Week Twenty-Five: Beer Bread Week!
Welcome to Beer Bread Week! When I made beer bread back in April, I ended up with several questions in my mind, mostly regarding the role of beer in the baking process, but also regarding the outcome when different dry ingredients were used, or other flavorings introduced. In an attempt to find out, I’m devoting this week to variations on beer bread.
My first variation this week is to use a non-alcoholic beverage in place of the beer. The main question I had regarding the basic beer bread recipe was the specific reason you use beer, rather than any other liquid. Obvious possibilities would include the carbonation beer has, which would lighten the texture; and the flavor of beer, which would certainly taste better than water, which tastes like nothin’. Tackling two birds with one stone, I decided to use a bottle of Sparkling Birch Soda instead of beer. I thought about using sparkling water, but was worried about the lack of sweetness, so I elected to use a soda instead.
Okay, you caught me. This isn’t actually “root beer bread”, it’s “birch soda bread”. But if you’ve never had birch soda before (which I hadn’t; apparently it’s a Northern thing), it tastes almost exactly like root beer. Besides, I thought “root beer bread” would evoke more of the original recipe than would “birch soda bread”, which brings Irish soda bread to mind. To avoid confusion, I’m calling it root beer bread. So there.
[As a side note, I found Izze brand Sparkling Birch Soda at a Whole Foods here in Chicago. What I didn't know then was that it was apparently a test run of the flavor. They don't even have it on their website! I found one web forum in which one poster mentioned that Izze had sent an email in late April announcing three new flavors, including Sparkling Birch. As of June 15, however, the Izze website, or any other easily-discoverable website for that matter, carries not a trace of this flavor. Mysterious!]
The bread that I ended up with helps answer a few of my questions, but also raises additional questions. The flavor of birch (or root beer) was quite potent. It smelled like birch (or root beer), and definitely tasted like birch (or root beer). I am not a fan of root beer. It’s just a little too sticky sweet for my palate, or it conjures the notion of sticky-sweetness. Either way, I’m not big on it. If you like root beer, though, you’d probably love this. So the issue of flavor was somewhat settled; obviously, the flavor of the liquid impacts the flavor of the end product. However, that still doesn’t answer why, when I first made beer bread this year, the flavor of lime and vermouth dissipated completely in the end product. Still a mystery!
The second question that was raised was regarding the texture. Usually, beer bread ends up fluffy, crumbly, and soft. This time, the bread was soft and fluffy, but it was also rather gummy. A gummy texture can happen in any bread, if cut too early, while too warm; but this bread was fully cooled by the time I sliced into it. So therefore, beer must have something in it that birch soda (or root beer) does not, something that affects the texture of the bread. What that is, I’m not certain. Research is in order!
So the final verdict on this bread is that you’re probably better off using real beer, but soda isn’t a bad choice, exactly. Soda has the carbonation needed for a fluffy texture, and the sweetness and flavor to make for an interesting taste; but there’s still something missing, something that makes the original beer bread so simply perfect. Is it the alcohol, or something else? Perhaps over the course of the week, I’ll discover an answer. Stay tuned!
Root Beer Bread
Makes one 9 x 5 inch loaf
3 cups + 2 teaspoons self-rising flour (see note 1 below)
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled slightly
12 ounces root beer, or birch beer or soda, at room temperature
1. Preheat oven to 350º F. Lightly grease a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan, and sprinkle with 2 teaspoons flour. Shake the flour around until the whole interior is coated, then knock out the excess.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. Add the butter and root beer, and stir with a spoon or spatula until moist and just combined. Pour into prepared loaf pan.
3. Bake at 350º F for 40 to 45 minutes, or until golden brown on top. Remove from pan. Cool about 10 minutes on a rack before slicing.
1. If you don’t have self-rising flour, use the following instead: 3 cups all-purpose flour + 4 1/2 teaspoons baking powder + 3/8 teaspoons salt (or 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt).
2. After the bread is baked, loosen with a knife if needed, and rap the edge of the pan on the counter to release the loaf.
3. This recipe can easily be made into muffins instead of a whole loaf. Grease and flour a muffin tin as directed, and fill each cup about halfway full. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from tin and cool on a rack.