Here it is: Beer Sourdough!

After the recent success of the commercial yeast beer bread, I knew I had to try using beer in my sourdough. It not only works, but it works efficiently, rising and baking in a mere 6 hours start to finish. Oh, and it is delicious.

The quickest Google search ever at the end of my last post led me to this recipe from Elizabeth Yetter. Yesterday afternoon, I mixed up a half batch using half a Sam Adams I found in our basement fridge. Her original recipe calls for a whole 12 oz. beer for 2 loaves, but I decided to half it - not knowing that the outcome would be so great. It made a smallish loaf that I decided to bake in a free-formed oblong shape in my cast iron pot. Since it was smaller, I altered the temperature and baking time from my normal "bread-in-a-pot" methods. Happily, all the bread forces were working with me! When the rest of the world celebrated the end of the workweek, I was happily geeking out in my kitchen over the successes of another sourdough bread...

This particular beer is far less assertive than the IPA in my last bread, but nonetheless apparent in the rising dough. I warmed the sealed bottle in warm water like I did previously, and in 15 minutes or so, the chill was completely off. Mixing is fast, and the dough was risen and ready for it's shaping and second rise in about 3 hours. Meanwhile, I keep an eye on the dough, noting how fresh and yeasty it smelled. My Husband declared that it smelled good, like a Brewer's game, so I knew that he'd happily eat it once baked.

I let it rise on my "proofing cloth", a cotton/linen towel that is properly seasoned with flour and a bit of wheat bran. Next time, I'll probably cover it first with a damp cloth and then wrap it up with the rest of the proofing cloth - the top of the rising loaf dried out just a bit. I don't think it mattered so much, since I turned it over when it came time to bake. I also gave it three little slashes across the belly to aid in expansion.

hipstamatic beer bread.

This bread has a malty undertone once baked that doesn't read so much as "beery". It also has sweetener, something I would have liked in the beer sandwich bread. I cut back on the sugar called for, and next time, will cut back again. It was just slightly too sweet for my tastes, which tend to be on the lower side. You could easily double the recipe (using the whole beer), and make one large loaf, or two smaller ones. If making a larger loaf, you may need to adjust the baking time accordingly.

Beer Sourdough Bread (adapted from Elizabeth Yetter)
makes 1 small loaf
  • 6 oz. room temperature beer, I used Sam Adams lager
  • 1/2 c. sourdough starter (well fed)
  • 2 T. sugar (next time I'll use 1 T.)
  • 3/4 t. salt
  • 2 1/2 c. bread flour
Mix beer and sourdough starter in a large bowl. The beer will foam up. Add sugar, salt and bread flour, and mix to form a soft dough. I left mine a little on the wet side, and kneaded lazily for about 3 minutes in the bowl. I also let it rise in the same bowl. Leave in a warmish room-temperature place to rise until doubled, about 2 1/2-3 hours (depending on the activity of your starter).

After 1st rise, gently knead dough for a couple minutes, and form into a loaf shape of your choosing. Leave to rise, covered in a floured towel, for 2 - 2 1/2 hours until risen (I like to poke my finger in and make sure the indentation stays rather than bounces back.) Towards the end of the 2nd rise, preheat oven to 450 f. with covered cast iron pot on the middle rack.

Bake for 20 minutes, then remove lid of cast iron pot and continue baking 10-15 more minutes until crust is a deep golden brown. Loaf should feel light for it's size, and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Leave to cool completely before slicing.

The finished, baked bread smelled intoxicating (pun, possibly intended). It was just about 10:30 when it came out of the oven, and I knew I'd wait until morning to cut into it. It was a nice site to see a fresh loaf of bread on the counter when I entered the kitchen this morning. I had a guest for breakfast, and we ate half of it with smoked cheese from the Netherlands: the sweet, malty bread perfect with the smoked, herby cheese. Upon cutting into the loaf, I noticed large holes throughout. I didn't knead the dough as directed in the original recipe before forming into a loaf. I just held it in my hands, and turned it over on itself several times... and made everyone nearby smell and touch it for good luck. I'll try kneading it longer next time and see if that will distribute the holes a bit more evenly, even though I was more than happy with my results.

