To the untrained and uninitiated, beer and bread hardly seem like they’d have much to do with one another. But these two products actually hold a lot more in common than one might think. To start, both beer and bread stem from three of the same major ingredients: water, grain, and yeast. Merged together, these three ingredients can produce both a fizzy, hoppy beverage—or a loaf of crusty bread.
Beer Bread, $16.99 on Amazon
“Basic beer bread recipes have been around for a long time, in the sense of combining self-rising flour with beer and salt to create a quick bread,” Lori explains. “So now it’s cool to get into the experimentation with how beer can behave with yeast breads.”
And experiment she does. Lori has developed a host of creative recipes starring beer and flour. In “Beer Bread,” you might find yourself pulling apart rolls studded with pepperoni, mozzarella cheese―and six ounces of a pilsner. Or you’ll braid together strands of matcha dough stained green, swirled with a pale lager and finished off with a sprinkling of black sesame seeds. But the merging of bread and beer isn’t simply for the fun of it—there’s actually a change in taste and texture when beer is included in the proofing process.
“Beer contributes a multiness and a graininess, depending on what style you’re using. It complements the grains that are being used in the bread,” Lori says.
Related Reading: A Bread Baker’s Favorite Tool Is Something Everyone Has
And while baking bread can often seem overwhelming to the home cook, Lori guarantees that even the greenest of cooks can make bread from her book. Many of the recipes are geared toward beginners—replete with straightforward recipes and quick breads that don’t require overnight proofing.
But Lori urges that new bread bakers shouldn’t get too caught up in the perfection and precision of baking bread. Sure, following a recipe is necessary, but bakers shouldn’t go out of their way to purchase every single bread baking tool out there or attempt to recreate the flawless loaves found in artisan bakeries. Instead, Lori suggests focusing on learning everything you can about your own baking environment and trying your hand at crafting something that tastes great.
“That environment—specifically with yeast breads—is going to influence the rising of your dough,” Lori says.
Ahead is Lori’s 101 guide to baking bread, along with a recipe for cream ale Irish soda bread, a thick, dense bread that doesn’t require yeast, but instead relies on baking soda to rise. The sweet cream ale is paired with the soda bread, punctured with raisins or currants and spiked with a hint of vanilla extract. It’s the kind of bread that a beginner is suited for: All of the ingredients are mixed together in one bowl, lightly kneaded and rolled into a ball, then tossed onto a baking sheet and baked until browned on top. It’s sweet, tangy, and filled with beer; what’s not to love?
Excerpted from “Beer Bread.” Copyright 2020 by Lori Rice. Reproduced by permission of The Countryman Press. All rights reserved.
Baking Bread 101
The difficulty, ingredients needed, and time required to bake bread varies by the type of loaf you want to pull out of the oven. It’s true that baking requires a more precise measurement of ingredients and more specific tools than cooking, but this shouldn’t scare you if you feel inexperienced. Preparing breads for baking is really a simple and—for many—therapeutic and rewarding process. Once you grow familiar with the basic steps, it only gets easier from there.
The goal of this book isn’t to teach you how to bake, but to show you creative ways to do so with beer. With that in mind, it is still helpful to do a brief overview of the what and why of bread baking so that I can share some tips I’ve found useful over the years and provide some explanations regarding methods and recipes in this book.
Types of Breads in this Book
The breads and variations of breads—such as flatbreads, biscuits, and rolls—can be classified into two categories: yeast breads and quick breads. Yeast breads tend to be the scariest for beginner bakers and sometimes the most finicky for even the experienced, so let’s start by discussing why this is often the case. Then we’ll move on to quick breads. Both produce equally enjoyable results, but hopefully some basic tips and guidelines will help you decide where you want to start as you dig into these beer bread recipes.
Yeast breads require the three main ingredients of flour, yeast, and a liquid. In basic versions that liquid is water, but as you may have guessed, the liquid in our case will be beer. There are several steps in making yeast breads and each plays an important role in achieving the desired recipe results.
Mixing: When the ingredients are mixed, enzymes begin to break down starch molecules into sugars that will feed the yeast. Mixing the ingredients is the initial step in facilitating the fermentation process, when yeast produces the carbon dioxide and alcohol that contribute to the structure and flavor of your bread.
Kneading: Kneading dough, whether done by hand or with a mixer, helps to develop the proteins in the dough, called the gluten network. This network traps the air bubbles given off by the yeast to give bread strength and a desirable rise and texture.
Zulay Serrated Bread Knife, $9.99 on Amazon
I find hand-kneading meditative, but I also understand that it can be time consuming and sometimes frustrating when you are working with a stickier dough. For most yeast breads in this book, you will find the general instructions to knead the dough in an electric stand mixer for 5 minutes and then knead by hand for 3 to 4 additional minutes. Doughs that have fat added like butter or oil and sweeteners like sugar often require longer kneading times and they can sometimes be very sticky until the kneading is complete. In these cases, I often suggest doing it all in the mixer. It really doesn’t matter how you work the dough, just that the gluten is fully developed after kneading.
Rising: The rising stage for bread is also called proofing, and that is how I refer to it in this book. Once you knead a dough, it’s formed into a ball and placed in a greased bowl. It can then be covered with a cloth bowl cover, dish towel, loose lid, or even a shower cap to rest. During this proofing stage is when fermentation occurs. The yeast does its thing, producing carbon dioxide and alcohol that will create the crumb and structure of the bread. It also contributes to the aroma and flavor.
