Week Twenty-Five: Beer Bread Week!
For today’s variation, I wanted to experiment with the leavening in beer bread. I know, I know, half the charm of classic beer bread is its speed - delicious bread can be yours in less than 1 hour! – and that almost stopped me from including this variation. But what can I say; I was curious! I wanted to see what would happen if you substituted one kind of leavening (yeast) for the original kind (chemical), keeping everything else the same.
Some of you more experienced breadmakers out there, after looking at the original recipe, might be able to see one major problem with that approach. I, however, was moving too quickly and not thinking things through enough to see it until I was in the thick of it.
Have you figured it out yet? That’s right, it’s the liquid to flour ratio, or hydration levels. The original recipe uses 12 ounces of liquid for 13 1/2 ounces (3 cups) of flour. That’s pretty darn close to 100% hydration; or “soup”, for all you non-bakers out there. Dough soup doesn’t exactly make for good yeast bread. Luckily, I caught myself before I added in the whole amount of warmed beer, when there were about 4 ounces left (give or take). Yes, 4 ounces of warm, flat, American lager. I absolutely hate wasting food of any sort, but that stuff went down the drain.
Another problem I avoided (but only barely, if I’m honest) was the mixing procedure. “Just replace the leavener!,” says I. “Keep everything else the same!,” says I. But after dutifully stirring all the ingredients together by hand, I began to cover it for its first rise, and realized that there was certainly not enough gluten formed to hold the yeast-gases in. I’m really not sure what I was thinking; I darn well know better than to attempt a yeast bread with no kneading (ahem – with as short a rise as I was willing to allow at 8 pm). “Dummy!,” says I, and poured the mess into the stand mixer.
Yes, I said “poured”. At this point, I’m still using 3 cups of flour, per the original recipe. Okay, maybe it was “scraped”; but it certainly wasn’t the tidier “transferred”. I added in another cup or so of flour, and kneaded with the dough hook until I saw those familiar little strands and webs of gluten begin to take shape. I left the dough very wet on purpose (to the point that hand-kneading would’ve been impossible), to keep as close to the original hydration level as possible. Foolish, maybe; but it actually ended up being okay.
The dough rose goopily over the edge of the pan, and didn’t have a whole lot of oven spring, but that’s to be expected with such a wet dough, and the use of all-purpose flour. Because of the high percentage of liquid, the holes in the dough were fairly large, and were pleasantly evenly-distributed. The crust softened after standing, but it remained crustier than the average store-bought sandwich bread. The flavor, however, was the big surprise. It was quite tangy, with a very pleasant sourdough taste, and had quite a depth of flavor. If you’re a member of my immediate family, it tasted surprisingly and suspiciously like Mamaw’s sourdough bread. If you’re not a member of my family, Mamaw’s sourdough bread is awesome.
But how?! This was a standard straight-dough method (i.e: mix everything at one time, rise, shape, rise, bake); there was no autolyse, overnight starter, slow rise, or any of the normal tricks I use to achieve this type of complex flavor. I’ve made similar straight-dough breads before, and they sure as heck didn’t taste this good – even taking the use of sugar and butter into account. There was only one possible culprit here: the beer. To the internets!
I’ll cut to the chase. After some research, I determined that one thing beer has - that water, milk, soda, or most other liquids don’t have - is malt. Of course! Malt is often added in breadmaking to improve flavor, texture, and keeping ability of bread. And since malt is the basic building block of beer, it makes perfect sense to add malt via the liquid, by adding a can of beer. Mystery solved!
So to sum up: beer makes bread taste better, especially when you actually put it in the dough (yuk, yuk). Leavening type doesn’t matter much, it just depends on what you want in the end, crumbly quick bread, or slice-able sandwich-type bread. Use enough flour. Knead yeast bread enough, but don’t over-mix quick bread. Use your head and think things through. These are the lessons I’ve learned today. I’d call that a success! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go have another slice.
Yeasted Beer Bread
Makes one 9 x 5 inch loaf
18 ounces (about 4 cups) + 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour, divided
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
3 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled slightly
8 ounces light beer, at room temperature, or slightly warmer
1. Lightly grease a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan, and sprinkle with 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour. Shake the flour around until the whole interior is coated, then knock out the excess.
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together 15 ounces (about 3 1/2 cups) of the flour, the salt, and the sugar. Whisk in the yeast. Add the butter and beer, and mix with the dough hook at low speed until combined. Increase the speed to medium, and knead until cohesive and elastic, about 7 to 9 minutes. Add the remaning flour as needed to achieve the proper consistency; however, dough should be slack. Scrape down any dough stuck to the walls of the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 50 minutes.
3. When fully risen, fold the dough over itself in a tri-fold, as though you were folding a letter. This will deflate it. Transfer the dough to the prepared loaf pan, and cover loosely with a lightly oiled piece of plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 45 minutes. Preheat oven to 350º F.
3. Bake at 350º F for 35 to 45 minutes, or until golden brown on top, and an instant thermometer registers 200º F when inserted into the center. Remove from pan. Cool thoroughly on a rack before slicing.
1. After the bread is baked, loosen the edges with a knife if needed, and gently knock the edge of the pan on the counter to release the loaf.
2. Feel free to add more flour than stated if you prefer a firmer dough.