Please remember, that if you are in the Milwaukee area, I have sourdough starter for you if you need it! Just drop me an email, and you can start some experiments of your own!

(the post has been yeastspotted.)

Test Driving Yeasted Beer Bread

I was more than excited when Jeremy at Northern Brewer asked me to try making his yeasted beer bread recipe. Lately, I have been so obsessed with Christmas baking and one-pot meals that I feel that I haven't been overly creative when it comes to kitchen experiments. This experiment confirmed that not only do I love a challenge, I love to document the challenge and I love the feeling of usefulness that comes from helping out a fellow experimenter. I was also secretly glad that the dough was vegan, since I haven't posted anything vegan in a while!

Using beer to make yeast bread seems to be a natural fit. After all, the exact same type of fermentation is taking place to develop each. The recipe Jeremy provided me was pretty bare bones: flour, yeast, salt, a touch of oil, and beer. I used a spare IPA that has been in the far back of the fridge for awhile. It's certainly not my most favorite IPA, (I'd probably give that award to Three Floyds or Lagunita's) but for the purpose of carbonation and moisture in bread, it did just fine.

I have to preface this whole experiment by saying that in all of the breads I've made over the years, I have had none that had this much rise, and such a perfect interior crumb. It was soft, and golden brown. The dough felt smooth to work with and actually felt like it was carbonated. I could tell when I worked with it that it was going to be light, but wouldn't have suspected that it would be feather-light...

I used a basic method of straight-dough breadmaking, taking a few tricks from Cook's Illustrated. When I first started baking yeast breads regularly, I began with their American Sandwich Bread, which is just that: a standard, slightly sweet and fortified, white loaf bread. Applying the same technique to this dough seemed to work just fine.

The first thing I had to do with an ice-cold, refrigerated beer though, is warm it up. I didn't want to heat it on the stove or in in the microwave, hoping to preserve those carbonating bubbles. Instead, I ran some super hot tap water, and put the sealed bottle in a bowl of it for about an hour. The bottle felt warm to the touch, as did the beer when I poured it out.

I altered the recipe slightly to include a little more liquid and salt, and I mixed it in a stand mixer. You could easily mix it by hand, just increase the kneading time slightly. Basically, you want a smooth dough that isn't sticky to the touch. The finished bread has a bitter edge from using the IPA; even though I really liked it, I think I may add a tablespoon or two of honey next time to counteract. This bread makes a killer grilled cheese.

IPA Bread (a.k.a. Jeremy King's Beer Bread)
  • 4 c. bread flour (I use King Arthur bread flour)
  • 1 1/4 t. kosher salt
  • 2 1/4 t. active dry yeast (or 1 packet)
  • 1 T. vegetable oil (I used olive oil, and eyeballed it)
  • 1 1/4 c. warmish beer, as described above
  • up to 1/2 c. additional water or beer if needed
Preheat oven to 200 degrees. When the oven comes up to temperature, leave it on for 10 minutes, then turn it off.

Meanwhile, place flour and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with dough hook, and stir to combine. Open beer, and pour carefully (to avoid a "head") into a large measuring cup. Add oil to measuring cup. Have the additional water or beer ready at the side of the mixer.

With the mixer running, add yeast to the beer and oil in the measuring cup. It's going to foam up vigorously, so work quickly. Stir to combine and immediately pour into the running stand mixer. You should be able to tell within a minute or so if you need additional liquid, I used about 1/2 c. extra water. Continue kneading for about 5 minutes until a smooth, cohesive dough is formed.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead by hand for a minute or so to shape into a tight ball. Place dough into an oiled bowl, turn to coat, and cover with plastic wrap. Place in preheated oven (which has been turned off), and let rise until doubled in size, 40-50 minutes.

When dough is finished with the first rise, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and gently press air out. Aim to make a rectangle about 1 1/2 inches thick, that you can roll up into a loaf shape (so no longer than about 9 inches on one side). Tightly roll dough up into a loaf shape, and pinch the seam closed. Place dough in an oiled loaf pan with seam side down, and gently press dough into all the corners of the pan. Cover with plastic wrap (you can use the same piece that you used for the first rise), and place pan in a warm place to let rise for 20-30 minutes until dough almost doubles in size (this was about an inch over the top of my loaf pan).

