Sunday, June 17, 2012

Barley Bread

For as long as I can remember, I have been a barley girl. Of course it helped that in France when I was a kid,  a sucre d'orge (literally candy made with barley sugar) was a treat. Tubular and fashionably skinny, always tightly wrapped, most often in cellophane but occasionally in shiny silver paper which gave no clue to the flavor inside, known for having soothed many of life's minor woes and pains for generations of children, it held a mysterious appeal. By contrast, the plump sucette (lollipop), always clad in revealing colors and coiffed with a bouffant paper twist, seemed resolutely modern. Probably thanks to its down-to-earth chubbiness, it was often a kid's first choice at the boulangerie-confiserie (bakery-candy store) but not mine.
Since I spent a large part of my childhood reading and re-reading the books which had belonged to my dad and my uncle in their youth (they had won them at school for being top students), I kept solid footing in an enchanted other world (of which the black and white illustrations offered tantalizing glimpses) and, in my own, I looked for and cherished surviving signs of a vanishing past. Sucres d'orge (thus called because barley water -soon to be replaced by glucose- was the original sweetener) were therefore my favorites and I spent many a drizzly or blustery Sunday afternoon with my nose in one of the characteristic red books and a sucre d'orge in my pocket (my parents were not liberal with candy but since I never had a sweet tooth,  looking at it afforded me more pleasure than eating it and a single one went a long way).
Many years and a move across the ocean later, I discovered that orge (barley) could actually appear on the table in a soup or a barlotto (a risotto made with barley instead of rice) or simply as a grain and when I did, I fell in love all over again.  So when a Baking With Barley class was offered last year at Kneading Conference West, I knew I wanted to attend.
The class was taught jointly by Leslie Mackie (owner of Macrina Bakery in Seattle) and Andrew Ross, a cereal chemist at Oregon State University (OSU). Leslie has been experimenting with barley from the time she first started Macrina:  she liked using locally grown grain and, at the time, that meant mostly barley. She now puts it in monkey bread (for an added touch of sweetness), in Francese bread and in Pugliese bread (an exceptionally tasty miche for which she was in the process of developing a formula).
As for Andrew - who is not only a scientist but also a passionate baker - he has developed formulas for various barley breads within the framework of the barley project: he brought barley baguettes and barley miches to the class and demonstrated barley pitas and bretzels. I was hooked (especially when I discovered that my local mill made a beautiful whole grain barley flour).
I was hoping to be able to go and observe Andrew at work at OSU in Corvalis and to do a full Meet the Baker post on him afterwards. But it didn't work out according to plan. He was unexpectedly swamped with work when we showed up at the agreed-upon date last month and there was no way he could fit baking into his schedule on that particular day. As for us, we were traveling through Corvalis on our way back home from the coast and we couldn't possibly come back later in the week. He very kindly showed me his beautiful lab/bakery and answered the questions I had prepared but I made it quick as I knew he had to go back to work.  I would still love to see him bake and also to hear more about the relationship between the University and the local farmer though but it will have to wait. Maybe the stars will align better on another visit to Oregon!
Meanwhile Andrew gave me a few useful infos and pointers on baking with barley:
  • The preferred barley is a hulless variety, also called naked barley (the hull falls off when the grain is harvested): it has the best nutritional profile
  • Barley contains a soluble fiber called beta-glucan which has been shown to slow glucose absorption and is thought to help lower blood cholesterol
  • People with celiac disease or high sensitivity to gluten should not eat barley: it contains protases which are very close to gluten
  • A 100% barley starter yields a very acidic bread. Not pleasant
  • The higher the percentage of barley in relation to wheat, the less extensible the dough
  • For a better crumb, it is best to use barley flour in conjunction with high-gluten flour
  • Using a stiff starter also helps compensate for the lesser amount of gluten in the dough
  • To keep the dough from sticking, use more water or flour than you normally would 
  • Increase dough hydration by 5 to 10% if making a 50% barley-50% wheat bread
  • If using a high tpercentage of barley, it is best to underproof a little
  • A good rule of thumb for flavor, nutrition and extensibility is to use a total of 20 to 30% of barley in the  dough
  • Barley flat breads and tortillas are much easier to make than raised breads.
For this barley bread, I used the Whey Sourdough recipe from Emmanuel Hadjiandreou's How to Make Bread, a book I already blogged about here and here. At Emmanuel's suggestion (when we talked on the phone back in April after I found an error in one of the recipes), I substituted half Greek yogurt and half milk for the whey (which I didn't have) and, mindful of Andrew's recommendation, I replaced 20% of the white flour by whole grain barley flour (hulless variety).  The resulting bread was delicate and flavorful with a slightly fermented taste (very different from regular sourdough) which I find utterly seductive. Not a memory-trigger like the old-fashioned sucre d'orge but definitely a keeper and maybe a memory-maker for the kids and grand-kids in our life! What could be sweeter than that?

