Thursday, July 19, 2012

Barley flour adventures

Since buying a 10 lb bag of barley flour, I've been forced into the realization that it's very, very different from wheat flour. For one thing, I simply cannot do a 1-1 substitution. The barley flour seems to add a bit of wetness to dough and it turns out much, much harder to handle. It made some terrible loaves of bread, at least when I tried it with my normal recipes. Even the no-knead bread, which thankfully rose well enough, turned into disaster. You see, no-knead bread requires a very, very hot dutch oven. The recipe I've been using has me heat it up to 475^ before putting the dough in it. I forgot just how hot this makes the oven, and stupidly used only one potholder in each hand when I pulled it out. (At that temp, I generally use two potholders in each hand.) So, in danger of getting my hand burned through the potholder, I quickly set it down on the first available surface. Then when I tried to transfer the flour-covered dough into the dutch oven, it was sticking horribly to the counter. So what's normally a quick and easy transfer turned into several minutes of me scraping the dough off the counter and haphazardly throwing it into the oven. The dough looked pretty funny, but I can deal with poor aesthetics in my baking.
What sucked was that, in my panic, I didn't quite realize that I'd put the very hot oven lid onto a cutting board. A plastic cutting board. So the lid melted into the plastic, and I ended up putting the bread in the oven with no lid. It came out slightly undercooked in the middle, but that seems to be a trend with all of the barley bread I've made. Even using less than half barley flour, it's just too wet.
Anyway, back to the cutting board. I panicked and threw some ice around it, hoping that the plastic would contract and let the lid go once it was no longer still melting. It didn't work. Then I thought about what Shane would say when he got home to find the lid melted into the cutting board. (This happened about three days before he came home.) So I called J, who I knew would have tools that could help me break the cutting board away from the lid, if it came to that. We'd already been planning that they would come and pick me up that day so that we could go to a few stores together, so he promised to take a look at it when they came over.
About five minutes before I thought they'd arrive at my house I tried one last desperate thing. I put the cutting board on the floor, put a foot on each side of it, and pulled up on the lid as hard as I could. It didn't take long to release the lid, thankfully. (Which didn't seem to have any plastic residue, but I washed it thoroughly anyway.) The cutting board had a nice circle melted into it, right in the most inconvenient place. Then I thought about calling my brother-in-law, who gave us the cutting board when he moved, to lie for me if Shane asked him and say that it had always been there. Then I figured I'd save that for something big, something Shane would actually be mad about.
I thought I was home-free for a bit. Shane didn't say anything for a couple of days after getting home. He even used the cutting board without saying a word. Finally, last Wednesday, he asked, "So, what happened with the cutting board?" I innocently said, "What?" Then he gave me his most baleful glance as he said, "I'm not stupid. This was not here when I left. You must have melted it with something. Like a lid?" I said again, "Umm, what?" but I was laughing. He was trying to figure out what could have done it so I broke down and told him the whole story. I thought he'd scold me for "being stupid", but he thought it was funny enough that he didn't say a word about that.
Anyway, the one use of the barley flour that I've found is excellent is in pancakes. Because of the difference barley gives to the dough you need to cook them longer and on lower heat, otherwise they burn quickly. But once I figured that out I was turning out lovely golden-brown pancakes, sweet enough to not require syrup or really any topping but a bit of butter. Mmmm, so yummy! I just looked up a recipe on the internet, in case you're wondering.
And I re-tried the no-knead bread. This time it worked well. I only used one cup of barley flour (out of six cups of flour) and added one cup of oats in addition to all the flour. Because the oats soak in the wet bread dough mix overnight, by the time they bake they've pretty much dissolved. There was absolutely no texture difference, but a lovely oat-y flavor. Best of all, they soaked up whatever wetness the barley flour adds to the dough. I'm going to keep working on it, seeing just how high a ratio of barley flour I can put into the bread because it's quite tasty. And I'm trying to use as little AP flour as possible.
I'll keep looking for more barley recipes, and telling you when I find good ones. It is tasty flour, and I definitely like supporting the local farmers who grow it.
In other flour news, I opened up a brand new 50 lb bag of flour to make the bread the other night and moths started flying out of it!! I was so shocked I just watched them for a second before I had the presence of mind to close the bag securely again. I taped it down and called the Alaska Feed Co., where I bought the flour. Wonderful customer service! They said they'll replace it for me, totally free. I just need to get the bag over there. So L is going to drive me over this weekend, before we stop at the farmer's market. Whew!

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