There was a time when I didn’t like beer. Actually, there were many times. The first that I remember was at a family party at my grandparents’ house, when my cousin and I must have pilfered a can from the ice chest and gone for a walk to try it. Though we reveled in Maneschewitz at Passover, a sip of beer left me baffled as to how anyone could drink something so vile.
I held to this notion until I traveled to Italy with my best friend, who shocked me one night when she ordered a beer with her pizza. By way of explanation, she said simply, ‘I like beer.’
Since my friend has impeccable taste, I gave beer another chance, and decided that light beers, namely Coronas and Pacificos, were ok, so long as you had a lime wedge to shove in the bottle and something cheesy and greasy to chase them with.
There were light beers and dark beers. Sweet beers and sour beers. Malty beers and hoppy beers. There were boozy barley wines, sweet Belgians, fruity Lambics and crisp kolschs.
The Doc and I at Boundary Bay Brewery in Bellingham, Washington
But most importantly, there was Anchor Steam.
I’d seen the blue, red and gold label many times and thought nothing of it, until I moved in with Jay a mere 5 blocks from where the magic happens. When I walk outside in the morning (or afternoon, mostly), I can often smell the malty aroma of the cooking barley, or ‘mash,’ wafting on the breeze. Few bojon activities rate as high as the free tours of the beautiful brewery, which culminate in a sunny taproom with tastings of their various brews. I love Liberty Ale, a gently hopped IPA of sorts; and the Bock, with it’s goaty label. Summer ale refreshes on a hot day, and even the porter is quaffably smooth.
But nothing beats their Steam beer (you’ll have to take the tour to find out why it’s called that), an expertly balanced lager that goes with anything, any time. The little gold dress of beers, if you will.
When I began baking with sourdough several years ago, I liked to think that the coveted yeasts from the Anchor brewery had found their way into my kitchen and lent their good juju to my loaves. (In fact, I still like to think that.)
My starter had been sitting in the fridge for months and months, patiently waiting to be revivified. When I saw this handsome, beer-based loaf on CakeWalk, via YeastSpotting, I immediately removed my starter from the fridge, poured off the gray liquid sitting on top, and began nourishing it for baking. I made some multi-grain pancakes and brownies, and then it was time.
I altered my sourdough country boule recipe, decreasing the starter and using Anchor Steam in place of the water. I added a touch of honey, and the bread baked up intensely flavorful; not tasting of beer, but with a malty depth of flavor. The bread was denser than I wanted, however, probably from adding too much flour and not kneading the dough enough.
Inspired by Cheeseboard’s Sourdough Beer Rye, I decided to try this loaf with rye flour in place of whole wheat, so I made a second one, this time kneading the dough in the stand mixer so that it could remain wetter. The dough was stickier than I was used to, but I wrestled it into a banneton dusted heavily with flour (it still stuck). When I turned it out onto a cornmeal-dusted peel, it was so wobbly that I feared it would ‘sploosh’ into a flat, ugly loaf in the oven.
But the loaf defied me, and baked up into one of the nicest breads of this sort I have ever made. The crust was deep mahogany, almost black (and next time, I would decrease the oven temperature after 15 minutes rather than 20), and the interior was soft and chewy, with large, irregular holes. The bread makes excellent sandwiches, spread with Sierra Nevada mustard and layered with sharp cheddar, avocado and sprouts.
And of course, nothing washes down a sandwich quite like a cold glass of Anchor Steam beer.
Sourdough Beer Rye
Makes one large loaf, about 2 pounds
Total time: about 9 hours, not including refreshing starter
refresh starter four hours before beginning recipe
mix, knead and autolyse dough, 1 hour
first rise, 3 – 4 hours (or overnight in fridge)
shape dough, 10 minutes
second rise, 1 1/2 – 2 hours
bake, 45 minutes
cool loaf, 1 – 2 hours
A few notes:
I used Anchor Steam lager for this bread, but you could probably use any beer that you like the taste of (though I would stay away from anything ultra-hoppy). Having your beer at room temp will help the bread rise faster than cold beer. If you forget to leave your beer out to warm, place the unopened bottle in a container of warm water for 20 minutes or so to take off the chill.
You can order fresh sourdough starter here. This is a nice-looking site if you want to learn how to raise your own starter. (If you live in the Bay Area, I’m happy to give you some of mine!)
In order to raise bread, your starter has to be refreshed, full of bubbles and vigor. If your starter isn’t doubling within four or five hours when you feed it, it will not be strong enough to raise bread. If it isn’t, don’t despair; bake some sourdough crackers, pancakes or pie dough and give the starter another feeding or two until it’s ready. I keep my starter rather thick and almost gloppy, the consistency of a very thick pancake batter; if yours is thinner, you will need to add more flour to the dough.
