Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Beer Bread

Beer. Bread. Together. As one.
I cannot tell you how happy I am that I was finally introduced this epic culinary creation. Seeing that beer and bread are two of my favorite things, it seems as though I would have anxiously anticipated making this recipe after extensive research and taste tests. But the reality is, this recipe was actually the farthest from premeditated as you can get. It came about in an unanticipated moment; a type of moment when culinary creativity can reach its utmost potential.

It's the type of moment when you know you want to make something, but the inspiration comes so quickly that there was no prior preparation for it (and that includes shopping). Due to this spontaneity, you are therefore left to the already existing stock of the closest pantry to see what seemingly unrelated ingredients can come together to create something fantastic. It's a test to see if you can make something work, and work well, using only the things you already have.
It’s kind of like as if you were trying to survive on a desert island. Only there's no island. Or SOS calls. Hopefully.
I had decided that I wanted to make bread (...shocking, I know). But after a failed attempt to locate any yeast, I was left to dig deeper into my archives of culinary know-how. Luckily my friend chimed in during my active brainstorm throughout the kitchen. "What about beer?" he suggested.
Beer....beer....ah, yes, beer! Brilliant, I say. Yeast is a pivotal ingredient in beer production just as it is in most breads - therefore basically making beer a liquid form of bread in many ways.

In very basic terms, yeast plays an important role in the chemical processes of both beer production and bread making to enhance flavor, produce alcohol, and release carbon dioxide. In beer the alcohol is contained, but in yeast breads it is mainly cooked away, but with no loss of that yeasty fermented flavor that makes us all swoon at the smell and taste of freshly baking bread. And the carbon dioxide? In beer, if carbonated naturally, creates that bubbly efferrvesence to your pint, and in bread, the gas is released into the flour in the dough, filling your bread with delicious, chewy air bubbles in between the strands of gluten.

Bottom line: Yeast is behind everything that is awesome about both beer and bread. Be sure to thank it over your next brew or sandwich, since yeast is why both will be so tasty.

So after reaching this brilliant yeast epiphany, it was clear that Beer Bread was the decided creation on the horizon. And besides this recipe being a conglomeration of so many incredible ingredients all in one loaf (beer, bread, cheese, ground mustard, aromatics...), it is so easy to put together that it's almost silly. It has the steps and time appeal of a quick bread (the baking powder assists with the rising), but has the flavor and aroma of a yeasted bread that would normally take much more time to rise and develop.

And when you take it out of the oven, a loaf scented with a hint of beer that is encapsulated in a buttery, crunchy crust awaits you. It sits there, teasing you, and once slightly cooled, it is ready to be sliced into to reveal the scattered pieces of caramelized shallots, fragrant garlic, and melted savory cheese.
It is impossible for me to read that sentence and not have my mouth water.

You can certainly enjoy this bread on it's own, but once you bite into it your mind will instantly know it's undoubted potential for other applications. It practically begs to be dipped into a chili or soup, or put in a toaster, or to be bookends for a healthily sized barbecue pulled pork sandwich.

I've already started to imagine versions with corn flour or corn meal, perhaps some whole wheat flour, fresh herbs (cheddar/dill, sundried tomato basil), even different cheeses... and not to mention all of the different types of beer you could test out with each loaf! You could get quite a different outcome making this bread with a Guinness vs. a light lager. Maybe try an oatmeal stout with some oats scattered within the bread...or a porter with a hint of chocolate or coffee...
Here we go with the mouth watering again.

Clearly I need to get cooking. And so do you.

Beer Bread
Olive oil
1 small shallot, cut into a small dice
1 clove garlic, minced
3 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground mustard
1 cup grated cheese (I used a cheddar/smoked gouda combo)
12 oz of your favorite beer (yes, that is one can's worth)
2-3 tablespoons butter, melted
Heat the oven to 375 degrees and grease a bread loaf pan with butter and flour or nonstick cooking spray.
Heat a splash of olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat. Add the shallot and cook until soft, and slightly brown if desired (caramelized). Add the garlic and stir for 1 minute until fragrant (you do not want the garlic to brown or else it will be bitter). Set aside to cool.
In a large bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, and ground mustard. Mix in the cheese and shallot/garlic mixture. Add the beer and stir to combine. The dough will be sticky.
Transfer dough into greased loaf pan. Pour melted butter over the dough. Place loaf into middle of oven followed by a baking sheet below it to catch any butter that falls out of the pan as the bread rises. Bake for 60-75 minutes, or until the bread has risen and formed a golden brown, cragged crust and a toothpick inserted in the middle of the loaf comes out clean or with only a few crumbs attached. Let cool - for as long as you can stand it - on a wire rack.

Slice, crack a beer, enjoy.

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