The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Dan Lepard's Barm Bread (100% sourdough)

Shiao-Ping's picture

Dan Lepard's Barm Bread (100% sourdough)

My husband text me from China and said his boss told him over pre-dinner drinks that he is a sucker of sourdough!   Immediately I was thinking what would I bake if he ever makes a trip to Australia, not that I've been forewarned of any near-term possibility, but I was just entertaining hypothetical visits.  Somehow, I know it's not MacGuire's that I've been making lately even with all those lovely big holey crumbs that I've been getting.  The flavors of all those MacGuire breads/sourdoughs are not the best of all breads/sourdoughs that I've made.   Indulge me with this explanation: the flavors of all those super-hydrated (and the resulting super-holey) crumbs are not deeply alluring for me to want to come back and have another slice once chewing is done.

I was out doing a bit of gardening and enjoying the gorgeous sunshine of Australian winter.   It hit me that my husband left a bottle of Irish ale in our bar fridge.  There is a Dan Lepard's recipe that uses ale (as one would expect) in his "The Handmade Loaf" that I've been wanting to try.  It's called "Barm bread."  For most of you out there there will be no difficulty guessing what a barm bread might be, but I've never heard of this word, barm.  My Wiktionary says it is an old English term referring to the foam rising upon beer or other malt liquors, when fermenting, and used as leaven in making bread (and in brewing).  So, that's it - a barm bread is like a sourdough bread.


To make a quick barm

250 g ale (or bottle-conditioned beer)

50 g white bread flour

4 tsp white leaven (Dan's starter is 80% hydration; as the amount used is so little, it would not matter if your is not 80%.)  

Heat up the ale or beer in a saucepan to 70C (158F), then remove from the heat and quickly whisk in the flour.  Transfer to a bowl, leave to cool down to 20C (68F), then stir in the leaven.  Cover with a plastic wrap and leave overnight to ferment.  (My barm took 36 hours to be bubbly.)  Use as you would a leaven (but adjust your recipe water as the barm is quite liquid).    


          the ale and the barm freshly made up                              the barm is ready

Dan Lepard says this is a perfect replica of the complex barm of olden times for the home bakers.

Now, the above formula is really curious to me.  Recently a TFL user Bruce (Frrogg1son) asked me about a Chinese "65C soupy dough" and when I Googled it a whole string of Hongkonese and Taiwanese bread recipes ran up; many of these breads are on the sweet side with milk powder, butter and sugar, almost like French brioche breads.  I see these type of sweet white breads in Japan a lot too.  

The curious thing is that the ratio of water to flour in this "65C soupy dough" is the same as Dan's ale to flour ratio; ie, 5 to 1, and it is heated up to 65 C, closed to Dan's 70 C.  Bruce told me that the science behind this soupy dough is that "when the flour particles reach about 65C, they burst, releasing starch molecules, which have the capacity to absorb very large amounts of water.  It is like gelatinization."  What this does to a dough is that it improves the moistness of the crumb and keeping quality of the bread.   He first discovered it on the internet as a natural way to extend the moistness of some doughs.   How interesting.  I imagined what this does is similar to what potato does for some sourdoughs - very most crumbs and good keeping quality.

That said, I felt a sense of auspicious foreboding coming for this barm bread.  Dan's book (page 41) says the Barm bread is the traditional wheaten bread of England.  Wow.


The formula

150 g barm from above (the rest can keep in the fridge for a week)

250 g water (adjust your water temp to achieve a dough temp of around 21C / 70F)

500 g strong white flour (or a flour mix of rye and wholewheat, or even soaked grains, but I used white flour only)

10 g salt (or 1& 1/2 tsp)

*  Note: This is a 68% hydration dough; but I added 20 g extra water to bring it to 72%. 

Schedule in hours and minutes 

0 :00    In a large bowl, whisk the barm with the water.  Add the flour and salt, and stir until you have a sticky mass.  Cover.  Autolyse. The dough temp should be about 21C (70F).

0 :10    Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 10 - 15 seconds.  Return the dough to the bowl.  Cover.  (I gave the dough 7 - 8 folds inside the bowl, which  lasted 15 seconds, much the same way as dough is folded in James MacGuire's pain de tradition here that I recently posted.) 

