Naomi first tasted this bread one summer night in the far north of Finland as an after-sauna snack and in her introduction to the recipe, she says it is delicious, chewy and very versatile. It contains no wheat flour, only pearl barley and whole barley flour and it is enriched with buttermilk.
Like Naomi, we had it with butter and jam accompanied by strong black coffee but at lunch, the day after, it proved perfect with leftover baked tomatoes (the tomatoes had been roasted with garlic, herbs, Parmesan cheese and panko crumbs with a drizzle of olive oil).
I too have cherished memories of white summer nights by lakesides in Finland, a long long time ago. I remember rye bread though, not barley, maybe because we didn't travel as far north as Naomi: she says that spring barley can be grown in even colder climates than winter ryes and on the evening she discovered ohrarieska, she was beyond the Artic Circle.
So to me barley is more evocative of Scotland (where I have yet to go) but where I traveled extensively in my imagination (not to mention through the centuries) via the Outlander series of novels by Diane Gabaldon. Chick lit it may be but oh so gripping! For the record I don't love all the books in the series equally and I have especially strong negative feelings about the last one (An Echo in the Bone) in which I thought the plot and characters were way out of kilter (I disliked the title too). But the novels still offer a fantastic reading experience for those of us who are willing to (seriously) suspend disbelief and they do feature barley! One of these days, I'll have to try my hand at Jocasta's auld-country bannocks.
I must say that I have yet to meet a male reader who likes the series but I can tell you from reading the books in airports, in trains or in buses (in a pre-e-reader era) that many women feel very strongly about it: it happened several times that perfect strangers leaned towards me and shared the love. What fun!
So yes, barley, books, Scotland and now Finland: this baker's atlas is slowly filling in... Thank you, Naomi and Diana!
Ingredients: (for one loaf, about 8 inches in diameter)
- 430 g pearl barley
- 482 g buttermilk (I used cultured)
- 226 g water
- 270 g barley flour (I used Fairhaven's)
- 4 g baking soda
- 10 g salt (could be bumped up to 14 g, depending on taste)
- Combine pearl barley and buttermilk in a bowl and let soak overnight
- Pre-heat the oven to 350°F/177°C
- Lightly oil and flour an 8-inch cast-iron skillet
- Add water to the buttermilk-barley mixture, then transfer to a blender and blend until the barley is well pulverized
- Return the batter to the bowl, add the barley flour, soda and salt, and mix well
- Turn the batter out into the skillet
- Bake in the center of the oven for 50 minutes, then turn out onto a rack to cool before slicing