Olfactory memories, family traditions, family heirlooms - a roasted barley bread to awaken all these

The moment I saw this bread on Paula's blog  I knew I would have to bake it soon. Like her, the scent of roasted barley wakes up inside me memories of my grandparents and holidays spent at their house smack in the center of Lisbon, near Campo de Santana and Jardim do Torel. I went there very recently, and it was like a bittersweet trip down memory lane. There used to be a patisserie where my grandfather once bought a pack of candied liquour filled Easter almonds without the almond inside to gift me and my sister for Easter because we didn't like the regular candied almonds. Imagine a sugary hard coat decorated with the sweetest of colours and little flowers or leaves, and inside it a gush of almond liquour. I tasted one and thought it was divine; ended up eating the whole pack in one go and got drunk. I was eight or nine, at the time. My grandad had no idea I would gobble down a dozen of those sweets at one go. The patisserie isn't there anymore. The playground where I broke my chin is still there, the giant slide from which I fell is gone now, hazardous as it was. There are no peacocks in the garden anymore, but huge roosters and chicken roam free.

My grandparents house was a late victorian first floor with a garden at the back where I spent my afternoons when it was sunny. It had a huge kitchen with three pantries, one of them was my grandmother's sewing studio. The TV room was an inner room just off the large dining room, and it had no natural light. It was small, and cosy and filled with books. It had a hidden (behind velvet drapes) door to the large study, which was also an inner room that connected with my bedroom and my grandparents bedroom. The studio was filled with chinese furniture my grandad brought home from his stint in Macao. The furniture belonged to his own dad, from when he had been Governor of said province. Back in the days of colonialism, of course. My mother still has those pieces in her house, they're massive and dark, with inlaid mother of pearl, they're beautiful and haunted my childhood dreams. That study doubled up as bedroom for my sister, as well, and from there we took off to the kitchen every morning when the smell of toast and roasted barley with milk woke us up.

I miss that house, because of the memories yes, but mostly the architecture of it. It was such a beautiful piece of real estate, I often fantasised buying it and fixing it up. The rooms would be turned large and airy and light, and the garden would be a haven. Alas, it was never to be, I'd never live in the center of Lisbon, I actually try to stay away from it as much as I can. Not a fan, no, and some places, some memories are best left to that: memories. I was so happy there, playing in the gardens nearby, walking those streets with my grandfather - my grandmother didn't go out much, later in life. I was so happy there, playing around in those rooms and reading books that weren't quite age appropriate, and indulging in warm cups of milk with roasted barley in the morning, with a side of hot toast with butter melting over it. As soon as I saw this bread, I knew I had to bake it if only for the olfactory memories it would certainly stir up. And so it was. It took me a while to buy the roasted barley, I could only find huge packs of it and I wanted a small one, but in the end I caved in and bought the big flask.

As soon as I opened said flask, the scent hit me and didn't do anything. I was confused, thinking I had it all wrong for sure, my grandparents certainly had roasted barley in their house and I drank my milk with it or with cacao - not chocolate, real cacao! But those memories were not stirred nor awaken, and I was sad about it. Until my husband decided to make himself a "barley coffee" and the kiddo asked if he could have one as well. As soon as the hot water was poured over the barley, the scent filled the kitchen and I knew I had it then. If I only shut my eyes I was transported to my eight year old self, lying in bed in my room at my grandparents', waking up to the smell of fresh roast barley coffee and toast. I would jump up from bed, suddenly starved, eager to start up my day, for I knew grandad would take me to the park so I could see the peacocks and play around, he would take me to the bakery to get fresh bread, we'd play a board game and card games after lunch, I'd read for hours on end or play dress up the dolls with my sister. I jumped up from bed knowing I would have such an amazing day ahead of me.

