Every so often I like to bake myself some bread. I don't know where this urge came from or if it's slowly turning me into my great uncle Rodney who liked to wear a dress and chat up sailors on the waterfront, but it means I get to experiment with chemicals in the kitchen and occasionally eat some pretty good bread.
Thing is, making bread is work. First there's the mixing, where your ingredients turn basically turn to glue which you then have to mix some more because you still have another couple cups of flour to go into the dough, then the kneading to get it to a consistent texture all the way through, then the punching down of the dough once it's risen (seriously, you beat that dough like a red-headed stepchild) before transferring it to the pans and into the oven.
Recently I found myself watching Off The Radar, having bought myself the box set for Christmas. Radar himself is just as annoying as I've always found him, but it's a fascinating celebri-doco-whatsit. And one of the things mentioned in it is beer bread, which apparently is the easiest bread recipe there is. I decided I would try it. The recipe on the website is a bit suspect, because my oven doesn't even go to 400 degrees celcius, so I looked up another one on the internet.
Beer bread is essentially what the Irish call soda bread, with added beer. In traditional bread, you rely on yeast to make the dough rise, which is why you have the kneading and leaving on the bench under a wet towel, etc. It gives the yeast time to convert the sugar you added to the mix into carbon dioxide, forming the bubbles in the dough. Soda bread relies on baking powder for the same thing -- a mixture of baking soda and tataric acid, which chemically reacts when wet to make carbon dioxide.
Thing is, without yeast in the mix, soda bread doesn't taste like bread. But do you know what else has a vaguely yeasty taste? Beer! By adding it to the mix, you get that bread flavour you'd otherwise be missing. I bought Speights Gold Medal Ale so I wouldn't be tempted to drink it. This was baking beer, not drinking beer.
My first attempt didn't turn out exactly as I might have hoped. The recipe called for the beer to be made up to a full 400 ml by adding water before mixing with the flour, baking soda and salt. I didn't have a measuring jug (most of my kitchen stuff vanished while I was moving to a new flat recently) so I had to estimate using a coffee cup. It's entirely possible I made the beer up to 500 ml, which could explain why my dough was runny rather than sticky, and why after 45 minutes in the oven it was still half-liquid in the centre.
I punched holes in the crust to let the steam out and gave it another 45 minutes, which successfully cooked the centre but also gave the loaf a crust like sheet metal. Also, the beer flavour comes through in the bread exactly the way it tastes in the bottle, which means I have a loaf that tastes like a beer I won't drink.
It was just as advertised though, so I think the experiments will continue.
Making beer bread
3 cups flour (any kind -- white, whole grain, whatever you prefer)
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 can or bottle of a beer you wouldn't mind drinking (don't worry about driving after eating your bread, the alcohol cooks out while it's in the oven)
These quantities are for a single medium loaf. Change the quantities proportionally to however much you want to make
Mix everything. Put it in a bread tin. Chuck it in an oven you've pre-heated to 200 degrees. Come back in 45 minutes. Let the bread cool in the pan for ten minutes, then on a plate for another ten. Then eat the bread and drink the remaining beer.