Preheat oven to 350 when this is happening. (I typically put the loaf pan to rise on top of the stove, since it is pretty warm with residual heat from the oven.)

Bake for 35-45 minutes, until the bread is golden brown, and sound rather hollow when tipped out of the pan and tapped on the bottom. Temperature, if you choose to check it this way, should read at least 190 when thermometer is inserted in the bottom of the loaf.

Prior to first rise.

End of first rise.

At the end of the second rise, a finger poked into the dough should remain...

I let the dough rise in the pan to about an inch above the rim.

...and I took it's temperature to double check my done-ness. It was 192.7 f.

So there it is: a perfectly tall and domed yeasted beer bread. It was hard to wait for it to cool, but I was able to endure the time to confirm that the interior was tightly knit and perfectly uniform. I ate the heel straight away, unadorned, so I could get an unbiased taste. It was great, and it was actually beery - something that surprised me. It was great alongside the soup I made for supper last night, and toasts extremely well. I may have a new favorite loaf pan bread recipe...

I'm not sure if this technique would work with my sourdough method. I am curious if the beer would ferment happily along with the starter for 18-24 hours before becoming bread, or if it would become too alcoholic and kill off the balance of the sourdough culture. The only way for me to know would be to try (or Google, I found one already here)... I'm also wondering how the flavor would change if I used different beers, weiss beers may make a fruitier loaf, and syrupy stouts perhaps a more molasses-y one. More complex home brews are going to have more interesting results, no doubt.

Now that the newness of January is almost a week old, I can start to see where my new year is heading. While I don't envision myself becoming a full-fledged brewer this year, I can see myself tinkering around with more beer-based recipes. I like thinking that in times past it was probably the women of the households that were culturing, brewing, and fermenting things to feed and nourish their families. In our modern American world, the craft of home brewing is usually dominated by men. Where and when did this shift take place? Man, have I got a lot of reading to do... good thing it will still be Winter for a few more months.

The more I experiment with and read about, the more I realize just how connected all foodstuffs are. The people curious in general with food and drink tend to overlap, making us all better rounded in the long run. Good things to remember in the New Year!

Homebrewing With Mr. Mork: Part 2 - Bottling.

So here we are at the second stage of the homebrewing process: bottling. Yesterday afternoon, I drove over to assist and learn as Mr. Mork transferred the progressing fermentation from carboy to bottle. It does not seem like more than a month, indeed most of the summer, has passed since I witnessed the birth of this Tounge Splitter Ale.

About a week after I was there, Mr. Mork transferred the original ferment to a new carboy stoppered with an airlock, a one-way valve that allows pressure from within the carboy out without letting air in. The second fermentation was then underway.

The bottles were already washed and sterilized when I arrived. You can reuse any beer bottle that does not use a screw off cap. Some of his bottles are as old as his first batch of beer! As I am kind of a glass jar/bottle fanatic, I loved the look of many mismatched bottles. Mr. Mork used to painstakingly remove the labels, but now doesn't bother... the bottles are all labeled with marker on their caps when the bottling is complete.


About a week ago, he added additional hops to the carboy. This is called dry-hopping, and adds an additional dimension to the hoppiness that already exists.

The only thing left to do before transferring this liquid to the bottles is to add the priming sugar. Priming sugar is made from corn and activates the yeast in the beer, stimulating them to create carbonation in the bottle. We tasted the priming sugar, which I thought was exactly like a Pixi Stix, sans artificial colorants and crazy artificial flavor. The flat beer was actually tasty, too. All of the metallic hop flavors that I witnessed last month were surprisingly mellowed, the barley flavors toned down. I know that in a couple of weeks, this is going to really be an excellent beverage.

The priming sugar needs to be dissolved in boiling water, and meanwhile, the bottle caps are sanitized by boiling as well.

