The Fresh Loaf

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Hamelman Beer Bread with Roasted Barley

apprentice's picture

Hamelman Beer Bread with Roasted Barley

This bread was begun with the highest hopes and a bubbly poolish...

Beer Bread poolish









The poolish had actually bubbled a little too long. It looked perfect around 15 or 16 hours, but I had other things on the go and left it for another two hours. Slight deflation. Couldn't be helped. The picture was taken right before mixing. What do you think?

Had all my ingredients measured the night before, ready to go. Because I couldn't find hulled malted barley kernels locally, only unmalted, I opted to use non-diastatic barley malt powder. I understand malting better now. It seems I could have produced the powder myself using the unmalted kernels. That's what malting is, I learned, thanks to Mini O and a bunch of reading. You sprout or germinate whole grain kernels (usually, but not only barley) under controlled conditions. Once malted, the grain is heated to dry and then ground into powder. Sometimes called crystals, flour or extract, just to confuse things further. :)

I chose a nut brown ale from a local micro-brewery. Bonus! The bottle held 650 ml, so there would be some left over to go with my supper of curried chicken.

Will make a long story short for now. Things looked promising every step of the way. Even had some fun experimenting with techniques for the final ferment because I don't own oval bannetons. I scooched one loaf up in a trench created with a piece of canvas and covered it with plastic. Also tried an idea in From Julia Child's Kitchen for suspending a long loaf in a canvas sling, weighted heavily, from the edge of a table. Both worked fine but bannetons are way easier. They're on my long wish list!

I loaded the bread in the oven. My dinner was ready. I'd already been sipping the ale, and it was utterly delicious! I'm usually more of a wine or single malt whiskey girl, but that ale made a convert of me. It also made me so impatient for the bread! I was beginning to see why Hamelman wrote in his recipe that this one would have a lively, robust flavour.

Here they are:

beer bread loaves









And here's the crumb:

beer bread crumb









And here's the part I've been sighing about since Thursday. Why I haven't really wanted to write this blog entry. The taste...I'm so sorry, Jeffrey...was disappointing. Insipid even.

Gasp! Even typing those words, let alone saying them aloud, feels sacrilegious to me. I've always found Hamelman's recipes completely reliable. Oh, the temperature might be a little hot for my oven. I also had a lot to learn about handling rye before I could produce something similar to the promised results in those breads. But taste? He's never failed me there.

And probably still hasn't. It might well have been a mistake on my part. For one thing, I ended up with about two ounces less than the total weight he indicates. I have a sneaking hunch I might have mismeasured the salt, using the 1 1/4 tsp amount from the next line in the text, instead of 1 T. But that wouldn't account for two whole ounces!

So I'll make it again, especially if I hear from someone at TFL that they had a good result with this recipe. It's basically a nice white bread with some whole wheat and malted barley thrown in. The poolish, the ale...altogether it should have been tasty, as advertised. We'll see.

That's my story, and I'm sticking to it! Thanks for your interest.


Added by EDIT: Please be sure to read my post in the comment section below on the results of the second bake. I did change my story! This is a lovely bread, well worth your time and attention.


KosherBaker's picture

Thanks for posting this. Great account of recipe progress. Hmm interesting as to why the taste didn't come out to your liking. It'll make me think twice before I make this. :) What were the attributes of flavors that were bad?

But the crust color looks intoxicatingly beautiful. Is that from the Barkkey Malt? In addition to the skill of the baker of course. :)

Also what do you use for scoring?


apprentice's picture

The only sugars in the recipe are the malted barley and whatever's in the ale, so those are probably the source of the colour. I seem to recall turning the heat down to 420F towards the end -- the last 10 minutes or so -- because the loaves looked like they were getting too brown.

One thing I forgot to mention is that I decided to divide the dough into two 1.5 lb. loaves as JH would have you do for the higher dough yield versions. His home version gives you 2 x 1 lb. 12 oz. Too big for my taste! I used the leftover dough to make some small dinner rolls. 

With bread, there's an art to noticing the nuances and putting them into words. I find it hard. Let's see. No nuttiness, sweetness or notes of wheaty fermentation -- all of which, I would have expected. Certainly not lively or robust! There was a smell and after-taste I've only experienced in supermarket bread and have no words for except "sort of stale" and insipd or tasteless. Especially the factory-made brown breads pretending to be whole wheat. I don't think it was the barley I reacted to, because I devoured the next barley loaf I made (the Jaine formula that I'll write about next).

The more I think about it, the more I wonder if the problem wasn't a lack of salt. I rechecked my notes and see that I only came up about 1 1/3 ounces short of the total weight expected. I could have lost that much to a combination of the salt error and dough sticking to the bowl and dough hook.

