Saturday, April 2, 2011

Dough Re Mi - Basic Beer Bread

Let’s start at the very beginning…a very good place to start!

Bread is one of those basic items of food that are universal…the staff of life and all that. I recently learned that the production of bread and beer was intertwined in ancient Egypt. Early forms of beer may have been made using bread as an ingredient, so it seems fitting to reverse that and make bread from beer. I have to confess that I’ve never made non-beer bread before. I’d heard many-a-horror story about bread making attempts ending in brick-like loaves that would be better put to use as a building material or weapon. It kind of put me off – all that work for nothing? Crazy. However, after making some incredible pizza dough with beer as an ingredient, I decided to give beer bread a bash.

Turns out, it’s not actually that hard, and is not a lot of work either. It does take time though, so you do need to plan ahead. Also, it’s not like perfect bakery bread…it might be better!

What you need, if you want to knead…

500g of flour. That’s 450g for the bread and 50g for working, I always use bread-making flour for this, as it contains a higher percentage of gluten. Use white, wholemeal, multigrain, rye – whatever you fancy.

1 x 330ml bottle of beer – let’s start with a pale ale. Later you can experiment with darker beers or hoppier beers to see how it changes the end product.

1 teaspoon salt

1 sachet of dry yeast

There's a beer in there.

What to do, to make your dough…

Make sure your beer is warm. Definitely don’t use one straight out of the fridge. Even if you have one at room temperature, it could probably do with a little warming to wake the yeasties up…those lazy bastards! Much like me, they like to hibernate if it’s too cold. You can do this pretty easily by sitting the bottle in a jug or bowl of warm water for a few minutes.

Combine the flour, salt and yeast together in a large mixing bowl. Give it a quick stir to make sure everything is evenly distributed and make a well in the centre. Pour the beer in and begin mixing with your hand until it is well combined.

(Note: If you have a mixer with a dough hook, you can use this instead. It doesn’t make a whole lot of difference to the end product. Using a ‘hands on’ approach will give you a better feel for when the dough is ready for kneading, but is messy. Not everyone will be a fan of dough-fingers.) 

Once combined, tip your dough onto a floured surface and knead until it begins to feel smooth and elastic. If you’ve never kneaded before, what you trying to do is work the protein molecules and create the bonds that become gluten. So, begin by pushing the dough out in one direction with the heals of your hands. When it is stretched out, fold in half and then turn the dough 45 degrees anti-clockwise and repeat the action. Keep working it this way until it feels silky and elastic. (Elastic means when you stretch it out, it springs back...much like elastic.) It’s the gluten that creates the elasticity, so when the dough has this feeling, you know that the protein has bonded.

When you are happy with your kneaded dough, form it into a ball, place it in an oiled bowl, cover and place into a warm place to let rise for at least one hour. This is called proving. It gives time for the yeast to work and make the dough swell up, which makes the bread fluffy. It should double in size in this time. Once it has proved, punch down mixture the mixture, give a quick, gentle knead to redistribute the ‘air’ in it evenly. Put it back in the bowl, recover and put it back to bed.  Let rise again for at least 2 hours.

Wholemeal dough, ready to prove.
When you are ready to bake, pre-heat oven to 230C.

Form the dough into a rough loaf shape – depending on what your idea of a loaf shape is. I usually go with a kind of elongated oval…kind of like a football with a puncture. You could probably do a round loaf too. Or smaller loves. Or try something fancy (but if it doesn’t work, don’t blame me). Slash the top (you can do a few diagonal cuts, or one long on down the middle), and dust lightly with flour. Place in the oven. Also throw in a couple of ice cubes in an oven-proof dish, or spray the sides of the oven with water. Something about steam makes your crust…crustier.

White loaf, ready for the oven.
Bake for 25-30min or until the crust is golden brown.  The loaf should sound hollow when you knock on it. Let stand for at least 15 minutes before slicing.

A lot of non-beer drinkers would probably find it hard to come to terms with the thought of adding beer to bread, however a good quality craft pale ale (such as the Kooinda Pale Ale or Beechworth Pale Ale from Bridge Road Brewers) will add subtle hop flavours that won't overpower the overall taste, but add an extra dimension that is really quite tasty.
Once you feel happy with your product and confident in your bread-making skills, start experimenting. Use different beers. Add herbs, cheese, seeds, fruit or berries. Make different shapes, and smaller loaves or rolls. 

The finished product - wholemeal.

The finished product - white.

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