dough out onto a floured board and knead just until the dough forms a ball that is not too wet. Here is how it should look:
Barm Dumpling Dough

  • Place dough ball in a medium size greased or floured bowl. Cover and set in a warm spot. Allow the dough to sit for at least 2 hours. It will not rise too much; instead it will just lighten a bit and become a bit spongy.
  • Heat salted water in a large pot until it reaches the boiling point.
  • While the water is heating, divide the dough into balls (you can decided the number and how large). Then, flatten the balls into disks. 
  • Place the dough disks into the boiling water and stir. Cook until the discs float to the top and are tender. Drain.
  • Serve the dumplings with melted butter and salt.

1 comment:

  1. I was looking at recipes containing barm too. It sounds more complicated than I can handle right now.


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