  • 160 g white sourdough starter
  • 150 g milk (I used 2% milkfat)
  • 150 g plain Greek yogurt (mine was 0% fat but regular fullfat Greek yogurt would work fine)
  • 200 g all-purpose unbleached flour (Hadjiandreou uses bread flour with a higher gluten percentage but I had none on hand. I might have gotten a more open crumb if I had used that)
  • 120 g  all-purpose unbleached flour (again he uses bread flour)
  • 100 g barley flour
  • 10 g salt (Hadjiandreou uses 8 g)
Method: (adapted from the book)
  1. In a large mixing bowl, mix starter, yogurt and milk with a wooden spoon until well combined
  2. Add 200 g of all-purpose flour and mix well. Cover and let ferment overnight in a cool place (it should show tiny bubbles 12 hours later when ready)
  3. In a smaller bowl, mix 120 g of all-purpose flour, the barley flour and the salt
  4. Add to fermented mix and mix by hand until it comes together
  5. Cover and let stand for 10 minutes
  6. After 10 minutes, stretch and fold the dough inside the bowl by going twice around the bowl with four stretches and foldings at each 90° turn (8 stretches/foldings in all)
  7. Let rest 10 minutes again, covered. Repeat twice
  8. Complete a fourth stretch and fold cycle and let the dough rest one hour, covered
  9. Ligthly flour a work surgace and put the dough on it
  10. Shape into a smooth, rounded disc
  11. Dust a proofing basket with flour and lay the dough inside
  12. Let it rise until double the size (which will take between 3 and 6 hours)
  13. When ready, transfer dough to a non-preheated Dutch oven (using a large piece of parchment paper as a sling to carry the dough) and replace the lid on the Dutch oven
  14. Bake in non-preheated oven set at 475°F/246°C for 35 minutes
  15. Remove Dutch oven from oven and bread from Dutch oven (exercising caution as both will be very hot)
  16. Replace bread in oven, turn oven temperature down to 435°F/224°C and bake for another 20 minutes or so, until the boule is golden and makes a satisfying hollow sound when thumped on the bottom
  17. Enjoy!
The Barley Bread can also be baked the usual way in a hot oven. I just find the unheated Dutch oven/oven method works wonders with boules and it saves having to preheat the oven for an extended length of time.
The Barley Bread is going to Susan for this week's issue of Yeastspotting.


  1. You have so many details here about the barley, it's shows the love of the product and the bread that resulted. Plus, it looks delicious.

    1. Thank you, IdaBaker! I hope you try it some day and let me know.

  2. I had just read recently about the cold oven method. I had thought to try it soon. Do you use this often?

    1. Hi ml! I use it every time I make a single round loaf except when we are at our little summer home where the oven is so small I can't possibly fit in a Dutch oven. Otherwise it is my favorite method for baking boules. It isn't a new technique by any stretch of the imagination: I first read about it in an old French magazine and I have heard since that American pionneers used it to make bread over a campfire (probably burying the Dutch oven in the embers). Most likely it didn't yield quite the same result (it might have been harder to brown the bread) but they surely got the same slow wonderful rise.

    2. Hi MC,
      How long does it take your oven to reach 475?
      I probably takes my oven the whole 35min just to reach that temp. Will the bread be baking, or just rising during this time?
      Most bakers seem to think they need that initial high temp to get the oven spring. Does this do the same thing? I have a Finnish Rye on 1st fermentation, so I will try this method in a little while.

    3. My oven heats up pretty fast but the dough still seems to love the warm rise. I have never done it with rye and I'd be a bit wary to try. Rye moves very fast and it might overproof. If you do do it with your Finnish Rye, please let me know how it goes.

  3. I love barley too - Scotch!


    1. Hello, Anonymous! Jim Chevalier - author of many books on the history of food, particularly French bread - commented on Facebook that barley was actually also a staple in pre-France Gaule, before the Romans invaded. Interesting...

  4. Hi MC,
    Another question about your cold oven start. Do you have a baking stone in your oven? I have a large stone in mine which is too heavy to remove on a regular basis with any kind of ease :-( and due to it's size it takes my oven longer to pre-heat….I am thinking your method would still work if I were to decrease the room temp proofing time and increase the time in the oven but figured I better ask prior to experimenting in case I can learn from your experience rather than experimenting on my own and maybe ending up with a brick :- O

    1. Hi Janet, I do have a baking stone (not a large one as the oven isn't very big) and whenever I use the cold Dutch oven/cold oven method, I do take it out. I don't know if the method would work with a cold stone under a cold cast-iron Dutch oven. It might really make it harder for the dough to rise. I think there is no way around trying! Please let me know what you do and how it works. I'd much rather not take the baking stone out either...