Related Reading: How (And Why) To Bake Your Own Artisanal Bread
Proofing a loaf of bread is both a straightforward and a tricky step. A bread dough with healthy yeast is going to rise, but how quickly and how much is where bakers sometimes run into problems. The reason is that room temperature affects how quickly dough rises.
The ideal temperature for proofing the doughs in this book during fermentation is around 75 to 80°F, but the temperature of your room can vary. Perhaps it’s a chilly winter morning or maybe the oven has been running all day and your kitchen is warmer. I often put dough in my pantry in the winter because it provides a warm, draft-free spot, but in the summer it runs a few degrees warmer than my already-warm kitchen so it’s not a good option.
These temperature differences aren’t a problem; they just mean that you have to do a bit of personal troubleshooting when baking yeast breads. Breads will take longer to rise or may rise faster than instructions in a recipe state. Many recipes also state that dough should double in size. All of these indicators should be taken as estimates. In reality some loaves only rise about 50 percent. It’s just that “until doubled in size” and “about 1 hour” have become common language in recipe writing and baking instruction.
I include these instructions in each recipe but remember that they may vary depending on the temperature of your space. Over time you will become familiar with your baking environment and what that means for a successful loaf.
Beer Bread Tip
Have I kneaded my dough long enough?
You may be asking yourself: How do I know if the gluten is fully developed? There is an easy test you can do on your dough that will tell you if it’s ready to move on to the next stage of baking. It’s commonly referred to as the Windowpane Test. Simply take a small piece of dough and use two hands to pull it apart slowly. If it stretches to nearly paper thin without tearing, it’s ready. If it tears, keep kneading. There are a few exceptions where this test doesn’t work, for example with heavily grainy doughs. Simply follow the recipe instructions for those.
A few recipes in this book are no-knead, in which case they go straight from the mixer to a bowl to rest in the refrigerator. In this case, the long fermentation time in the chilled environment, often 20-plus hours, allows the gluten to develop.
Baking: It can be difficult to tell when yeast breads are fully baked because the outer crust can look done when the interior still has a bit of time to go. Unlike quick breads, which I discuss later, you can’t stick a toothpick all the way in to check that the dough is baked. A kitchen thermometer is essential. Exact temperatures are listed in each recipe, but in general I bake yeast breads with eggs, sugar, and butter to 190°F and others to 175 to 180°F. The temperature of yeast breads will often continue to climb once they’re pulled from the oven so it’s okay to remove them when they are within about 3 degrees of the goal.
Beer Bread Tip
Did my loaf proof long enough?
A more effective way of testing your dough than using time and change in size is to test it with a finger imprint. If you gently press your finger into the dough, you want that indentation to come back slowly to about halfway as far as you pressed it in. This means the dough is ready to move on to the next step. If the imprint stays, the bread has proofed too long. If it disappears completely, as if you never pressed your finger into it, it still needs more time to proof.
After the bread dough has proofed the first time, it is shaped and set aside to proof a second time. The time of this second proof is most often shorter and it’s okay for the temperature to be a little warmer. When my kitchen is cold in the winter, I often set the shaped loaves on the preheating stove.
Cream Ale Irish Soda Bread Recipe
Historically, Irish Soda Bread was meant to be a simple recipe that could be baked every day using few ingredients. While more traditional loaves were flatter without the puffy look you commonly see today, what gives the bread a little rise without yeast is a reaction between an acid and baking soda. Traditionally, buttermilk was the source of acid, as it falls roughly between 4.5 and 5.0 on the pH scale (slightly acidic). It turns out that most beers also fall between 4.0 and 5.0, making it an easy substitution with the bonus of malty sweetness that makes the flavor of the bread more complex. I choose a cream ale here because one of my favorite beers from my travels is Kilkenny, an Irish cream ale. Any cream ale will work and those with hints of vanilla are especially good options.
Cream Ale Irish Soda Bread
- 510 grams (4¼ cups) all-purpose flour
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 1¼ teaspoons fine sea salt
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 4 tablespoons (½ stick) cold unsalted butter, cubed
- 12 ounces (1½ cups) cream ale
- 1/3 cup golden raisins or currants
- ¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Stir together the flour, sugar, salt, and baking soda in a large mixing bowl. Add the butter cubes and use a pastry blender or two knives to work the butter into the dough until it is evenly distributed in about pea-sized pieces.
- Pour in the beer and stir just until combined. Add the raisins and vanilla. Stir to gently combine. At this point, you may need to switch to clean hands and knead the fruit into the bread. Be careful not to overwork the dough, though.
- Transfer the dough to a floured surface and knead it into a ball. Place the dough on the baking sheet and use a serrated knife to cut a cross into the top of the dough.
- Bake 48 to 50 minutes, until the bread is browned and the internal temperature reaches 175°F. Remove the bread from the oven and let it cool 10 minutes before slicing to serve.
Find a Beer: Anderson Valley Brewing Company Summer Solstice, New Glarus Brewing Company Spotted Cow, Sun King Brewing Company Sunlight Cream Ale
Header image courtesy of Beer Bread.