Brown Bread From Ale Barme

This is a bread recipe from a  manuscript of Sir Hugh Plat’s written in approximately 1560.


Take 3 quart or a pound of fine searced flowr: 2 spoonefulls of new barme worke this together wth hotte licore and cover yt close and let it stand and rest one houre & yt wil be risen enough, then worke yt & breake yt well make small loaves & sett into the hotte oven the space of halfe an hour or lesse.

You can read more about its transcription here.   The transcriptionist used white flour, which is more appropriate to the receipt, but today I am using a mixture of rye and barley flour because I want to see how well ale barme works with heavier flours.

I have been baking bread without a recipe for at least forty years now and have my own ideas going into this.  For example, the transcriptionist kept adding water to accommodate flour toward the end,  but I know what consistency a sponge should be.  I made this sponge with one cup of ale barme, one cup of water, and two cups of rye flour and let it set for an hour. Then I kneaded in the rest of the flour until the dough was right.  It’s a bit backward from the receipt but it is the process I know.

I struggle with telling people how long to knead a loaf.  I have been kneading bread since I was a wee one and I usually just go by feel.  The bread is smooth, elastic and if you poke it the indentation will spring back by about half.   I also must tell you that it pained me not to add some salt at this point, but the recipe didn’t call for it.

Then I veered from the recipe a bit because I didn’t think it was looking promising. I put it in a bowl for a second rise and it didn’t accomplish much.

I shaped the loaves on my peel and let them rise a bit longer.  I have to tell you at this point I really didn’t think it was going to work.

20 minutes before I wanted to bake my bread, I put my baking stone in the oven on one shelf and my broiler pan on the shelf underneath it and preheat it to 450 degrees.

When I was ready to bake the loaves slide them from the peel onto the baking stone pour some hot water in the broiler pan, shut the oven quickly and bake the loaves for 20-25 minutes depending on how big.   I must tell you these were the most solid loaves I have ever worked with; I didn’t need to put the meal on the peel, but oh well.

They are done when the crust is brown and chewy, and you will be able to pick them up (with an oven mitt) and thump them and they will sound hollow.  I must tell you that no one was more surprised than me when they ended up looking like this.

It is definitely medieval peasant bread compared to the artisan peasant loaves I usually make that incorporate white flour. It’s also got a bite to it.  The ale contributes to that a bit, I think. I think when working with the heavier flours I will need to use all ale barm as my liquid.

Published by Stephany Riley Hoffelt

If you want to read more about me, it's on the website

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