0 :20    Knead again as above.  (I folded the dough again in the bowl.)  The room temp should be about 20C (68F), if not, you may need to place your dough in the fridge for part of the time to keep the dough temp down.

0 :30    Knead again as above.  (I folded again.) 

1 :00    Knead again as above.  (I folded again.)

2 :00    Knead again as above.  (I folded again.)

3 :00    Knead again as above.  (I folded again.)

5 :00    Turn the dough out and divide it into two pieces of 450 g each (I left mine as whole).  Pre-shape each into a ball.  Cover.

5 :15    Shape dough into boule and place into floured linen-lined baskets or bowls.  Cover.   Leave at room temp of around 20C (68F) for a bit longer than 4 hours or until dough almost doubled.

8 :30    Turn on your oven to 220C/425F (if it takes one hour to pre-heat).

9 :30    Bake with steam for 50 - 70 minutes.


Phew!  This schedule may look like a bread making marathon to you but in truth my dough was not ready until after 12 hours!  I started mixing my dough at 7am yesterday, and it was only ready to bake at 8 pm!  Possible reasons are that my room temp was only around 18C (64F) and/or my barm was very slow.   And this is it:



   Dan Lepard's Barm Bread 



What a beautiful barm bread; the taste is most amazing, richly flavored from the ale-based barm, which has a slight bitterness and sweetness from the ale.  I am most impressed by Dan's formula.  The crumb is sweetly fragrant.  It has a very deep aroma, and allure.  Now, this is something that I would come back to have more.   






It's been years since I ate past 8pm but last night I literally had 1/3 of the loaf on my own!  Any of you ladies out there, don't do what I do. 

I have not recommended any breads to people up until now because most of my breads are frivolous experiments and for my eyes only, but I do commend this one.   Whether your guests are experienced connoisseurs or no foodies at all, there would be no qualms about this superb sourdough.  (I am blowing my own trumpet.)

Thank you, Dan. 

It's time Polly our dog go out for a rumple-trot in our yard; I sang out her name and she stirred from behind my couch.  Out she went through the hallway door to enjoy the green and the afternoon sun.   And me?  I am having my afternoon tea with this bread!







Shiao-Ping's picture

First of all, thank you for joining the discussion (or rather, for contributing to our discussion).   I am honored.

Second of all, I had no idea there was so much interest in Bram Bread, or breads made with "barm."  When I made it, it was sort of a fluke.  The beer to me was just a hydration with some "beer" flavour thrown in.  

Thirdly, I didn't know there was a world out there, especially in Britain, and England in particular, that use ale-barm to leaven breads!  Is this a very English (or British) thing?  My husband took our two kids to London early this year and they absolutely love the English pubs (and pub food, I might add).  

Next, I see that your standard starter is 200% hydration (1 part flour to 2 parts liquid).  When you make your 100% rye bread, what roughly is your dough hydration?  Many home bakers at The Fresh Loaf love sourdough rye breads.  How long is your bulk fermentation and proofing?   Do you hand mix and knead or do you use machine?

Pardon me but with "sticks and batons," do you mean baguettes and batards?  So you use the English ale-barm and the French T55 flour to make baguettes?  How interesting.  How is the flavour different from French baguette?  Richer and more flavourful crumb, I imagine.

Once again, thank you for letting us know about your ale-barm leavened varieties.



Pinpastry's picture

Thank you for your kind welcome.

I am not sure that there is that much interest in Britain for making ale-barm breads, indeed my customers often glaze over when I start explaining it. They are more interested in being able to buy proper bread that hasn't been stacked with additives and tastes like cotton wool.

I only know of one other bakery in the country that makes A-B bread on a regular basis.

Your questions about hydration are a bit tricky for me. I am a self taught baker and as with most of my cooking it is more instinctive than recipe based. I do have spreadsheets that scale things up and down when estimating the number of loaves to make, but confess that at present the hydration is not accurate but a matter of feel. The 100% rye bread is made to a consistency of "soft mashed potato" which I acknowledge is a very subjective description. I have recently been joined by a friend/co-baker who was made redundant from his job as an organic chemist; he has been pushing me to take on a bit of his laboratory discipline and get the recipes scaled properly, so when this is achieved I should be able to give you a bettet answer.