This process of siphoning the beer from the carboy into the bottling bucket was easy, but for some reason, I could not figure out how it was going to work until I saw it. (It reminded me of when I learned to knit in the round, and used a place marker. I couldn't visualize how the marker wouldn't be stuck on the needle as I knit... That is ridiculous to me now! Sometimes the simplest things are the things that throw me the most.) In Wild Fermentation, Sandor uses a more archaic process of just sucking on the end of plain tubing, but this more sophisticated aid called a racking cane is filled with water, and the water provides the suction. A more sanitary solution to the mouth siphoning process, I'd imagine...

The bottling bucket is equipped on the bottom with a spigot that is inserted in the bottle, and fills when pressure is applied. Mr. Mork filled the bottles, and R1 demonstrates the capping process:

Easy, and addicting! I'm considering getting a bottle capper for my kombucha bottling... but I'm a little worried about the insane carbonation issues I've been having... I took over from R1, and capped the rest of the bottles, about 46 in all. They are now labeled and resting in boxes at the edge of the Mork dining room, where it is a bit warmer than the basement. After two weeks, the bottle fermentation will be mostly complete (give or take a few days), and phase 3 can begin: Drinking.

It is amazing that so little effort can produce spectacular results. I guess that is how I feel about most kitchen experiments - that if you just have a bit of time and can reasonably follow instructions, you can make almost anything! The longer you do something, the easier it becomes, it's just the learning curve that can seem to throw me.

Beer is something that humans have brewed for an extremely long time, and yet, the process is unknown to so many people. I guess it is like anything, and you can demand better beer just as you can demand better fruits and vegetables and better meats and poultry - or better yet, you can grow or brew them yourself.

Another aspect of the whole home fermentation process that I really like, is the waiting. Our society is so full of instant gratification and "bigger, better and more". Waiting 6 -8 weeks to drink something so full of quality is really a pleasure. My own small ferments like the ginger beer, rhubarb liqueur, and kombucha take far less than a month (except for the aging of the liqueur), but still require a week or two of timing, and drinking something off my counter that I've been patient enough to wait awhile for is infinitely more rewarding than getting in my car and driving to a shop and buying something to drink this instant. I hope you will agree, and be able to learn a process like beer brewing from someone who also enjoys the waiting, like Mr. Mork!

Fermentation Paradiso

Last Sunday, I bottled my second batch of kombucha. Following a couple of suggestions on a website that Lo had suggested to me, I finished the bottles with about a tablespoon each of different fruit, including the blueberry, ginger and strawberry teas seen above. I filled the swing-top bottles as full as I could, and left them on the counter to continue their bottle fermentation. Early this morning, I cracked open a strawberry-blueberry bottle and actually had to hold the lid down due to the overwhelming carbonation. I was excited since my first bottling was tasty but fairly flat. I decided to put them all in the fridge, and got ready for my tutorial in homebrewing with R1's husband, Mr. Mork.

Boy-O and I drove out to the House of Mork around 9 this morning, and I couldn't wait to witness the whole process of homebrewing. Mr. Mork chose a kit from Northern Brewer called Tongue Splitter Ale, a west coast style ale with plenty of hops. He has been brewing at home for more than 10 years, so the process is second nature to him. His explanation to me of the brewing process was concise, and I couldn't help but think of the Northern Brewer employee who spent so much time talking with me last week. He was mentioning to a new homebrewer about the journey of brewing, not the end product - but the means to the end. That is exactly the process I got to see today, and it made me appreciate the craft of fermentation even more.

Mr. Mork purchased a kit to brew this beer, and explained that a kit allows a tried and true formula to be reproduced with a consistent result. A lot of trial and guesswork is removed when you go with a kit, and companies like Northern Brewer seem to have very detailed descriptions of the end result. Much the same way as a chef would publish a recipe for a home cook to follow, beer kits take a basic formula and let a homebrewer tweak the flavoring components. This can be done a little or a lot, and like pretty much anything food and flavor related, the possibilities are endless.

I was actually pretty surprised at how easy the entire process is. I mean, brewing a beer seems like something that you should leave the professionals, right? But like anything worth enjoying to the fullest, doing (or in my case, witnessing) the work yourself helps you appreciate the entire experience all the more.

The standard amount for homebrewing is 5 gallons, and that is exactly what I saw today. 2 gallons of pure, un-softened water went into the stainless brewing pot, and needed to come to a boil. Around 100 degrees, the grains went in, and the grain "tea" steeped until the water heated to the 170 degree mark.