  5. Beautiful looking bread. Your crust and crumb look excellent.
    I have used barley flour in many of my recipes but I had no idea about the history or the effects of using it. I guess I just got lucky when baking :). Thanks for sharing this excellent recipe. It's on my bake list for sure.

    1. Hello Ian and thanks for stopping by! I am going to explore your beautiful blog in details as I'd love to do more with barley too. I am currently making a 100% barley bread with a rye starter. Not sure how it will turn out!!!

  6. Hi MC,
    I've got to start using your cold oven technique - I keep reading about it in sev other blogs I read - and as you note, it's a good summer option for keeping the kitchen a little cooler. Next loaf goes into a cold oven.

    Do you drop the baking parchment into your pot when putting the loaf in? Sounds like you do - (I use the parchment right in my proofing basket, so I can easily score the loaf and safely drop it into a very hot pot) If you do put the parchment into your pot, and then put the lid on while its baking, the parchment will not burn during baking, and can be used to extract the loaf from the hot pot.

    If you already use this technique, please excuse me for including this - but perhaps others may be helped by knowing just how handy this process can be, and how versatile baker's parchment is.

    1. Hi Doc, yes, exactly, I use the parchment paper as a sling to transfer the loaf to the Dutch oven and I do leave it in the covered pot. It makes it much easier - and safer - to take the hot bread out when the time comes. Thanks for describing the technique in more details than I did. Sometimes you do something so mechanically that it does not occur to you that you need to go over all the steps! Let me know how you fare with this method. It has never failed me (yet) but of course the downside is that you can only bake one boule at a time (and that doesn't happen very often in my house as I like to bake several breads at a time and freeze them)

  7. So great to meet you at BlogHer Food! Bread has always intimidated me...but it might be time to give it another go!

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Erina! It was indeed lots of fun to meet at BHF. I can't wait to read about bread on Shut Up and Cook!

  8. Gyönyörű kenyér! Gratulálok a szép munkához! Üdvözlettel: Terike

  9. Such a beautiful loaf and wonderful story MC. You are such an artist! I wish I had more time to try this loaf, as I also have an affinity for barley. I have not used it for some time though. I am still hoping to see you sometime, maybe this summer.


    1. Thank you, Teresa! You are such a good friend. I too am hoping we can get together sometime soon. Do you know if you'll be able to attend the Kneading Conference?

  10. In Switzerland we have this wonderful Barley-Soup which i really enjoy. I will give your recipe a try - together with the discussed cold-oven-bake-technique with my Le Creuset Pan which i already have successfully used for bread baking. Wonderful Idea to have a Barley Bread with the Barley Soup... will post both recipes -Thanks

    1. Thank you, bernd! i can't wait to see the recipes although it is a bit hot right now where we are (US Northeast) to be thinking of barley soup but we will certainly enjoy it many times this fall and winter...

  11. I was looking for a recipe with barley flour, and, via BYOB, found your interesting post. Thanks for the information on baking with barley, and I love the photos of those old books.
    This will be my next project - I'll use my fruity rose hip levain - and I hope it will turn out as nice as yours.


  12. Hello Karin and thank you for stopping by! Rose hip levain, wow! That's a first for me. I went to your blog and looked it up. How clever of you! I love it that you were able to turn an unfortunate turn of even into something utterly original and creative. I wish I could have a sniff and a taste. The bread looks gorgeous. Please keep me posted as to your experiments with barley. Best of luck, MC

  13. many thanks for your helpful advices about barley bread baking. Today i prepare only dough for bread I want to put it into fridge during one night ( i always prefer fridge- processed bread).
    i found your blog via link in "Freshloaf".

    1. Welcome, Elena! Interesting to read that you always ferment your bread in the fridge. Do you live in a warm climate? Is it only the first fermentation you do in the fridge? How long do you leave your dough at room temp before baking? Sorry for all these questions but I am truly curious!

    2. Yes, exactly- I live in very warm and humid climate.
      I prepare starter 100% hydration in quantity something as 30-40% from all dough, one hour proofing in room temp., fridge during 8-12 hours, warming in "wet and hot space" - my microwave oven ( heating off) with jar of boiling water -1 hour, forming loaf, proofing until increasing in volume twice.
      Sometimes I change the way and raise in fridge a preformed loaf.

    3. Thank you, Elena! I find it truly amazing how we all learn to adapt our bread making to what works for us. No rule is set in stone and that's what's so inspiring.

    4. I agree with you absolutely -no rule set in stone.
      Barley/wheat bread with barley malt syrup that i finished to process today - get incredible tasty and fragrant .



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