Thursday, 7 May 2015

Beer bread

Beer bread

I've been baking a lot of bread lately. And I mean more than I used to do before, as baking bread for my family is an activity that I have been enjoying for quite some time now.
But since I was kindly gifted a portion of a mature (more than 100 years old, as I was told by the pastry chef who gave it to me) sourdough starter, about one month ago, the baking activity in my kitchen has significantly increased. 
First of all because I would feel guilty to let that precious - at least in my eyes - and alive material go wasted.
Second because I have the opportunity to make experiments and, hopefully, improve my ability to manage sourdough starter and, in general, to make bread.
Finally because I love any kind of bread, from farmhouse to ciabatta to focaccia to pita / flatbread, made with a sourdough starter: I like the peculiar sourness (by the way), smell and texture of the crumb as well as the external thick and crunchy crust.
Anyway I have to admit that mastering the use and maintenance of sourdough is a sort of personal challenge at the moment, even if I am not sure whether I will be able to pursue my goal in the next few months (and in fact the biggest concern of mine is how I will manage my sourdough during the quite long period that I will spend in Italy this summer - but let's see). 
For this reason, but not only, it's not my intention to convert anybody to the sourdough "school". Especially considering the fact that common yeast - much easier to manage, transport and maintain than a sourdough starter - can produce delicious breads as well. 
The only thing that I recommend when using commercial yeast, whether fresh or dry, is to use only as much yeast as necessary for the recipe and to prefer a slow, overnight fermentation rather than a fast one: bread will be much lighter and easy to digest (thanks to the small amount of yeast), and the kneading process shorter and easier (a long rest helps the natural development of gluten).
And luckily this is something that home bakers, who usually prepare small batches of dough just for family consumption, can manage much more easily than industrial and commercial bakeries who would need very big refrigerators to store large batches of dough overnight.
Beer bread

The bread recipe I am going to share today calls for common, easy to find, commercial yeast, dry or fresh depending on availability or personal preference; the only peculiarity is the use of beer instead of water for dissolving the yeast. 
Beer, along with a part of whole wheat flour, will give a very singular aroma to your bread - more or less intense depending on the type of beer you choose - as well as a soft and very appetizing texture.
It will be a nice addition to any bread basket, but it will work well also for making sandwiches, toasts and canap├ęs. 
Since the dough preparation is divided in two steps (a starter has to be mixed 10 to 12 hours before preparing the final dough), making this bread takes time, most of which unproductive though: just a bit of planning is required when you decide to make it but, trust me, it is worth the wait.

Beer bread
makes 1 large or 2 small loaves
200 g all purpose flour
less than 1 g instant yeast (or 2 g fresh yeast)
200 ml beer (any type works fine)
all the starter
100 g wholewheat flour
300 g all purpose flour
10 g sea salt
1 tsp / about 2 g instant yeast (or 4 g fresh yeast)
200 ml bear
mixed seeds for garnish
The day before baking.
Dissolve the 1 g instant yeast (or 2 g fresh yeast) in 200 ml beer. Add 200 g all purpose flour and mix well, cover with cling film and let rest in a cool place (in the fridge during summer) overnight or for about 10 to 12 hours. 
The following day, in a large bowl dissolve the remaining 2 g instant yeast (or 4 g fresh yeast) in 200 ml beer and mix with the starter. Add 100 g whole wheat flour and 300 g all purpose flour.
Mix with a wooden spoon until you have a smooth and sticky dough. Cover with another bowl (or cling film) and let stand for 10 minutes.
Leaving the dough in the bowl, pull a portion of the dough up from the side and press it into the middle. Turn the bowl slightly and repeat this process with another portion of dough. Repeat another 8 times going round the whole bowl.
Cover the bowl again and let stand for another 10 minutes.
Now repeat the kneading process other 3 times, making sure you let the dough stand for 10 minutes in between. 
After the fourth kneading. cover and let the dough rest  until it doubles in size (about 1 hour).
Then gently knead the dough for few minutes, cut in 4 (or 6 if making two loaves) even pieces and roll them into balls. Roll one side of each ball into the mixed seed and gently place them into a large loaf pan (or two small). Cover with lightly oiled cling film and let proof for one more hour, or until almost doubled in size.
In the meantime preheat the oven to 240°C and place an empty pot on the bottom. When hot add one cup water to the pot, transfer the loaves into the oven, set the temperature to 200 °C and bake for about 30 minutes.
The bread is ready if it sounds hollow when thumped on the bottom.
Cool on a wire rack for at least one hour before slicing.


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