The basic 100% rye recipe. (all measurements in grams)

Starter: 1200 Dark Rye flour, 400 Ale-Barm, 2000 water. mix in bucket and leave overnight (approx 12 hours)

Dough mix: 3600 starter, 1200 Medium Rye, 1500 Dark Rye, 50 Salt, 70 Dark Brown Sugar, 300-1000 water (this is a guess at present)

This is mixed in a spiral mixer on slow speed to a smooth (soft mash potato) consistency, but not given any fast mix/kneading. The wet dough is weighed out by placing a small bowl of water on the scales, 900g dough to achieve a 800 g loaf, 450g for a 400g. This goes into the loaf tin and with wet fingers it is smoothed out to give a flat surface. This is then left to rise, between 2 and 6 hours depending on ambient temperature and strength of the ale-barm. Once risen by about 25% it is baked at 425F for 30 to 40 mins.

The bread is quite quite dense and chewy, unlike a sourdough the flavour is sweet and malty. I also make the same bread with the addition of caraway seed.

I am told by several of my regular customers that this bread is very similar to German and other Northern European rye breads.

In reading about the use of ale-barm in France it appearred that is use was limited to only the finest white breads. This inspired me to devise this recipe for baguettes or batards, or French sticks as they are called locally. (all weights in grams)

3745 T55 flour, 400 Ale-barm, 90 salt, 2450 Water (this is accurate)

Place in spiral mixer, slow speed until well mixed, then fast/knead speed for 6 mins. The very soft smooth dough is placed in a lidded bucket, stood in a larger mixing bucket, overnight. In the morning it has usually reached the top of the bucket and often blown the top off. Now very wet dough is poured on to worktop and tightened up by stretching and folding . Weighed off at 460g and 230g, shaped and placed on silicon sheets on baguette trays, 6 top cuts with scissors, then into a very hot oven with steam for 10 mns, open vents and a further 10 mins in dry oven. Straight to market as they start toughening up within 4 hours. Fresh they have an amazing depth of flavour. Tried this with English Bakers No 4 flour and they really don't compare.

My apologies I meant to reply briefly and ended up with an essay. Will attempt to get some photos for you. I feel that my next post might also contain a few questions that the people on here might help me with.

Happy Baking



Shiao-Ping's picture

Thank you very much for your detailed reply.  Your 100% rye recipe is very interesting.  To my knowledge, at TFL, both Hansjoakim ( and David ( do a lot of rye breads.   Most home bakers here at The Fresh Loaf use Jeffrey Hamelman's formulas from his book "Bread." 

I find your French baguette recipe using ale-barm especially interesting.  That's quite a high hydration (76%) that you are using.   A standard baguette hydration is 67%.  I would love to try your formula if only I could source the ale-barm here in Australia.

Thanks for sharing with us.


jolynn's picture

Hi Ken,

I am late to this thread---just found it, but I must tell you how much I enjoyed your post and your descriptions of dough consistencies.  I have been baking with sourdough since the early '70s but have always been a little resistant to baking with a calculator on my worktable.  It somehow took away from intimacy with and feedback from the dough--which is where so much of the pleasure of baking is for me.  But "soft mashed potato",  that I get!  I can feel the perfect dough just reading about it.

I am very eager to try your rye bread (1/10 of the recipe should be just right). I'm on my way out for a bottle of Chimay right now....


Pinpastry's picture

Hi Jolynn

I have been an infrequent visitor to this site and was a bit surprised to see this thread had got going again.

Since I posted the recipe for my Ale-barm Rye we have adjusted the recipe, somewhat in response to customer feedback, but also by trial and error development. We now make the starter with dark rye and then use all light rye in the dough. Once the dough is made in the mixer it is covered and given an hour or so rising before weighing it off into tins. The dough starts at a mashed potato consistency but is much lighter and spongey after this hours rest.

The bread has been lighter and less "brick-like" in appearnce since this change.

We also make about ten other Ale-barm leavened breads each week and have started experimenting with using fermenting cider as a leaven.

My fellow baker and I work out of an organic farm on the edge of Exeter, Devon. We sell at a weekly market in Topsham and also the farmers markets at Bovey Tracey, Cullompton and Killerton House ( A National Trust Property). You can find us on the Real Bread Campaigns websites bread finder page, and we hope to have our own website up and running soon - where we will feature more of our recipes

Good luck with the "Chimay" bread.



