I've been presented with many, many versions of beer bread over the years, and despite my love of both beer and bread, I've yet to try a loaf that I actually liked. Nothing against the people kind enough to share theirs with me, but they tended to choose darkish, full-bodied ales as a base, understandably making the assumption that the beer's bold character would translate into a hearty baked bread. The results were dense, one-dimensional and doughy. I've always thought a beer-based bread could be something more, something light and buttery, slightly sweet and fruity -- something balanced. I knew the answer was, as so many are, in the beer.
So I decided to make my own beer bread for the first time and picked up one of my favorite seasonals, Odell Brewing's Double Pilsner, to go along with it. It's pleasantly fruity and more substantial than other pilsners, but light and refreshing despite its strength. To me, it's the perfect example of liquid bread.
Figuring that I'd spend as much time making the bread as I usually do making dinner (not true, come to find out), I knew I needed to make a meal of it somehow. I swung by Curtis Park Deli to pick up the basic elements of a definitively good cheese plate. I sampled the ColoRouge from MouCo Cheese Co., some insanely good blue cheese from Oregon and some of the best coppa ever from Il Mondo Vecchio. I bought all three and headed home.
Like cooking for yourself, baking bread is extremely easy. And baking beer bread is even easier -- if that's possible. Seriously, it takes no time at all. And using a pilsner or lager is most definitely the way to go (I'm not ashamed to say the next day I tried the following recipe with a can of PBR and, while not as good, it was certainly better than store-bought bread).
The result was a light and moist cake-like loaf faintly reminiscent of its liquid cousin, with a crisp, buttery crust. And the particular use of the the unique double pilsner gave the bread a kind of cinnamon spice, which happened to pair especially well with the funky -- but not too funky -- cheese. Both the Oregon Blue and the ColoRouge are creamier and sweeter than their stinky aroma imply. The coppa from Il Mondo was -- and is -- a perfectly rich and fatty companion to any spread, coating the palate with a bouquet of spices, which was a wonderful contrast to the bubbly beer.
The meal aside, I highly recommend baking your own bread, if not for the smell, then for the therapy. M.F.K. Fisher was absolutely right when she said, in reference to baking bread, "There is no chiropractic treatment, no yoga exercise, no hour of meditation in a music-throbbing chapel, that will leave you emptier of bad thoughts..."
Here's the beer bread recipe:
3 cups self-rising flour 1/2 cup sugar 12 ounces good pilsner or lager Melted butter
1. Butter a bread pan (or any other baking pan) and preheat the oven to 375 degrees. 2. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar and beer. 3. Mix with a wooden spoon until it becomes a sticky mass. 4. Pour into bread pan and bake for 50 minutes. 5. Brush the top liberally with melted butter and bake for 5 more minutes. 6. Let cool for 15 minutes before serving.