So I just knew I needed to bake this bread, if only to infuse my own son with memories of the redolent scent of the barley, the warmth it brought. I'm selfish that way, that I wish my own kid to have his own set of olfactory memories that stand as some sort of handed down heirloom from my own ancestry. Those will not be my memories, from my childhood, those will be his, and when he is a grown men, perhaps with children of his own, those memories will be so great he will want to recapture them and share them with his children. Perhaps he will buy a flask of roasted barley and bake a bread, or brew a fake coffee, perhaps he will be transported to his childhood with a smile upon his lips and think to himself he was a happy kid, he was a deeply loved kid, he had a great time. And maybe he will want to give the same to his children, and perpetuate some family traditions we might have handed him down without even noticing, perhaps he will carry on not just the family name but the family feel, the warm, sweet feel of what it should mean to really be a family.

So here's the recipe, my version, of course. I tweaked the original a little because I like mixing up flours, and I had barley flour around that I thought would complement the roasted barley so well. Feel free to omit or substitute for spelt, or rye if you wish to.

  • 300 gr strong bread flour
  • 100 gr barley flour
  • 75 gr ground roasted barley
  • 20 gr baker's yeast
  • 7,5 gr salt
  • 350 gr water, lukewarm
  • 1/2 tbsp olive oil
Start by combining the flours, the roast barley and the salt in a large bowl. Make a hole in the middle and reserve. Mix the baker's yeast into the luke warm flour and pour into the hole you made in the middle of the flours. Using a wooden spoon, stir so you incorporate all the ingredients, but don't be too worried with getting a homogeneous dough. Pour the olive oil on top of the dough and using your hands, roll it into a ball, so you coat it all with the grease. Place it back on the bow, cover with plastic wrap and store in a warm place. You should let it sit for twelve hours, I left it overnight for eighteen straight hours. Don't go over the twenty four hour mark, though. After this amount of time, the dough will have doubled in size and it will look bubbly. Sprinkle a marbled surface with flour and pour the dough onto it, spreading it over and covering it with a little dusting of flour. Now fold each of the four ends towards the center - right, left, up and down - press lightly and repeat this process. Turn the dough uspide down, round it up with your hands, place it back in the bowl and cover loosely with plastic wrap and a kitchen cloth. Now you must let it rise for two more hours. Half an hour before the rising time has elapsed, preheat your oven at 200º and place an oven safe pot in it. I don't have Dutch ovens nor cast iron pots, I used a regular Ikea pot that is oven safe, I have been oven cooking i that pot for a while now and it does the job. Once the dough has been rising for two hours, carefully remove the pot from the oven and place the dough inside it. NOw, what I did do was get the dough onto a floured baking parchement sheet before, then I placed the baking parchement inside the pot with the dough. Shake the pot so the dough will spread - oven mittens on, please! - and score the top with a knife. Cover with a lid and bake for thirty minutes. Once this amount of time has elapsed, remove the lid and let the bread bake for another fifteen, twenty minutes, until it looks golden brown and crusty. Remove and allow to cool on a rack. Serve with butter or some nice, thinly sliced prosciuto, it's food heaven, I tell you!


  1. Olha, antes de mais obrigada por teres sempre uma palavra de ânimo.
    Acho que este é um dos mais bonitos post teus que já li. Na casa dos meus avós maternos tb havia sala da costura, o escritório do meu avô, e uma sala de visitas! Eles mudaram-se depois para um apartamento mais pequeno, a casa vendida, não sobre nada. é hoje um lidl. Nem gosto de passar por lá.
    Mas...é mocambo? é brasa? é farinha pensal? em casa dos meus avós so se bebia chá ou café ... A minha tia fez uma vez uma espécie de papa com farinha pensal..será isso?

    1. É tipo mocambo, sim, é cevada torrada solúvel. Dá uma cor aos pães que é de chorar de tão lindos, até no pão de soda ando a pôr!!

  2. Acredito que as memórias são a MELHOR coisa que um ser humano tem...e perpetuar tradições, sentimentos dentro da família é perfeito...


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