Daisy_A's picture

Dear Shiao-Ping,

As a newcomer to this website it has been really interesting to follow this thread and to read about your baking of Dan Lepard's barm bread and Pinpastry's current baking of bread with ale-barm. The loaves look delicious!

As someone originally from the North of England who has also worked in London I hope you don't mind me replying to some of the references in your post. I'm glad that your husband and sons enjoyed London. In terms of British leavening techniques,  ale-barm was used traditionally to leaven breads. Traces of this practice remain in the phrase 'barm cakes', which can refer  to breads made traditionally in northern England and historically to ale yeast mixed with dry ingredients and pressed into cakes for bread making. Barm cake breads are usually small, flattened, floured loaves or rolls. They can still be bought today but are now more usually made with commercial baker's yeast. Qahtan has posted a recipe for sourdough Lancashire barm cakes on TFL at However some researchers suggest that in medieval times a wider range of breads were produced with ale-barm, as a complement to beer making within Europe and that more liquid barm 'starters' were also used. There are some more reflections on this topic on this link

It's good then to hear of Dan Lepard and Pinpastry reviving and extending this traditional practice of using barm to bake contemporary bread.

Regards, Daisy_A

Shiao-Ping's picture

Hi Daisy_A,

A big welcome to you and thank you for your comment.  It is always nice to hear from someone at the source.  

In my sourdough baking, I have mainly focused on French style of pain au levain bread and variations of it.  This barm bread was really my very first English style of naturally leavened bread, and how nice was it!   There are many truly erudite home bakers here at The Fresh Loaf as can been seen from the comments to this long thread.   

It was suggested to me that Daniel Leader's Local Breads is one great book for following Europe's great artisan bakers from all regions.  One day I will indulge myself that privilege.  

In the mean time, today is the first day of school and University holidays, my daughter had two beautiful girl friends sleeping over last night.  (I thought "sleepovers" were only popular with grade 6 or 7 kids, but evidently not.)  Right at this minute, all three girls are enjoying a freshly baked pain au levain for their breakfast, and judging by their laughters and chatterings, I think they are enjoying it.

Have a great day!


Daisy_A's picture

Dear Shiao-Ping,

Many thanks for your warm welcome!

I should say that as well as being a newcomer to this site I am also a newcomer to baking artisan breads. I have been cultivating a sourdough starter and taking baby steps through a range of international breads in order to practice different techniques while the sourdough matures - like ciabatta for working a wet dough and Swedish spiced limpa bread as my first rye bread. I have been really encouraged by the range of advice and real support on this site. I haven't tried pain au levain yet but hope to soon!

The knowledge of barm bread comes from my northern roots, as I remember my family talking about it and buying it so I tried to find out a bit more about it. However it seemed that its history in artisan bread making had got a bit lost so it's great to see the discussion that you have facilitated on this thread.

As I have several friends from other European countries I am also interested in finding out about different bread traditions, so the Leader book is a great suggestion.  Thank you.

You paint such a lovely picture of your daughter sharing the bread you baked with friends. I had just done a second baking of the limpa bread, which improved on the first, when one of my closest friends rang to say she was driving south from Yorkshire and could she stop by to see us. Of course we put the kettle on and shared the bread . Thank you for reminding me that this is one of the reasons that we bake.

With best wishes, Daisy_A

ananda's picture

Hi Shiao-Ping and Daisy_A,

I've thoroughly enjoyed reading through this thread.   Thanks.

I was a very keen home brewer whilst at University in the mid 1980s.

All our beer was real, ie. live in the bottle.

Shiao-Ping, if you want this in Australia, look out for Cooper's bottled beers.   At least some of their range is "live" beer.   You'll probably get some expert advice from Derek [yozzause], as I know he is well into using beer in his baking.

Where do you do your baking Ken [pinpastry]?   Great to read about your exploits.

Best wishes to all


rossnroller's picture

Shiao-Ping (or anyone who has experience with barm breads),

I have prepared the balm as per Dan Lepard's recipe, and it has been resting for around 16 hours now...but the ale is sitting on top, and underneath is a sludge of flour and starter. I've stirred the barm mix a couple of times, but after a while this separation of ale and flour sludge occurs again.

