Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Central European "Barches"

My interest in the 18th & 19th century bread recipes comes from trying to find as many family recipes handed down( if any of you cousins have any, I'd love a copy!) as I can while I've been researching my family history, as well as my own bread baking. A "teacup of yeast" in old bread recipes referred to sourdough starter (commercial yeast was not invented until the late 19th century and the only leavening available at the time was wild yeast; sourdough).

"Barches" was a European name for challah, an acronym of the phrase birkat HaShem hi teasher (the L-rd's blessing brings riches). Central Europe (where most of my family was from: Galicia and Hungary - both part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire which today includes Hungary, Slovakia, Poland to name a few) rye flour was and still is used to bake traditional sourdough breads. Since rye flour doesn't have suffiecient gluten, it is mixed with some other wheat flour. In the 18th and 19th centuries it was usually spelt flour. Barches are usually a wetter dough because of the sourdough starter instead of dry (or cake) yeast breads.

Typically the barches were started on Thursday night, making the sponge with your existing sourdough starter (flour and water normally, but some places add some chopped onion to help it ferment). It was then added to the rest of the barches ingredients on Friday for making our Shabbat bread.
I did find a recipe for Rich Sourdough Barches recipe from Inside the Jewish Bakery, but they use bread flour and dry yeast. I decided to make my recipe with my rye sourdough starter I already have in the refrigerator and use ry and spelt flours - both I have in the house (I always have rye flour in the freezer and try to also keep some spelt flour in the freezer too) and raw brown sugar. [In the 16th century Rabbi Yosef Karo, the author of the Shulchan Aruch, the code of Jewish law, mentions the use of sugar mixed with the juice of lemons and water by Jews in Cairo, Egypt to make lemonade on Shabbat. (Orech Chayim Hilhot Shabbat)]

Of course I use my ceramic bowl when making bread dough. I don't need to find a warm place in the kitchen in this weather (every place in the kitchen is a "warm spot"), so I'll just cover it with a towel and put a packages of matches on the towel.
I decided to make a bunch of rolls since it's just me and no one to share a complete challah with. At one time my best friend used to enjoy my challahs not made from white flour. Since she was ill, she doesn't eat as healthy and I don't know if she'd enjoy this challah or not. I really was thinking of making a larger challah and putting it in the freezer to bring over on a Shabbat when we would be together. Oh well, I'll ask her the next time I decide to make rye challahs again. Oh well, I'll ask her the next time I decide to make rye challahs again.

Hopefully, I'll have someone to pass down my version of an 18th century barches (challah) recipe to, continuing the tradition.

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