Anyone who knows me (or has read at least half the entries in this blog) knows that one of my favorite things to work with in the bake shop is alcohol- beer, wine, liquor, liqueurs, and so on.
Why? Simple- Alcohol (liquor and beer in particular) have so many deviations, flavor profiles, and attributes to choose from- all based upon the fermentation of sugars, and how it’s done with what materials. Sugars, fermentation, and flavor? Sounds like baking to me!
While I have no problem dropping some rum into a vanilla sponge cake, or whiskey into devil’s food, far and away my favorite type of alcohol to bake with is beer. The flavors of the grain, the bitterness of the hops, and signature aroma of the fermentation from the brewers yeast are- for obvious reasons- delightfully similar to the flavors and smells of baked goods, especially breads and quickbreads (muffins, scones and the like.)
With the astounding variations in beer itself- from the bright and bitter India Pale Ale to the dark, heavy depths of porters and stouts- and the variations of flavor possible within those, one can devote a lifetime to finding all the wonderful ways beer and baking combine.
One of my favorite recipes is for a simple beerbread. This is a quickbread- meaning that it is leavened (raised) with baking powder, and therefore tends to go stale much more quickly than yeast-leavened breads. This simple recipe allows you an extremely forgiving blank canvas where you can experiment with different kinds of beers and their various flavors.
Yield- 1 loaf
3 c. all purpose flour
1 tbs. salt
1 tbs. baking powder
1/2 c. sugar
12 oz. bottle beer
2 tbs melted butter
Herbs/spices/ additions you like (as long as they do not weigh down the bread)
Preheat oven to 375 F. Grease an ordinary 9 x 5 loaf pan.
Mix dry ingredients together in a large bowl, and pour in bottle of beer. Herbs and spices should go into the dry ingredients, additions (berries, nuts, etc) get mixed in here. Mix well until no dry ingredients remain. The dough should be sticky.
Pour dough in the loaf pan, garnish top as desired (seeds, berries, sanding sugar, etc) and bake for 55 minutes. At the last three minutes of baking, brush the top of the loaf with the melted butter, and then continue baking for the remaining three minutes.
Remove from oven and allow to cool completely before removing the loaf from the pan.
I have found that darker, heartier beers (porters and stouts) tend to make the bread rich and molasses-flavored, while pale ales and more bitter beers will impart a sourness similar to sourdough.
One of my favorite things to do is get two bottles of a given beer. One will go to making the bread, the other I’ll drink and try to describe the flavors present. From that, one can pair flavors together and make additions to the bread that will bring those flavors out. For example, Blue Moon is an excellent unfiltered wheat beer that pairs well with citrus, so the addition of candied orange peel might be a good idea in the bread.
Be creative, and have fun!