For Christmas my wife got a lot of fancy attachments for her KitchenAid, as well as one of those automatic breadmakers. Imagine her surprise, then, when out of the blue one day I say I’m going to bake some bread as well…and don’t want any of her gadgets.
The inspiration to cook some beer bread was fairly evident in all the odors of yeast, butter, and flour emanating from our kitchen these past few months. This is also an insanely simple recipe for a versatile kind of bread that’s great just to munch on, toast up as croutons, or dip in soup or chili. As for the beer itself, having two kegs at the ready meant twice the fun!
Cooking with BEER: Meridian Kolsch and Optimal Wit
Brewery: Lost Rhino Brewing Company and Port City Brewing Company
Beer Description: Both companies describe them as “crisp” and either “fresh” or “refreshing.” With similar ABVs at 5.0 and 4.9, respectively, the point of comparison is in the IBUs: 25 for the Kolsch and 15 for the Wit.
Key Flavors: Wheat (both), Bitterness (Kolsch), Citrus/Acidity (Wit)
Already knowing that bread is the intended dish, my big question for the exercise is exactly how the flavor profile of the beer itself fuses itself with the similar ingredients in the bread. Most beer bread recipes call for just any old beer (and most recipes in general for a cheap beer), but wouldn’t you expect a bigger flavor difference among even these related styles than, say, one American light lager to another?
Here’s the ingredient list via the Food.com recipe:
3 cups sifted flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspon salt
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup melted butter
12 oz. beer (one can or about a finger shy on a pint pour)
Oil for greasing (something like Pam’s baking spray works great)
There are a few caveats from the original recipe, so I should note that while I’m using bread flour, it is not self-rising. If you do use that kind of flour, you would omit the baking powder and salt from this list.
Since I’m making two full loaves, I did of course measure out 2x for each ingredient.
Step 1: Pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees. Slowly sift the flour into the measuring cup rather than scoop-and-level. Then combine all dry ingredients into a mixing bowl.
I had no clue what sifting was, either. The basic idea, though, is that using a scoop will compact the flour and give you some dense bread. Since I doubt you’re using an actual sifter, a large spoon will suffice.
Step 2: Slowly pour in the beer, then stir for several minutes before spooning the dough into a greased bread pan. Level the dough
I do mean stir. At first the beer will release a lot of head as it becomes super-saturated, but after a hearty minute or so you’ll go from chunky soup to gelatinous goop to thickening dough fairly quickly. The sweet spot to transfer to the baking pan is right around when the dough is more apt to stick to your spoon than want to be stirred any longer.
Step 3: Pour the melted butter as evenly as possible over the top of the dough.
It may seem like you’ll run out of butter, but it’s just enough to fill in all the nooks that form as you transferred the dough.
Step 4: Bake at 375F for one hour.
Go play a video game, watch the Americans, or mow the grass. Just make sure you set the timer and stick to it, as the bread takes care of itself from here.
Step 5: Remove the loaf from the bread pan and let cool on a cutting board for 15 minutes.
This may seem obvious, but it’s a lot easier to slice bread when there aren’t some annoying metal walls to block your knife. But this really needs to be done to ensure that the bread doesn’t continue to cook in the pan and burn the crust – which will happen easier than you think due to the baking grease and butter. To get the bread out, just turn the pan over and give a decent shake or two.
Step 5: Cut a few slices and enjoy as you like.
As the pictures indicate, I was fairly careful in making sure I could identify which beer was in each bread – Kolsch on the left, Wit on the right. For the taste-off, I asked my wife to lend her taste buds as the resident baking expert. Since we cooked everything exactly the same, I wanted someone who dislikes beer to see if they could pick out the same flavors.
Test 1: Plain bread. The basic test, with interesting results. The Kolsch bread came out a little crispier just inside the crust, and the flavors imparted were just a shade on the tart side. The Wit bread, however, eschewed the citrus flavors and instead gave us… banana?! Actual banana bread this was not, and depending on the heat of the bread the flavor was anywhere from notable (cold) to trace (hot). If you were going to snack on the bread by itself, the Wit bread would be the clear winner, but those bananas would present a hard companion against a soup or some chili.
Test 2: Buttered bread. We use a yogurt-style butter which is a bit milkier, so this test is to see how well each bread absorbs the new flavor. We actually did this one first so the bread would be at its warmest and the butter could melt in a little. With the Kolsch bread, the flavor of the butter integrated really well, but the Wit brought a bit of complexity as it was a bit heftier on the interior relegating the butter to the top. The Wit still maintained its slight lead.
Test 3: Plain bread + beer. The Wit sprints ahead here as it feels more of a companion to the beer, whereas the Kolsch relies on the crust to add anything new.
Test 4: Buttered bread + beer. What was that about crust? Oh right, we buttered it prior to baking. And now we’ve added more butter? It turns out that the heaping mound of butter pairs really nicely with the elevated hop profile of the Kolsch. Not so much the Wit.
Initial Score: Kolsch – 7.0, Wit – 7.2.
Over the next week, we slowly stole chunks or slices out of both loaves. The winner varied, from Italian wedding soup (Wit), to spaghetti (Kolsch), salad (Wit), and beans (Kolsch). The pattern which emerged was that meals with a higher acidity (via tomatoes, vinegar, and such) favored the Kolsch rather than the Wit…and I got awfully tired of bananas.
The Kolsch bread was simply better at accepting the flavor of whichever dish I paired it with. Had the citrus elements (and their corresponding acidity) made it out of the Wit we may have had a different story, but weeks later I still haven’t touched bananas.
Final Score: Kolsch – 8.0, Wit – 5.5.
Recommendation: So it turns out that a milder beer flavor does impact the versatility of your bread. If you do use a beer with large flavors, make sure you’re ready to pair the flavors you get out of the bread with your main dish – and be prepared for that flavor to stick with you. If you just want some hearty bread, choose a (relatively) basic beer for this recipe. I’ll certainly make it again – though certainly not two full loaves as we never finished them – but I can see an Amber Lager working really well here.