After the grains come out, barley malt extract goes in. Mr. Mork lets the container sit in a sink full of warm water to help it pour easier:

After the extract goes in, the mixture returns to a boil, and you officially have a wort: the brewer's term for unfermented beer. After this point, the mixture boils for 60 minutes, with various variety of hops added at different times in the duration of the boiling. When I saw the sealed packets of hops, I was envisioning the actual hop blossom. I was surprised to open it and find this:

Chopped and pelletized hops! If you have ever smelled an ale, the characteristic hop bite that comes to your olfactories is nothing like the pure hop bite I smelled today. The fermentation process tempers the strong and almost metallic floral aromas. Each package had an alpha acid percentage, a different one on each of the 4 types used. The higher alpha content hops were added earlier in the boil. According to Homebrewing for Dummies, at harvest time, hops are measured for this acid content which is related to their bitterness. The alpha acid content percentage is a ratio of the acid's weight in relation to the weight of the whole flower, the higher the content, the higher the bitterness of the hop.

After our 60 minutes of boiling, I asked if I could taste the wort. It was thickened and syrupy, and surprisingly sweet from the addition of barley malt extract. It was delicious, and not at all as bitter as I thought it would be after smelling the hops as they boiled along.

After the wort was cooled using a wort chiller, the mixture was poured into a 5 gallon carboy to continue on it's journey to complete fermentation. The wort went in, followed by enough water to equal 5 gallons. Yeast is finally added, 100 billion yeast cells ready to work their magic on the humble wort. It now graduates into a growing and living thing, and active fermentation will begin in Mr. Mork's basement sometime within the next 24-48 hours. 7-14 days from now, second fermentation will begin, and 2-4 weeks after that, bottling will commence.

The whole process of brewing beer is strangely similar to the process of brewing kombucha, only instead of a SCOBY, the yeast is added as a liquid and no symbiotic union of bacteria is present (and, of course, more alcohol is produced as a result of the fermentation). Indeed, fermentation of most fermentable things is similar, and that is really amazing. I don't know why I thought there would be some complicated steps in the process, but really it is just an ancient technique, only modernized slightly by good hygiene practices and more intricate knowledge of flavor. I love to think about how imaginative people figured out how to brew, culture and ferment foods as a method of preservation. Mr. Mork relayed this story of the real King Midas, and a beer that was made based on the remains of the funeral feast found in his tomb. Here is the story of how a 2700 year old beer was recreated!

My copy of Wild Fermentation (recently recommended to me by E in Maine...) just came in from the library, and will be the perfect thing to read when I'm out of town for the next few days. I hope that I don't lose any of the memory of smells from today, since every one of the components of the Tongue Splitter were very distinct. I'm looking forward to trying the finished product and matching them to what I remember.

The whole idea of flavor profiling and taste memory is very fascinating to me. It is what makes a great cup of coffee, a stellar glass of wine, or even a cup of milk taste exactly like where it came from; it is what will help me find a good flavor for my kombucha experiments, and it is something that I am increasingly conscious of. Almost as if the more attention I pay to every component of the foods and drinks I consume, the more I appreciate them - an action of gratitude through consumption.

I have a flickr set of annotated brewing pictures, that you may peruse to see more of Mr. Mork's homebrewing process today, and I will update it as I continue to watch to progress of this batch. I'd like to encourage any curious and adventurous readers to get out there and try and brew something! Be it tea or beer or even a cup of joe, try really tasting what it is that makes you happy on a day to day basis and really appreciate the work that was involved to produce it. I promise you, you will taste it in a whole new light.

I have a bit of work to do in the kombucha fermentation field, since it seems that my natural carbonation dissipates through refrigeration. When I popped a few bottles to take some pictures this afternoon, all of the amazing fizziness that I was so excited about earlier this morning had vanished. Just a trace of that lid-popping effervescence remained, but it was enough to make me curious about what I'm doing wrong. Sunday evening, I'll likely bottle another batch, and tweak the process yet again, in the same manner of curious brewers from ages past. I could be frustrated, but I am not at all. Getting to the final destination is really half of the enjoyment!