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.
- 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)
- In a large mixing bowl, mix starter, yogurt and milk with a wooden spoon until well combined
- 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)
- In a smaller bowl, mix 120 g of all-purpose flour, the barley flour and the salt
- Add to fermented mix and mix by hand until it comes together
- Cover and let stand for 10 minutes
- 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)
- Let rest 10 minutes again, covered. Repeat twice
- Complete a fourth stretch and fold cycle and let the dough rest one hour, covered
- Ligthly flour a work surgace and put the dough on it
- Shape into a smooth, rounded disc
- Dust a proofing basket with flour and lay the dough inside
- Let it rise until double the size (which will take between 3 and 6 hours)
- 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
- Bake in non-preheated oven set at 475°F/246°C for 35 minutes
- Remove Dutch oven from oven and bread from Dutch oven (exercising caution as both will be very hot)
- 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
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.