Barley and Rye Bread

The quest for a bread containing barley began when I impulsively bought a 5 lb bag of barley flour at the store, telling myself, “Of course you will use it.” But, the bag of barley flour sat untouched and unused for a week and then a month and then two months. Recently, I finally decided that it was time that I put it to use and explore the qualities of baking with barley flour.

Barley or Hordeum vulgare is a member of the grass family Poaceae. It is used most commonly in animal feed, but it also an important ingredient in beer, whiskey, and many health foods. Barley is originally from Ethiopia and the southeastern regions of Asia. Both the Greek and Roman cultures highly valued barley for its use in bread making and as an essential food for athletes. Indeed, Gladiators were called hordearii, which translates as “eaters of barley.” In the Middle Ages, many breads were made from a combination of barley and rye due to the scarcity and expense of wheat.

Icelandic Fields of Barley

I’m particularly interested in barley because I worked on a barley farm in Iceland one summer. The farmer used the barley to make all sort of dishes, but I remember his bread the best. While he wouldn’t share the secret recipe, he did use whole barley grains from his farm. The recipe that follows uses barley flour, not whole grains. While it has a different character from the delicious bread the Icelandic farmer made, I believe he would appreciate it as well.

This recipe is adapted from Dan Lepard’s, The Art of Handmade Bread. (His website is

Barley and Rye Bread

Yield: 2100 g

500 g rye sourdough starter, 100% hydration
650 g water
600 g bread flour or strong white flour
200 g whole grain rye flour
200 g barley flour
18 g fine sea salt

Twelve hours before mixing the final dough. Refresh the rye leaven.

In a large bowl, beat the rye sourdough starter with the water. Mix in the bread flour, rye flour, barley flour, and salt. Stir together the mix with your hands until you have a soft, sticky mass. Scrape any remaining dough from your hands, cover, and leave for 10 minutes.

Remove the dough from the bowl and place it on a lightly flour-dusted work-surface. Knead the dough for 10-15 seconds. Clean and dry the bowl, oil it lightly, return the dough to the bowl, and leave it for 10 minutes.

Knead the dough for 10-15 seconds, shape into a ball, and then place the dough back into the bowl. Cover and leave for 10 minutes.

Knead the dough for 10-15 seconds, shape into a ball, and then place the dough back in the bowl. Cover and leave for 30 minutes.

Knead the dough for 10-15 seconds, shape into a ball, and then place the dough back in the bowl. Cover and leave for 1 hour.

Knead the dough for 10-15 seconds, shape into a ball, and then place the dough back in the bowl. Cover and leave for 1 hour.

Divide the dough into two pieces, each roughly 1050 g in weight for two large loaves, or, alternatively, 4 pieces roughly 525 g in weight for four small loaves. Shape each piece into a ball, cover, and leave for 15 minutes. Prepare dishtowels, rubbing them with flour, then using them to line bowls, or use flour-dusted, linen-lined baskets.

Shape the dough into balls, then place each seam-side-up on the flour-dusted cloth (or linen-lined baskets). Cover the upper surface with another cloth, and leave at room temperature until almost doubled in height—about 5 hours.

Preheat oven to 425°F. Dust a peel with semolina and upturn the loaves onto this. Cut a square shape in the top of the loaves using a razor blade or lame. For smaller loaves bake for 20 minutes with steam and another 30-40 minutes without steam. For larger loaves bake for 20 minutes with steam and another 50-60 without steam. Cool completely on a wire rack before eating.

A loaf before eating…

2 Responses to “Barley and Rye Bread”

  1. Just started putting together a brew site after 2 yrs of turning into a brew monster…like your site …..the irony is that I’m allergic to alcohol…1 beer limit at any given time….but the fun of the alchemy involved and the billions of variations has made it a fun hobby ….not to mention how pleased friends are that I need help drinking it. After getting carried away to the point of making all grain beer with some top shelf barley malted grain….I couldn’t help thinking that I need to start making bread as the smell of cooking grain is so appetizing. Has anyone ever tried adding malted grain to a bread recipie? I might have to try that …….I’d be happy to share my results.
    Nice site I’ll be back……..Later Bob

    • cbucholz Says:

      I am so sorry for not getting back to you before this. I have been quite busy the last month or two and am just not getting around to picking up all the loose ends. In regard to your question about malted grains and breads… yes, malted grains and malt are often used in baking. Malt helps to overcome some of the depletion in sugar that take place when bread are fermented for long periods. This depletion causes the loaf to not have a good dark brown crust even after a long bake. Therefore malt and in particular barley malt is often added to breads to ensure good coloring of the crust. Dan Lepard his The Art of Handmade Bread has a good section on spouting and home malting for bakers who want to experiment with it.

      Hope this was of interest and sorry once again for the delayed reply!

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