Beer barm

beer barm
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A magical formula to take your sourdough to the next level!

Barm is usually found in the brewing terminology, used to identify the form or scum formed on the top of a fermenting liquid, like beer or wine. This barm has been used as the levain in the process of making bread from the ancient times.

As you can imagine, that would result in bread that has a complex flavor profile. If you have trained you sensors enough, you can identify all these subtle changes in bread. I personally love to dig my nostrils in the bread crumb and inhale before I toss a piece in my mouth. It is such a sensory experience.

beer brm
bubbly barm

As we don’t have access to barm in everyday life, bakers have come up with ways to recreate the same thing. Even though it is not quite the same, you can achieve similar results in terms of flavor.

Just like you make a poolish, you can combine flour, beer and starter (sourdough culture) to make your own barm. The flavor will differ depending on the beer you choose. Any beer is okay for the job and most of the alcohol will be cooked off in the process.

Use various beers to experiment and it can be quite fun as you can smell and taste the different notes of beers in the final product. Try pale ales, dark full bodied stouts, craft beers etc. and compare the results. I find this very interesting and fun and rewarding at the same time. I am a massive beer love as well, so this is right up my ally.

Making your own beer barm is easier than you think. All you have to do is mix flour and your choice of beer, cook it off on medium heat, let cool and mix with the sourdough starter. Then you let this sit overnight and do its thing. You will wake up to find the barm bubbling away. The barm will look exactly like the form you’d find afloat a beer barrel and will smell acidic.

beer barm

All you need is beer:flour:starter in 5:1:2 ratios

beer barm

Mix flour and beer and heat to 70 C string until thickens

beer barm

let the mixture cool down and add your sourdough culture and mix well

beer barm

let it ferment overnight

This barm is now ready to be used to make bread. Use it in any sourdough recipe and depending on the activity level, you can decide how much to use. All you have to adjust is the hydration as the barm is very runny.

I use this in baguettes, pizza bases, foccacia, and potato bread etc. When making pizza base, I use more of the same beer instead of water to heightened the flavor but it is completely optional.

I usually use 40% of flour to make the barm and use that as levain for my pizza and baguettes. You might need to bulk the dough for longer depending on the activity of the barm.

Think of this as a flavor booster with the added benefit of leavening. Use as little or as much as you like in the recipe and adjust water accordingly.

Here is the basic recipe that I use, feel free to experiment and let me know what you think.

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  1. Hi Vindi
    Thank you for this, I am starting out on the sourdough journey and just about got plain white and whole meal sourdough loaves cracked so was looking to expand my knowledge base. The above recipe is exactly what I needed, many thanks.

    1. That’s great! You’ll like the potato and ale bread I did recently then.
      It uses a barm and very flavorful. 🙂

    1. I have only made this with sourdough culture. Ideally you should use natural yeast and bottle conditioned beer.
      But yeast should be fine, I’m not sure how much to add though, may be a 1/8 tsp ( a pinch). Again I’m not sure as I haven’t done this, but technically it is possible.

  2. Hello Vindi, this sounds super interesting. However, I didn’t quite understand when you said that you “usually use 40% of this as the levain for my pizza and baguettes”. Do you mean 40% of your entire levain mass (i.e. 40% would be this beer barm and 60% “normal” levain) or do you mean 40% with regard to baker’s percentage? I am interested in making pizza dough and I ama bit lost on how much I’d have to make.

    1. Sorry about the confusion there. What I do is I use some of the flour(40%) from the pizza/baguette/focaccia recipe to make this barm. Similar to a poolish. And the next day when I mix the dough, use the rest of the flour, this barm, and water as needed.
      Add water gradually when mixing. If you want you can add more sourdough starter or a pinch of commercial yeast depending on how fast you want the dough ready.
      eg: for pizza:
      make the balm using 100g flour, 500g beer, 200g starter. Next day, make the dough using this barm, rest of the 150g flour, salt and add water if necessary.

  3. Hello,

    Good information, I have a question, I make my own beer so I have an abundance of barm.

    How do you store it? My last attempt was in a bottle in the refrigerator and all I did was make barm bomb lol

  4. I love baking bread. I didn’t know what Barm was but reading an old magazine article on bread making mentioned barm. Google it and found you! Voila’. I definitely will be trying this next week. Wish me success. Thanks for this new knowledge.

    1. You are very welcome. If you know anyone brewing beer or a local brewery, you might get your hand on the real thing!
      Look luck either way !

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