We made this loaf during my recent “Bards and Bread” camp, as part of the British Isles Bread series. I’m beginning to fear that you’ll think this is a baking blog only, well it’s not, but I’ve promised these recipes, and they are all so worth baking and having in your recipe box. Bara Brith is particularly dear to me, and not just because it alliterates so nicely. At camp we marched around singing “Bara Brith and Barley Bannocks”.
In Welsh, "bara" means bread and "brith" speckled. This loaf uses sorghum, rye, and oat flours and potato starch. It gets an overnight fermentation using a levain natural yeast starter, with honey, fruit, and spices included in the fermentation. It rises with the help of baking soda and powder. It’s a delicious tea or breakfast bread and makes outstanding toast.
"over spice the bara brith" means to do something to excess
Oats Barley and Rye were common
Finally, taking all my research into consideration and what I know about baking I revision the recipe. I’m particularly pleased with the outcome of this bread. It’s very good, in fact it’s my favorite tea bread at the moment. I don’t use wheat, so the grains were changed, and interestingly early wheat fields in the U.K. were never just wheat but wheat mixed with rye and or barley, what is called maslin or in French mesteil. They didn’t do this on purpose it was just an outcome of their farming practices, but it certainly changed the bread made! I use oats, rye, sorghum flours, potato starch and flaxseed. All except the sorghum, were grains used in the 19th century.
Pain d'epices to bara brith
Honey is my sweetener, which comes from my take on the French pain d'epices which Bara Brith reminds me of. I also wanted a pre sugar trade feel to the bread. This recipe uses more sweetener than most of my recipes, but less than the American norm. There are 5 grams of added sweetener per 40 gram serving, and 24 servings per recipe. Not bad.
Spices to be revived
I used spices favored in the 19th century but out of fashion now, like anise seed and caraway. They deserve reviving. The sweet spice mix is freshly ground and adapted from Elizabeth David’s “ English Bread and Yeast Cookery”. This recipe uses baking soda and powder as the leaveners added right before baking in a slurry with the salt. The loaf will go up with just the levain, but isn’t reliable. The alkaline sodas also neutralize any sour notes, which brings the bread back to a more British Isles flavor. The technique gets some getting used to, everything is quickly and easily mixed in the food processor. It’s important to add the firm levain before the honey so that its in contact with the flours. What’s nice is the easy flow of baking it makes, a little the night before, and hardly any effort right before baking, which is very nice if you’re serving it for breakfast, or tea. The bread ages very well because of the honey, and makes exquisite toast, sort of biscotti ish. I think you'll be pleased.
A Levain Rye and Oat Bara Brith
Bara Brith was traditionally eaten on St. David’s Day, or Christmas Day in thick slices spread with butter. It’s a folk recipe that changes village to village. It's a 19th century tea bread.
Bringing old Recipes into their best
One of my passions is to take a traditional regional recipe, and research it thoroughly. I want to find out how people make it, made it, and in what context it’s served and when? Then I imagine into it, and start to ask questions: How old is this recipe? Was it ever fermented? Did they use barm? What flours were used? Sweeteners? Spices of the times?
Fermentation Brings out flavor
The Bara Brith is fermented overnight using a firm levain starter, it doesn’t contain any fat but the honey and dried fruit is fermented with the flours. This was a breakthrough idea for me, which I came to by reading about the oldest known way of making a levain pain d'epices. The bakers didn’t add any levain starter, but just mixed the honey with flour and let it sit for several days until it naturally fermented. Honey is acidic so this probably helped, but it’s also antibacterial, so maybe inhibited certain bacterias?
Caraway in bloom and seed
Levain Rye and Oat Bara Brith
A Welsh Tea Bread makes two round loaves
Overnight Ingredients 2 cups rye flour 2 cups all purpose gluten free flour ½ cup oatmeal ground fine in a food processor 2 tablespoons ground flaxseed (measure and then grind) ½ cup firm levain (one ball) 1 cup honey 1 cup water 1 teaspoon anise seed 1 teaspoon caraway ½ cup raisins ½ cup currants
Morning Ingredients 2 teaspoons sweet spice zest of one large organic orange 2 teaspoons sea salt 1 teaspoon baking soda 1 teaspoon baking powder 1 tablespoon water to make a slurry
Sweet Spice Recipe 4 teaspoons white peppercorns 2 teaspoons whole allspice 4 (4 inch) cinnamon sticks 2 teaspoons whole cloves 2 whole nutmegs Break up nutmegs and cinnamon sticks with a mortar and pestle Grind all spices in a spice grinder, and sift. Keep in a sealed jar (use the leftover siftings to make masala chai)
Overnight Fermentation Instructions In the work bowl of a food processor add oatmeal and spin until fine, add flours, ground flaxseeds, caraway, and anise seed. Crumble firm levain into work bowl and pulse 6-8 times until combined, add zests, and pulse, add honey, add water and pulse until the dough comes together. Empty contents of work bowl into a large mixing bowl and add dried fruits. It should be a moist dough, not too dry. Cover the bowl with a clean cloth and let ferment overnight ( 12 hours ) at room temperature. We turn our oven to warm, then turn it off, and ferment the batter in the oven, especially in the winter.
Baking Instructions Adjust the oven rack to the lower-middle portion and preheat the oven to 375F Make a slurry of salt, baking soda, baking powder, spice and zest. Add to the dough and mix until no streaks are present and everything is completely combined. Split the dough in half and make two round 7 inch, flattened loaves on a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Cut a cross on each loaf. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden/ internal temperature 200F Let cool before serving. This loaf gets even better when cool, and is excellent toasted. Please credit Society for Revisionist Baking for any use of this recipe and its techniques