Friday, April 4, 2014

Beer Bread Turns Out Perfect

I  mentioned a few days ago that I have been trying to prepare for the arrival of 4 guys as guests here next week. Making bread and getting it frozen so it's available at a moment's notice is one way to prepare. I saw a recipe for a bread using a whole bottle of beer, and thought, "most guys like beer, so this should be good". My husband is one exception - he hates beer. Even so, I decided to give it a try and see what the flavor was like. At worst, my husband wouldn't eat it. At best, everyone would love it. 
Beer Bread

I took the concept from that same cookbook that has so often steered me wrong in past, but with the amount of experience I have with making bread, I can usually see when there are problems and correct before they go too far wrong. Sometimes, there needs to be more tweaking, such as with the Cinnamon Raisin Bread I made last week. Eventually it comes out right or I give up the recipe concept as a no-go and leave it at that. The Cinnamon Raisin Bread was wonderfully tasty; no problem there. The only real difficulty was how it rose gigantically and spilled sticky cinnamon sugar butter all over the oven. Easily fixed: make 3 loaves instead of 2 from the recipe.

The Sponge: just mixed; after 30 minutes note bubbles

Back to the Beer Bread. Making a sponge to start with is a nice way to avoid having to knead for a full 8 or 10 minutes. The action of the yeast in the sponge takes on a part of the process. I made the sponge, and let it set for 30 minutes, though 45 minutes would also have been fine. You can see here how it is nice and bubbly after that time. The beer is slightly heated before using it in the sponge. I warmed it on the stove, while prepping the other ingredients. It takes seconds to whisk the sponge ingredients together, just until they are combined. Then you let the yeast do the work for you. After the sponge grows, you add the rest of the flour and knead for another 5 minutes or so, until the dough comes together nicely. 

This recipe uses a long, slow chilled rise after the loaves are formed, which really gives the yeast time to work slowly, and may also contribute to the overall tangy flavor of the bread. You will need room in the fridge for this long rise. Or, if you are still having freezing weather like we are - I set the pan, well covered, in my "sun room," which is at about 50 degrees. All this cold weather is good for something, after all. I set the loaves  onto a chair, and tented flour sack towels from over from the back of the chair to cover the bread. I didn't want the towels to stick to the loaves and chance deflating when uncovered. If you begin making the bread in the afternoon, you may allow the bread to do its slow rise overnight. I started the loaves early in the morning, and baked after 6 hours in the chilled sun room and the bread was done at supper time.

French Bread Pan
French Bread Pan
I have a large French Bread pan I acquired many many years ago, and it is wonderful to use. It keeps the bread nicely rounded and it is long; probably about 15 or more inches. I used the French bread pan to make my Beer Bread, forming the loaves nice and long. I lined the pan with parchment. This was a new idea; something I had never done before with this pan. The pan is perforated so the heat can really get to the crust and make it nice and crisp. Parchment is also porous, so I just gave it a try. I sprayed the parchment with cooking spray before setting the long, formed loaves into the wells. 

After all, the bread came out with a far crispier crust than I have ever managed previously with any loaf. The finished bread did have a slight bitterness at the end, but tastes wonderful. I shared an end with my husband and he liked it very much, despite that slight bitterness. I cannot truly taste beer, but it is evident that there is something very different in the flavor from other French Bread or other loaves of this sort. Here is my recipe.

Beer Bread - Just out of the oven
Beer Bread - Just out of the oven

Beer Bread

makes 2 long loaves

1 (12 ounce) bottle of beer
1 tablespoon + 1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
pinch of sugar
1 cup warm water, 100 to 115 degrees
1 cup bread flour

2 cups bread flour
2 teaspoons salt
up to 2 cups more bread flour

1/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt

Make the Sponge: Heat the beer briefly to about 110 to 115 degrees, or until it feels nicely warm, not hot, on your pinkie finger. Set aside. In a large bowl, or the bowl of a heavy duty stand mixer, whisk together the 1 cup bread flour, pinch of sugar and salt. Whisk in the warm water and then the beer until the mixture is smooth, about 1 minute or less. Set the sponge aside to rise for 30 to 45 minutes, until bubbly. Do not try to speed this process.

Once the sponge is ready, if using the mixer, attach the bread hook and add in the first 2 cups of bread flour and the salt and slowly start the mixer. If working by hand, add these ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon. Once the spoon becomes difficult to work with, switch to kneading by hand. Once these ingredients are well incorporated, begin adding more flour, 1/2 cup at a time, up to 2 cups, as needed. Knead until smooth. This process should take about a total of 5 minutes. 

Loaves risen, after 6 hours; ready to bake
Set the dough into a greased bowl, turning once to coat. If using a heavy duty mixer, just remove the dough hook and leave the dough in the bowl. Cover the bowl with a towel and set aside to rise until about tripled in volume. Do not try to speed the rising process. The rising time should be about 2 hours or so.

Once risen, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide the dough into two equal pieces. Gently knead out the large air bubbles and roll each piece into a log shape, then using palms and a rocking motion, roll out to long narrow loaves. If you own a French bread pan, grease the pan. Line with parchment if desired. Alternatively, grease a baking sheet and strew with cornmeal; set the formed loaves on the baking sheet, well apart. Brush the loaves with oil, then gently dust with a little flour. Make 1/4 inch deep slashes diagonally across the loaves, about 4-inches apart. Cover the loaves lightly and set in the refrigerator for 6 to 12 hours for a very slow rise.

To Bake: Preheat oven to 425 (400 on Convection). Remove the bread from the refrigerator. Mix together the 1/4 cup water with the 1/4 teaspoon salt. Using a pastry brush, gently brush this over the loaves. Set the pan in the oven and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, brushing with the salt water once more about half way through the baking time.  When done, the loaves sound hollow when tapped. If you own an instant thermometer, the internal temperature should be about 204 degrees. 

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.