My starter is fresh and active, and I maintain the feeding daily; I have used it successfully many times for baking all sorts of sourdough breads, bagels, banana bread, etc. So I'm sure there is no problem with the starter.

I'm just wondering, should it be obvious by looking at the barm that fermentation has taken place? I note Shiao-Ping's took 36 hours to look bubbly, and I'm hoping mine will also come good in time, but at the moment it doesn't look very promising!

Would be grateful for any insights or soothing reassurances!


Pinpastry's picture

I don't know if this is the same for barm you have produced, but, with the ale-barm that I collect from the brewery this seperation happens after a week or so in the fridge. If the barm is low in oxygen the yeast will mostly produce alcohol and slowly dies and turns sour. By regularly stirring and aerating the barm it can be kept for several weeks.

If your separated barm does not smell or taste sour then i would stir it up and give it a bit more time to recover.

Yeast + sugar + water + oxygen >>>>> yeast will multiply

Yeast + sugar + water - oxygen >>>>>  yeast will produce alcohol

good luck


rossnroller's picture

Thanks, Ken, but I decided to go ahead and make the dough when bubbles started bursting regularly on the surface of the ale. I had been stirring the barm every few hours, but the separation of ale and flour/starter continued. Anyway, the  dough appears to be rising, and is in the final 2 hours of proofing before going into the oven...feeling optimistic, but we shall see.

BeerTitan's picture

Thanks for sharing your adventure in barm breadmaking. I just came across the term, and as an amateur brewer as well as cook I was intrigued with the idea of making my own bread using the barm from my beermaking. I will be trying it out using your guidelines next time I brew!

One step I am curious about is where you heat the ale to 70C. That's high enough temperature to pasteurize, which in theory would kill any active yeast in the beer. Obviously something was fermenting when you tried it, so either not all yeast cells were killed (though as others pointed out if you were not using bottle-conditioned beer you likely had no active beer yeast in there to begin with) or you were getting activity from wild yeast or bacteria in your environment-- lactobacillus is everywhere, and as you probably know is what provides that tangy associated with sourdough bread (lactobacillus is also the bane of most brewers!).

Shiao-Ping's picture

Hi BeerTitan

You are quite right that 70C is high enough temperature to kill the active yeast.  Dan Lepard's original recipe is using the ale for flavouring, not leavening; and that's why it did not matter that I used non-bottle conditioned beer for my sourdough in the post.  (If you check Dan Lepard's book, you will find that many of his sourdough bread formulas use commercial yeasts too.)  I did not know it at the time when I wrote the post that the beer that I used was not bottle contitioned beer.  I relied solely on my sourdough starter for the rising of the bread.)

Lörren's picture

Is there any particular reason for keeping the dough at 20 degrees?

Wouldn't it be better to keep it at about 25-30 degrees, to get a faster rise?

Shiao-Ping's picture

Faster rise compromises crumb flavor. 24 to 26 degree C is the classic recommended temperature.  I can't exactly remember why when I was making this bread the temperature was left at around 20C, but it may be so that the fermentation was slow enough to achieve a particular flavor for this particular bread.  You can certainly do it at any temperature you are comfortable with. 

Lörren's picture

I made this bread today.

The thing is the bread didn't rise as it should have, even though it stood for about fourteen hours. I usually want my wheat-doughs to double in size before I consider them ready for the oven, but this dough didn't double. But it had bubbles in it so it was fermenting. The taste was really good though.

Any ideas why it had such a puny rise?

The gluten-strength was good and the dough was maybe about 70 hydration. But it didn't rise as I thought it would. 

Maybe my beer just wasn't good enough? I used the brand "Breznak" from czechoslovakia. I don't know if it has been pasteurized or not. 

How important is the kind of beer used, for the end-result? 

Lörren's picture

I also wonder why it is a good idea to heat the ale to 70 celsius? Wouldn't this kill of the live yeast in the ale?

Shiao-Ping's picture

To me this formula is more for the flavor rather than the rise. I remember at the time when I made it I also had the problem of it not rising very much but, as you also pointed out, the flavor was very, very good. You are right that 70 degree C kills the yeast and this goes to show that we are not relying on the beer yeast to rise the bread. 

ianlea's picture

Brilliant thanks