• Drunk in Loaf: booze vs. bread

    Drunk in Loaf: booze vs. bread
    This information is based on research from The Bread Companion's workshop, Drunk in Loaf. Above photo: rye flour starter using grapes. Image and words by Julia Georgallis.

     

    A pint of beer, a loaf of bread, a glass of wine - humble, symbolic, democratic staples on any dinner table, a representation of the simple pleasures in life. 

     

    Part of the beauty of bread making, beer making and wine making processes is that they are kickstarted into being by a family of friendly fungus, 'saccharomyces cerevisiaie.' These yeastie beasites that live in grain, hops and grapes, are brought to life by water, after which they spend the rest of the days eating sugars and farting out carbon dioxide, and so creating the fermentation process.

     

    One of the strains of saccharomyces cerevisiaie, also known as baker's yeast, can either be bought from the supermarket, or you can do something really special and make it yourself, in which case you will have what's known as a sourdough starter.  Starter, occasionally known as 'the mother,' or 'natural yeast,' is a yeast ferment made with flour and water. Another strain of saccharomyces cerevisiaie, or brewer's yeast, and is used to make beer.  Brewer's yeast and baker's yeast, though are close cousins, have been bred to differ slightly.  When we make bread, our focus is on the yeast producing lots of carbon dioxide that causes those nice bubbles that get trapped in dough. When we use brewer's yeast however, our main focus is to get drunk, and so we want our yeast to produce more alcohol, not carbon dioxide. Baker's yeast works really quickly to produce lots of air and bubbles, brewer's yeast works much slower and creates more alcohol. 

     

    The history of bread and beer is inextricably linked, leavened bread and brewing were discovered around the same time and, originally, brewer's and baker's yeasts were used interchangeably.  In many parts of the world, sourdough starters were made exclusively with beer instead of water. Although there has been a recent revival in using different strains of yeast to bake with instead of relying on baker's yeast, nowadays we don't use beer in baking often and might only use beer starters for two reasons - the first is that beer often helps a sluggish starter speed up as it contains a lot more sugar than flour, the second is that it adds depth to the flavour profile of bread. 

     

    Beer and bread are connected by a shared discovery. But bread also holds a strong connection to wine. The process of wine making is slightly more complicated than brewing and baking.  Saccharomyces cerevisiaie is still used, but other yeast families like sacchyromyces bayanus, are also added to the grapes. In fact, it is the choice of different yeasts used by different winemakers that produces different wines. A fun anecdote that I always think draws bread closer to wine is the fabled process called 'graping the rye.' Grapes harbour an enormous amount of yeast on their skins and so, sometimes, grapes would be placed within a sack of rye to strengthen and encourage yeast development. While I have never seen any concrete evidence to support this, it reminds me of the symbolic link between bread and wine.  Even if it is an old baker's tale, I have had a lot of success making sourdough starters with grapes, because of the yeasts from the grape skins.  The end result is a tangy, fruity starter.

     

    Below I have shared two recipes for alternative sourdough starters, based on these relationships between bread and booze. The first is 'barm' - an old English word for bread made with beer, ale or stout. The second is a rye starter made with grapes, an homage to 'graping the rye.' If you are still unclear how to make a sourdough starter, or are having difficulty with yours, go back and read my Sourdough 101 first. It is also important to note that it might be best to keep back some of the original sourdough starter make these two recipes in separate containers. They are not as mold resistant as a flour/water starter and need to be treated slightly differently. Take note of the different flavours of the bread that you make from each starter, treat it as a biology experiment, which of course is all any kind of fermentation process truly is. 

     

    Beer Sourdough Starter (also known as 'barm')

     

    Ingredients

     

    A bag of (preferably wholemeal) flour
    100 g sourdough starter
    A few cans/bottles of beer - ideally, go for something very hoppy. I also wouldn't use a mass manufactured brand for this, try a craft beer as these usually have more yeast diversity. Make sure you have enough to continue feeding your starter for several days - start with 4-6 bottles/cans. 

     

    Directions

     

    1. If you don't have a sourdough starter already, have a look at my blog about making, feeding and fixing sourdough starters
    2. Sterilise a jar or container. (Run it through a dishwasher, or stick it in an oven set to 70oC for 20 minutes).
    3. Day 1: Feed the sourdough starter with beer and wholemeal flour. 
    4. Day 2: - Discared 3 tablespoons of the starter, add in another 100 g of flour and 100 g of beer. Mix well. 
    5. Day 4, 6 & 8: Continue to take out 3 tablespoons of starter and add in flour and beer. You don't always have to add in 100 g of each, but make sure you stick to a 50% ratio (example, if you only want to use 50 g of beer, use 50 g of flour). 
    6. After day 8, your sourdough starter is ready to bake with, but keep it refrigerated from now on.

     

    Grape & Rye starter

     

    Ingredients

     

    Rye flour (make sure you have enough to keep this going, so ideally minimum 500 g)
    A bunch of grapes
    100 g sourdough starter
    Water (tap water will do!)

     

    Directions

     

    1. If you don't have a sourdough starter already, have a look at my blog about making, feeding and fixing sourdough starters
    2. Sterilise a jar or container. (Run it through a dishwasher, or stick it in an oven set to 70oC for 20 minutes).
    3. Day 1: Cut 100 g of grapes in half and mix with 100 g of water, 100 g of sourdough starter and 100 g of rye flour. 
    4. Day 2: - Discared 3 tablespoons of the starter, making sure not to discard the grapes a well, and add in another 100 g of flour and 100 g of water. Mix well. 
    5. Day 4, 6: Continue to take out 3 tablespoons of starter and add in flour and water. You don't always have to add in 100 g of each, but make sure you stick to a 50% ratio (example, if you only want to use 50 g of beer, use 50 g of flour). 
    6. Day 8: You can now start to bake with your starter, but keep it refrigerated from now on.

     

    Additional information

     

    1. Don't bake with the grapes, take them out first.
    2. Get into the habit of changing the grapes, perhaps ever two weeks, and add 100 g of fresh, halved grapes.
    3. The starter can be fed far less after Day 8. Feed it a couple of days before you want to make bread.
    4. This starter will not last as long as a usual flour/water starter, as the sugars in the grapes make it more susceptible to mould, so either keep it for a limited amount of time, or take the grapes out, adding them back in periodically when you want to alter the flavour of your bread. 
    5. That dark liquid that you might see form on top of the yeast is not wine. Don't drink it. It's hooch, but not the delicious kind. 
     
     
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