Sunday, March 7, 2010

Fun with fermentables

No contest when it comes to consumption - beer wins by a country mile. But, I must say that I enjoy baking bread every bit as much as I enjoy brewing beer. Guess that makes me bit of a yeast monger...

And thanks to a brief stint in unemployment this past summer and strategic time management since, we haven't had to purchase a loaf of bread in six months. I like it that way. At any given time, our freezer boasts loaves of rye, whole wheat, cinnamon raisin, or olive bread. I recently made bagels (which turned out fantastic) and am venturing into the realm of 100% whole grain (i.e. no processed white flour).

The parallels between beer and bread are obvious: yeast acting on grains through fermentation and the application of heat; heady aromas and delicious end-products; origins rooted in the deepest of human history.

Today's post meets at the literal intersection of bread and beer: beer bread! Full disclosure - I'm not that crazy about beer bread; I've made it once or twice before, and I always conclude that I prefer my beer in a glass rather than a loaf.

That said, I'd been feeling the urge to whip up a loaf of beer bread since dropping by my favorite pottery shop in the known universe over the holidays. Located in Petoskey, Michigan (my hometown), Sturgeon River Pottery is owned by Karen and Steve Andrews. Steve was a high school football coach of mine and I went to high school with his sons. Whenever Elena (the wife) and I visit Petoskey, we make a point of stopping by their store/studio to see what's new (and we usually leave with an item or two).

On this particular visit, Elena was looking for a piece to purchase with the gift certificate I'd given her for Christmas. While she perused, Steve and I got to chatting. Once our conversation meandered from making a living Up North, to homebrewing, to bread-baking (with several topics in between), Steve showed me a beautiful bowl that doubled as a bread baker. We chatted for a few more minutes before Steve excused himself. He and Karen were closing up for winter and preparing to head south, where they'd spend a few months throwing and firing next season's pottery. We said goodbye.

We shopped a little longer, and were surprised to find one of Steve's bread bakers (along with a recipe card) waiting for us at the register. The clerk explained that it was a gift from Steve. The bowl has become my every day oatmeal/cereal bowl - just as Steve said his had. Beautiful pottery from good people.

Below is the Andrews' beer bread recipe. The beer I used for this bread was Blue Point Brewing Company's Toasted Lager, though Steve said any beer will work. Experiment!

Beer Bread Recipe
1 can/bottle warm beer (for bread)
1 can/bottle cold beer (to enjoy with the freshly baked bread)
4 T. sugar
3 c. self-rising flour
3 c. flour
4 1/2 t. baking soda
3/16 t. salt
Mix ingredients together and pour into greased "Bread Baker." Place in a cold oven so that the baker heats with the oven. This will keep you from cracking your baker. Bake at 375° for 40 to 45 minutes. Enjoy!
The bread turned out well - dense and rich. The richness (which some might love) is part of what I find a little off-putting about beer bread. As I said, I prefer my beer in liquid form. In bread, the earthy flavor of cooked beer is a little too intense for me. The best way to eat a bread like this, in my humble opinion, is slathered in butter and mom's sweet, homemade jam.

Toasted Lager (5.3% ABV)
Patchogue, NY
Appearance: Crystal clear body with a thick and creamy head. Copper/Amber in color. Plenty of bubbles migrating north during the tasting.

Aroma: Distinct hoppiness with a subtle malt lingering in the background. Clean and balanced aroma. A sweetness emerged as the beer warmed.

Taste: Great mouthfeel. Carbonation made its presence felt, but faded quickly. Wonderfully balanced hop/malt balance. Drinks like the well-bred offspring of a bold pale ales and an understated IPA. Cleanness of the lager allows the hop character to stand out. Grassy notes. A simple and straightforward taste.

Overall Impression: I'm usually an ale-exclusive quaffer, but this lager is good! With the thermometer topping 70° today (what a difference a month makes), this was a perfect beer to celebrate spring. Not surprising that the Toasted Lager took gold at the 2006 World Beer Cup. Here is Blue Point's explanation of the "toasted" in Toasted Lager: The "toasted" part of the name refers to our direct-fire brew kettle's hot flames that impart a toasted flavor to our most popular microbrew. Most brewery systems achieve temperature control through computers and electric heat; Blue Point is kicking it old school with this flame-broiled lager. I'll toast to that!