I like to weigh my starter, as it is extremely sticky to put it in a measuring cup and then try to scrape out. You also get a much more accurate amount, since the bubbles will drastically effect the volume, by a factor of two or three even.
This recipe assumes you have the following accoutrements:
8 oz. liquid sourdough starter, bubbly and well fed (about 1 cup stirred down, or 2+ cups at full froth; see headnote)
12 oz. room temperature beer (such as Anchor Steam lager; see headnote)
3/4 ounce (1 tablespoon) honey
5 oz. (1 cup) rye flour (I used light, but dark/pumpernickel would be good, too)
12 oz. (2 1/4 cups) white bread flour (plus extra as needed)
2 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
Mix and knead the dough:
Combine the ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer in the order listed. Attach the dough hook, and knead on low speed (1 on a Kitchen Aid) until the dough is evenly moistened; it should be wet and sticky. Cover the bowl tightly with a lid or plastic wrap and let rest 20 minutes. (This is called autolyseand allows the flour to absorb some of the water, and the gluten strands to begin straightening out; it makes for less kneading in the end, and will prevent you from adding too much flour right off the bat.)
After 20 minutes, mix the dough on medium-low (2 on a Kitchen Aid) for 10 minutes, adding more bread flour 1 tablespoon at a time within the first 5 minutes until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl. After 10 minutes, the dough should be smoother, but still tacky to the touch.
Scrape the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for a few minutes by hand, adding as little flour as necessary to keep it from sticking to your hands and the counter. It should still be a bit sticky, but should feel smooth and clay-like.
Place the dough in a large, lightly oiled ceramic bowl or a large plastic container at least twice the size of the dough. You can mark the outside of the vessel with a piece of masking tape where the dough will be when it doubles, if you like. Cover the vessel tightly with plastic wrap or the lid, and allow it to rise until doubled, 3 – 4 hours. (The warmer the spot you choose, the faster it will rise, the ideal temperature being 75-85º. You can turn the oven on to warm for a few minutes, then turn it off and place the dough inside to give it a head start; make sure the oven is cooler than 100ºF.) (Alternately, let the dough rise in the fridge or a cool place overnight. If you do, let the dough come to room temperature before shaping it.)
Shaping the dough and the second rise:
Gently turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, pressing out the air bubbles. Shape into a boule by tucking the edges under itself, then gently rotating the dough on the surface to form a taught outer layer of dough. (Here’s a quick video of how to shape a boule.) For an oval-shaped loaf, roll the boule seam-side-down, between the pads of your hands and the counter to elongate.
If you have a rising basket, sift a light layer of flour onto the inside, and place the boule in it upside-down, pinching the seam shut. (If you don’t have a rising basket, place the boule directly on a peel or board dusted with cornmeal or flour.) Place the whole deal in a large plastic bag, such as a trash can liner. Inflate the bag and close it with a twist tie or clip.
Let the bread rise a second time until doubled, about 1 1/2 – 2 hours. When the bread is ready to bake, it will hold an indentation of your finger when you press it lightly, rather than springing back.
Prepare the oven and bake the bread:
While the bread is rising, about an hour before you’re ready to bake, remove all but the lowest rack of your oven. Place a baking stone on the rack (or a heavy duty baking sheet), and place a metal, non-teflon pan of any size that you don’t care about sacrificing (it will get rusty) on the floor of the oven.
Crank the oven up to 500º.
When the bread has doubled, gently turn it out onto a wooden peel dusted with flour or cornmeal. Holding a lame or sharp knife at a 45º angle to the loaf, draw the blade, about 1″ deep, across the top of the loaf, beginning and ending 2″ from the bottoms of the boule. Make 2 or 3 diagonal slashes this way (see photo in post, above).
Fill a 1 cup measure with ice cubes. Quickly slip the boule off the peel and onto the stone, and toss the cubes into the hot pan on the floor of the oven. This will steam the outside of the loaf, allowing it to expand as it bakes.
Bake the loaf for 15 minutes without opening the oven, then turn the oven down to 450º and bake another 15 – 20 minutes or so, until the bread is a deep, burnished golden-brown and the loaf sounds hollow when thumped on the bottom. An instant read thermometer inserted into the middle should read around 200º, the temperature at which the starches in the dough are set.
Cool and store:
Let cool completely on a wire rack, 1 – 2 hours, before enjoying. When hot, the bread is still ‘baking’ from the residual heat and steam inside the loaf, so step away from the bread until it is truly cool.
This bread keeps well for more than a week. The best way to store this type of bread is in a paper bag at room temperature for a couple of days. After that, put the whole thing, paper bag and all, into a plastic bag and continue to store at room temp. After a couple of days like that, it there’s any left over, cut leftovers into 1/2″ chunks, fry in a heavy skillet in light olive oil, and toss into soups or salads for the best croutons ever.