This isn’t the quick bread so many other people make. Beer enhances the taste of the sourdough yet it also tastes like the beer! Different types of beer make very different flavors so be bold and try as many types of beer as you wish.
Beer breads first became popular around 1650 when Louis XIV of France began standardizing yeast. Beer and ale use yeast to ferment the grain (usually barley.) Both the dregs of the beer and the foam of the beer contained wild yeasts and bacteria, just as sourdough does, but the process of fermenting beer and ale killed off many of the different types of wild yeast. The yeasts that were survived were stronger and more reliable — and that yeast can be used to make bread. Eventually those yeasts were used to create the monoculture of yeast one can purchase in a grocery store today.
There’s a problem when attempting to recreate the bread of 1650. During the modern packaging process non pasteurized draft beers are sterile filtered and chilled to the point that any surviving bacteria, which could ferment the beer, become dormant, and beer that is pasteurized has killed off the yeast entirely. For every problem there’s a solution — though how closely it matches the bread of 1650 is anyone’s guess! It matches the description of the bread fairly well: more yellow than white with a dense crumb and hard crust.
Makes 1 very large round loaf, or two rather small round loaves
24 to 48 hours before you want to eat the bread:
- One cup of very liquid sourdough starter
- One cup of your favorite beer
- One cup of flour (any type of wheat flour)
The longer you let this mixture sit on your counter, the stronger the beer taste in the final bread. It doesn’t appear to be working at first, but if you stir it you’ll see the familiar tiny bubbles.
8 to 12 hours before you want to eat
- 1 to 3 teaspoons salt
- 2 1/2 cups bread flour (“hard flour” if you’re in Europe)
- 1/4 cup sweet butter (unsalted butter)
- 1/4 cup whole milk or cream
- all of the beer sourdough mixture (If there is liquid on top, do not pour it off!)
Knead in as much flour as necessary to form a rather soft very smooth dough. (about 10 minutes of kneading)
Let it rise in a warm place until doubled in size (2-4 hours) This dough really does require warmth and moisture to rise properly, and “warm” does not describe my kitchen on an icy cold December day! As I’ve said before, for every problem there is a solution; I create a very warm moist environment in my sink.
When the dough has doubled in size, punch it down, knead it lightly and shape it into a ball. (If you’re making 2 loaves, as I did, cut it in half and knead each half separately before shaping it.) Place a single round loaf on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper. For 2 loaves, grease 2 ovenproof cereal bowls, and put one loaf in each bowl. The shape of the dough doesn’t really matter — you could use 2 small loaf pans.
Once again it needs to rise in a warm, moist space until doubled in size. My bowls don’t fit comfortably in the sink, so I relied on the insulation in my oven. Without turning the oven on, place the bowls of dough on the top shelf. Boil 3 to 4 cups of water, and pour the water into a pain on the bottom shelf, and close the oven door. You may have to replace the boiling water a couple of times — but the heat and steam from the water will make the bread rise.
When the dough has doubled in size take it OUT of the oven so you can preheat the oven to 375° F.
While the oven is preheating, brush the top of the bread with water or beer two or three times, waiting 5 minutes between each brushing. (A dedicated pastry brush really helps brush the tops of bread, but one can use a water soaked paper towel – or even your fingers, if you’re gentle.) Immediately before putting the bread into the hot oven, slash the top.
Bake for 45 minutes (or until bread tests done) in the preheated oven. Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack for at least 15 minutes!