Bread. With beer. Need I say more?
Okay. Confession time: I hate beer. There, I said it. Please don’t hate me.
I also hate coffee. But — and I don’t think I’m alone on this one — I love things that are flavored with coffee. Coffee ice cream. Coffee frosting. Cappuccino brownies. Frozen cafe mochas? I’d run over pedestrians in the way of the drive-thru of my favorite local coffee shop (and no it’s not that place; it’s Luckman Coffee) for a frozen mocha.
And so it goes with beer. Beer cheese. Beer margaritas. Beer bread. Good. Better. Best.
Now, I love to bake bread. The more difficult the formula (bread-speak for “recipe”), the happier I am. (My current fave takes 3 days to make. Three days, baby.) But there’s a simplicity and richness to beer bread that really speaks to me. It’s the kind of yeast bread you can make at the last minute (if your last minute is two hours before you plan to eat it, that is), and still ‘wow’ the fam.
Yeast bread-baking is as much science as art, for the chemistry of leaveners and alkalies and sugars must be just so for your bread to be just so. There probably isn’t a baker among you – among us – who hasn’t produced a dud of a yeast loaf. Yeast is a difficult master. Not enough of a liquid heat nudge or sugars present for it snack on, it won’t do a thing and you’ll have flat dough. Too much heat too soon, and you’ll kill it. Too short a rise time on the dough, you’ll get a dense brick. Too long, the dough will deflate. Yeesh.
Beer bread, on the other hand, Goldilocks, is much more forgiving. Why? Because the only yeast you need is what’s in the beer, and it’s already done all the precarious bubbling goodness it’s ever gonna do, before it even hit the bottle. You can’t screw it up.
Beer bread is so forgiving that, even though I didn’t have some of the originally-called-for ingredients on hand, and even though I mucked with the quantities of the other ingredients I did have, it still turned out great. The secret is to know what you can tweak, and what you should follow to the letter of the law.
Just before I started this recipe, I discovered the lone onion I had was starting to rot. D’oh! The only other allium I had on hand was a shallot. It didn’t quite measure out to a cup, but it was still delicious.
You can also vary the amount and kind of cheese you use. I believe the original recipe called for 1 cup, but, as you can see from the photo above, I went with over 2 loosely-packed cups of a mixture of cheeses. I loves me cheese, so, it’s impossible for me to disappoint myself with an XL dose of cheese).
Don’t vary the amount of beer, salt or baking soda. Remember the chemistry thing? These ingredients will determine whether your loaf is, well, loaf-like, or slab-like.
Finally, what beer did I use? I usually pick Guinness. But this time, I went with a Guinness-relative, Smithwick’s. And I’m glad I did. It has the stouty goodness of Guinness, but with a brighter flavor. If I were a beer drinker, I think this would go down deliciously with a selection of aged cheddar cheeses. But as I’m not, I’ll just have to enjoy my beer and my cheese in a warm, dense, chewy loaf of bread. Oh, poor me.
|Cheesy Beer Bread|
|1 1/2||cups||onions or shallots, diced|
|2||cups||aged cheeses, grated (I used a mixture of aged gouda, sharp cheddar and asiago fresco – good stuff)|
|1||12 ounce||bottle beer|
|cooking spray for loaf pan, optional (Know your bakeware: if you have a non-stick loaf pan, you might not need to prep your pan with cooking spray. Personally, I don’t go near the stuff, as it will eventually ruin your pans. I also don’t like to use butter or shortening because I believe it transfers to the dough as it’s heating and leaves a sort of burned skin on the loaf.)|
Equipment: Mixing bowl, 9×5″ loaf pan, wire rack.
1. Preheat oven to 375°.
2. Heat 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion or shallot and 1 tablespoon of the sugar, and sauté 15 minutes or until tender and lightly caramelized (you don’t want it to go all the way brown, because the dices on the surface of the loaf will overcook during the bake). Cool to room temperature.
3. Combine flour, the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar, baking powder, and salt in a bowl; make a well in center of mixture.
4. Add onions/shallots, cheese, and beer; stir just until moist. Don’t overwork it.
5. Coat the loaf pan with cooking spray, if using. Spoon batter into the pan and spread evenly using a spatula or spoon. Baste the top with the melted butter.
6. Bake for 55-60 minutes, or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.
7. Cool 5 minutes in pan on a wire rack; then remove from pan (it’s a firm loaf, so just turn the pan upside down on the wire rack, then upright the loaf). Cool completely before cutting.
(Okay, you can sneak a slice while it’s still warm; it’ll just be a little more difficult to slice – make sure you use a sharp serrated knife. Not that I would know this tip from personal experience. I never cave to temptation like that, no sir.)