About the scoring, I often use my serrated bread knife. It's good and sharp and has a nice heft for cutting ryes especially, which is what I usually make. This time, I think I reached for a blade that my instructor gave me -- a freebie from one of the visiting food suppliers. Meant to be disposable, I believe, but I keep sharpening it.

Here's a photo:


apprentice's picture

Forgot to mention something but you probably know. Flour also contributes to crust colour through the Maillard effect -- the breakdown of sugars and protein during the bake. Higher protein flours typically produce more Maillard browning than low-protein flours. A factor in this case, since the recipe uses bread flour and whole wheat.

Hope to be able to report later that this bread is the total winner that I've come to expect from Hamelman. You may have seen that I think the taste problem is related to my using some old stoneground flour I had on hand? Sure hope I didn't turn anyone off this recipe!


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

You said you substituted the malted kernels for powder, grain might hold more moisture giving less up during the bake. Could that be the weight difference?  It wasn't me who first posted how to make malted kernels, it was first under wheat, way back when...

If you still have some bread sprinkle a little salt on it and taste again. Then you might know if it is the salt. I don't have the recipe before me, but I know that beer has always tasted better straight than after it was diluted. If you tasted the bread after drinking the beer, it will taste bland. Wait until morning and try it at breakfast and make another opinion.

Mini O

apprentice's picture

Thanks for the comment, Mini O. I'm sure you're right that the substitution of powder for malted kernels affected the final dough weight. Not by much, but I wasn't missing much was I? Good catch.

About the taste, I waited a couple of hours, maybe three before cutting into the bread. The ale I had with supper was just a memory. :) Tried the bread again first thing next morning. Same taste and aroma. Salted butter helped some but...

Had a brainwave on wakening this morning. My stoneground ww flour is old. Hate to tell you how old. I only have a small amount left. Oxidation over time can produce rancid off flavours, especially in ww. I might have found the culprit!


apprentice's picture

An altogether different and wonderful bread, this second attempt at Hamelman's beer with roasted barley! Details soon. For now, here's the picture. I wish I could send you the taste. Haven't actually cut into the bread yet, because it's still a little warm. I had a couple of the small dinner rolls though. Delicious!

This was a really good lesson for me -- a clear cut, completely unambiguous reminder that flour does go stale, even rancid over time, and especially whole wheat.

apprentice's picture

I followed pretty much the same method as the first time except for the switch from old, verging-on-rancid whole wheat flour to fresh. <wry smile> The room was slightly cooler – fall in the air! – but the poolish was still ready in 16 hours. Measured everything else carrrrrrefully. Like we always do, but stuff happens. :) This time, my total dough yield was only 0.26 oz. under the expected amount. Not significant, in other words.

The Mix: Last time, I got a little nervous about how the dough was coming together and added some flour. This time, I trusted JH's guidance to go for loose hydration and added nothing extra. The dough was tacky but workable. The calculations to decide whether to warm or cool the beer-water mix worked well! The dough was 76°F. It felt so good.

Nothing else out of the ordinary, except to say that I probably under proofed somewhat this time. Didn't get quite the same exuberant spring in the oven, though it was decent. And necessary, considering my awkwardness in getting loaves from couche to peel to pan! That's why I posted the question you may have seen, and I'm looking forward to viewing the videos people suggested. Tried seam down this time on the couche, which is why the loaves don't have any flour on them. Believe I prefer the rustic look myself, but it's good to experiment.

The Bake: The first time, I just set the temp at 460°F as the recipe says and turned it down towards the end. (Hamelman says 460°F throughout – too much, in my oven at least!) This time, I got clever and set it higher for the first few minutes because I knew I'd be in and out with my spray bottle. As a result, the loaves got darker than I like.

The Taste: The most important part! This bread is lovely. I wouldn't term it, as JH does, a lively, robust flavour. Instead, I'd call it gentle and almost mysterious with subtle notes from the wheat, the beer and the malt all working together in harmony. He probably got more of a nutty flavour by roasting and grinding the barley himself – I used a commercially prepared malt powder – but my loaf still has a pleasant nutty, wheaten aroma confirmed by the taste along with the promised hint of sweetness from the beer.

There's a bit of malt in the taste, too, but it could be stronger. Toasted and buttered, this bread came into its own. It made me think of malted whipping cream – something I've never even heard of – but the mind goes strange places in trying to describe a taste.

Summation: Somewhat of an unusual bread in North America, but definitely worth a try. Will make it again some day, possibly with a stronger brew. Will definitely malt my own barley to see how that goes. This time, I learned what's involved – a good first step!

Would love to hear from anyone in Germany, or with a German background, what sort of menu features Bierbrot. How and when is it usually served? 

This was the first bread in a learning project on working with barley. I had used barley malt syrup and diastatic and non-diastatic powders before, but never done any research on the grain itself and how all the different forms of it are made and used. Next up: Tom Jaine's barley bread from Making Bread at Home.