Champagne Bread

Week Twenty-Five: Beer Bread Week!

For my final beer bread variation this week, I wanted to test a hypothesis.  As you may have read yesterday, I determined that the main thing that makes beer bread so magically delicious is the beer, mainly because of the malt it contains.  But like any good hypothesis, this too must stand up to the rigors of experimentation.  To the kitchen!

Having already experimented to failure with a non-alcoholic fizzy drink, root beer, I wanted to try this bread with a non-beer fizzy alcoholic drink.  And in that category, I can think of pretty much one thing: champagne.

[Allow me to make a quick distinction.  In the parlance of our times, the word "champagne" is commonly used to refer to any sparkling white wine.  Legally speaking, however, the term is restricted to those wines grown in the Champagne region of France.  And no, it doesn't matter if you use the lowercase or the uppercase "c" in the spelling; it's still a restricted term.   I use the word here because it's immediately clear what I'm talking about, and the word "champagne" is less unwieldy than "sparkling white wine".  I'm just writing a blog; I'm not going to start bottling wine and slapping the word on the label.  I figure I'm therefore safe from the EU's lawyers.  Moving on.]

The idea I’m testing out here is this: how important is the malt from the beer in beer bread?  Having failed (in my opinion) with the use of root beer, is it really so important to use beer itself?  What happens when you use an alcoholic beverage that doesn’t contain malt, like champagne?

To make a long story short, it’s better to use the beer.  To make a short story long, it’s better most likely because of the malt.  The difference between champagne bread and beer bread is most akin to the difference between a straight dough yeast bread and an autolysed dough yeast bread.  You’re familiar with those terms, right?  No?  All right, sit back.

The “straight dough” method in breadmaking is when you mix all your ingredients together at once, make a dough, and proceed to knead it, let it rise, shape it, rise, bake, etc.  It’s the fastest way to make a yeast bread, but unfortunately doesn’t bring a whole lot of complex flavor to the party.  But if, after mixing your flour and water together briefly (sometimes the yeast too, but never the salt), you give the rough mixture a 15 or 20 minute cat nap (this is the autolyse!), you develop all sorts of complex flavors that make your bread just thaaaat much better.  The reasons for this are awfully technical, but here’s a rudimentary explanation.  And yes, you can do this with any yeast bread recipe.  It’s the easiest way to take your bread to the next level.

But what it means in the end is that your bread quite simply tastes better.  There’s no other way to say it.  And that, Gentle Reader, is why you should use a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon in this bread, and save the champagne for yourself.  I know, it sounds So Much More Romantic! to use champagne, but trust me.  You’ll never be able to tell the difference as far as flavor differences between the liquids go, but you sure will catch those very subtle flavors from the malt in the beer.  Without them, this bread just tastes (ahem) flat.

Just so you all know, this has been a really fun week!  I’ve often wondered about many of these ideas that I’ve been testing out these last few days, and it’s been pretty cool to test them out (yes, I am such a baking geek).  Some questions remain – what if you used a wine spritzer? what about plain sparkling water with malt powder? – but I think my beer bread curiosity has been fairly well sated for the time being.  At the end of it all, I’ve found that sometimes, you just shouldn’t mess with perfection.  Original beer bread is a winner, although whole wheat beer bread comes in a pretty close second place.  I guess the moral of the story is, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  But it sure is fun to experiment!

Champagne Bread
Makes one 9 x 5 inch loaf

3 cups + 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
4 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled slightly
12 ounces champagne, at room temperature (see note 3 below)

1.  Preheat oven to 350º F.  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 a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, salt, and sugar.  Add the butter and champagne, 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 at least 10 minutes on a rack before slicing.

Notes:
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.  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.

3.  You can use any sparkling white wine available, such as cava, prosecco, or even real Champagne – although I suggest drinking the good stuff, and not ever cooking with it unless it’s gone horribly flat.

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