Week Twenty-Five: Beer Bread Week!
For today’s beer bread variation, I decided to play around with flavorings more than type of ingredient. I knew I wanted to try using a dark beer, like a stout, but I also wanted to try something a little more interesting than just switching out the beer. I decided to introduce one of my favorite ingredients: chocolate. Chocolate and stout go together like frick and frack; just ask the good people at Rogue Ales.
There’s three main ways you can add chocolate to a bread recipe: you can treat it as a dry ingredient (by sifting cocoa into the flour), you can make it an add-in (by kneading in bits of chopped chocolate), or you can treat it as a liquid (by adding melted chocolate into the dough). Rather than risk a gummy texture again by decreasing the amount of beer, I elected to avoid the liquid route. Of the two remaining methods, I decided to go with a more saturated chocolate flavor, and sift cocoa into the flour. This, I felt, was also more of a variation than it would be if I merely stirred chocolate chips into the batter.
As for the beer, I had originally planned use that old standard, Guinness. It’s decent, inexpensive, and widely available. But then, in the beer aisle at Sam’s Wine, faced with all those enticing choices, I couldn’t bring myself to just get one can of Guinness. Why do that, when I could get a 6 pack of something else, use one, and have five left over (win!)? So I talked myself (it wasn’t hard) into supporting the old home team, and I picked up some Abita Turbodog. Flavored with chocolate and toffee, the box said; and I said, “Okay.”
If I’m honest, I find Guinness a bit too heavy with the “burnt toast”; and have always preferred Turbodog (if I’m forced to choose a dark beer, anyway). I was a little concerned about the bread turning out too bitter if I used Guinness; but mostly I was concerned about having to finish that 16 ounce can. No, you can’t just pour it out; it’s beer!
So with my beer (okay, it’s not officially “stout”, what of it?) and my chocolate-adding method decided upon, I turned to the other flavorings. Instead of butter, I opted for olive oil (my love of chocolate and olive oil together may or may not transcend the barrier between this world and the next). Concerned about the bitterness introduced by the unsweetened cocoa, I increased the amount of sugar just a touch. Finally, to compensate for the acidity of non-Dutched cocoa powder, I added a bit of baking soda to level it out.
The batter looked just right, if darker than the original, and baked into the familiarly-lumpy loaf. It was a pretty mahogany color, smelled fantastic, and the slices were almost ridiculously hard to cut, as they just kept crumbling with each saw of the serrated blade (as you can see in the above picture). These were all good signs.
But when I took a bite, I didn’t taste a deeper, darker variation of beer bread, all I tasted was undersweet chocolate cake. Half of the joy of beer bread is in its soft, fluffy texture; but here, with the richness of chocolate, it evoked a slightly dry dessert. I’m not going to say it was bad, because it wasn’t. The texture was just right, in fact; but the flavors just did not compute.
I will say that I was expecting something different, I didn’t get it, and I was a bit disappointed. What exactly I was expecting, I’m not really sure. Something rich, something a little bitter, something to bring out the savory side of chocolate, but something undeniably bready. This, however, tasted like you could add an egg to the batter, bake it in a round pan, slap on some buttercream, and start singing “Happy Birthday”. No one would be upset.
Mark my words, I haven’t given up on Chocolate Stout Beer Bread. The idea is too good for it not to work: stout, chocolate, olive oil. You can’t lose, really. A rematch is certainly in order – I’ve still got four Turbodogs left, after all, and they’re not going to use themselves!
Chocolate Stout Beer Bread
Makes one 9 x 5 inch loaf
2 2/3 cups + 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1/3 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutched, see note 1 below)
3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons olive oil
12 ounces stout or other dark beer, at room temperature
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, sift together the flour and cocoa powder, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Add the olive oil and 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 an instant-read thermometer registers about 200º F when inserted into the middle. The loaf should feel firm when pressed gently in the center. Remove from pan. Cool at least 10 minutes on a rack before slicing.
1. If your cocoa doesn’t specify, it is most likely non-Dutched. If you have Dutched cocoa powder, substitute the teaspoon of baking soda with an additional teaspoon of baking powder (for a total of 4 1/2 teaspoons baking powder and no baking soda).
2. 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.
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.