Wednesday, December 22, 2010

My thoughts on beer + The easiest bread you'll ever make.

I apologize that I've been gone for so long! This last quarter has been devoted to a natural history blog that I'm working on for an internship. Please check it out and let me know what you think!

Back to food though! This quarter has been an experiment in breads for me with not as much time spent on real cooking or pastry baking. However, there is a lot to be said about the benefits of knowing how to make your own bread. Let's start now with a very simple and quick to prepare recipe.

There is nothing quite like the smell of bread as it is being baked in the oven. The whole house warms up and practically glows with comfort, even on the grayest of days. Lately in San Diego, we've seen our fair share of gray and sun, often in the same day, possibly even the same hour. Whatever the weather, this honey beer bread is sure to hit the spot and remind you that beer isn't just for college students on a Friday night.

But first! A discourse on beer...

I have this discussion with friends all the time. Beer simply has a bad rep. It's often associated with the images of red-cup-toting, hysterical college-aged kids, intense chugging contests out of glass boots, and middle-aged men with beer bellies who watch TV in their den with the lights off while slowly whitling away the night with a 6-pack of cans. We think of croaking frogs, impassioned debates over "less carbs" vs. "more filling" and silly marketing schemes involving color-changing cans. These tactics are great... when you're 6. Personally, I haven't taken an interest in temperature-activated food items since the early 90s when you could find a Lion King color-changing spoon in the bottom of your cereal box. (Prizes were better back then... the simpler things in life have cheapened over time.) Alas, I've digressed.

So what's the big deal with beer? In San Diego, there is in fact, an enormous beer and restaurant culture. Let's face it-- beer and food are perfect for each other. Much like the way wines can be paired with cheeses, chocolate, meats, and pastas, so can beer, with pizzas, burgers, other traditional pub fare, as well as more gourmet items. And around here, the beer can be as gourmet as the food itself. Brewery restaurants like Karl Strauss, Gordon Biersch, Rock Bottom, and the Coronado Brewing Company have cornered a market in local brews paired with stellar menu items. My personal favorite-- Karl Strauss' Sorrento Valley location, a sprawling restaurant complete with its own (man-made) koi pond and Zen garden. It's a gorgeous place for a date or a Sunday brunch with fantastic beers and food. My recommendation is the Amber Lager, the Portabello mushroom burger, and for dessert, the Beeramisu-- a decadent tiramisu made with Karl's signature Red Trolley Ale. Oh my... I'm getting hungry just thinking about it. Ahhh.

And now (finally!)-- to the bread!

I've heard of beer breads for quite some time now and finally decided to give it a try. With so many good beers out there though, it took me a little while to decide on which beer would be the star of my bread. Finally, I settled with Harvest Moon, the Blue Moon fall seasonal ale.

I am a big fan of Blue Moon and all of its seasonal ales. Harvest Moon is a particularly complex one with spicy notes and a hint of pumpkin. I've also used Sam Adams Oktoberfest and the classic Blue Moon in later breads-- all very good options.

Honey Beer Bread
3 C all-purpose flour
2 T sugar
1 T baking powder
1 t salt
2 T honey (I used blue agave nectar, which has a more molasses-like flavor without being quite as thick.)
1 bottle (12 ounces) beer
2 T (1/4 stick) butter, melted

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 7" x 3" inch loaf pan.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.  Using a wooden spoon, stir the beer and honey into the dry ingredients until just mixed.
3. Spoon the batter into the pan. This next part made me a bit nervous the first time I did it. Pour the melted butter over the top of the batter. It's going to pool and it's going to look a mess-- but trust me on this. This step is what makes the bread truly amazing.
4. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until top is golden brown and a toothpick/knife inserted in the middle comes out clean. 
If you're like me, you'll be watching that bread rise and start worrying about the pool of butter that it's being born in. Don't fret! By the time you take the bread out of the oven, the butter will have traveled to the bottom of the pan and your bread will have a buttery, crispy crust. Oh. Heaven. My recommendation is to serve it thoroughly cooled so that the beer flavor has some time to mellow out a bit (though, it's pretty difficult to not eat some right away out of the oven. Try both.)

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