Our social media feeds are looking a little different lately. Instead of influencers traveling the globe, chefs reposting images captured in their restaurants, and everyone posting the cliché but classic shot of a Playbill before the theater production begins, there is just a lot of bread.
The try hards are making sourdough, but everyone seems to have churned out at least one loaf while in quarantine. That is until the yeast began. Now, only those painstakingly feeding a sourdough starter have the opportunity to bake a golden brown crusty loaf for Instagram glory … or do they?
Beer bread is always a good idea but in quarantine it’s a mixture of a lifeline and a pastime. It provides all the touchstones of baking, taking six powdery lackluster ingredients and turning them into something nourishing, stunning even! But unlike finicky recipes that require multiple rises, beer bread is in the oven in five minutes or less, and on your plate in under an hour.
That’s because beer bread is a type of quick bread. A style of bread that has been around since Native Americans used pearl ash (also called pot ash) instead of yeast to leaven bread. But, this method of leavening didn’t become popular until the late 1840s when Arm & Hammer’s commercially released baking soda became widely available. Quick breads became even more mainstream when Eben Norton Horsford packaged self-activating baking powder that eliminated the need to add acidic ingredients to bread dough in the 1860s.
A popular form of quick bread is Irish Soda Bread, which uses acidic buttermilk to activate the baking soda. At some point bakers started using acidic Guinness as the activator and this may have been the first form of beer bread.
One drawback of quick breads, which include common breads like banana bread, corn bread, and pain d’épices, is they can be very rich, dense, and heavy because the only force working to aerate the structure formed by gluten is the carbon dioxide released from the leavener. Unlike yeasted breads, which continue to rise and ferment for the first 10 or so minutes they’re in the oven, quick breads have but one mechanical reaction to provide all of their lift. Enter beer! The carbonation in beer provides an extra boost — a second source of carbon dioxide, and therefore helps lighten the texture of the bread.
In the recipe below, every step is taken to avoid extra gluten production (which begins as soon as all-purpose flour gets wet) to make a hearty, but not heavy, loaf. First, beer and sugar are combined. Then flour, leavener, salt, and some butter are added to hydrate the flour as fast as possible. Less stirring means less gluten, and a less gummy texture.
The dough is then spread in a pan, and doused with lots of melted butter. This butter essentially boils around the sides and bottoms of the loaf as it bakes, creating a golden brown, crunchy crust — and keeps the bread from drying out.
It’s very easy to get creative with this recipe, without requiring a trip to the grocery store. Variations that lean sweet, savory, or even spicy can be achieved with what you have in your pantry. Cheers to yeast-free baking — with beer!
Hearty Beer Bread Recipe
Active Time: 5 Minutes | Total Time: 1 hour | 6-8 Servings
- ½ cup melted unsalted butter, divided (113 grams)
- ¼ cup + 1 tablespoon brown sugar, divided (55 grams + 14 grams)
- 12 ounces (1 ½ cups) beer with a lighter flavor such as pilsner (Budweiser, Victory Prima Pils), or something with a little sweetness, such as a Belgian-style witbier (Hoegaarden, Allagash White) or German wheat beer (Weihenstephaner Hefe Weissbier, Live Oak Hefeweizen). Stay away from very bitter or very roasty styles.
- 3 cups + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (391 grams)
- 1 tablespoon baking soda
- 1 ½ teaspoons salt, divided
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Using a pastry brush or your hands, spread 2 tablespoons of melted butter over the interior of a 9” x 5” loaf pan.
- Whisk together ¼ cup of brown sugar and 1 12-ounce beer in a large mixing bowl until there are no lumps.
- Add 1 cup of flour and use a rubber spatula or wooden spoon to give the mixture one or two stirs (just enough to wet the flour). Sprinkle baking soda and 1 teaspoon of salt over the mixture.
- Add the rest of the flour and two tablespoons of the melted butter. Stir just until combined. The dough will be very sticky and thick. Do not overmix!
- Spread the dough into the buttered pan. Add remaining brown sugar and salt to the melted butter, and stir to combine. Pour the melted butter mixture in an even layer over the dough.
- Bake for 30 minutes. Rotate the pan and bake for another 10 to 18 minutes, until the top is golden brown. Butter will still be bubbling in the top and sides of the pan; let rest for at least 10 minutes before removing the loaf from the pan.
- Remove loaf from pan, and allow to rest for at least 5 minutes before serving warm, or allow to cool completely for easier slicing.
Pantry Variations: Sweet and Savory
Below are recommendations on how to make beer bread sweet or savory. This is where everything in your pantry comes into play — try adding your own twist.
Sweet Beer Bread
- Add up to 1 tablespoon of warm baking spices to the dough when you add the baking soda. (I like ½ tablespoon of cinnamon and ¼ tablespoon each of nutmeg and allspice.)
- Up to 2 tablespoons of jam, preserves, molasses, or other semi-solid mix-in can be added with the melted butter. Add about ¼ tablespoon extra baking powder to make sure bread still rises appropriately.
- Add up to ½ cup sweet mix-ins like dried fruit, nuts, or chocolate chips by mixing them into the dough right before it is spread in the pan. Fresh fruit has too much liquid for this recipe.
- Mix an extra tablespoon of brown sugar into the melted butter before it is poured over the dough.
Savory Beer Bread
- Add up to 2 tablespoons of dried spices to the dough when you add the baking soda. (I use ½ tablespoon garlic powder, ½ tablespoon onion powder, ¼ tablespoon each of black pepper and crushed red pepper.)
- Add up to ½ cup shredded or grated cheese with the second addition of flour.
- Add up to ½ cup savory mix-ins like canned jalapenos (drained), finely chopped scallion, caramelized onions, or roughly chopped sun-dried tomatoes. It is important that any oil, water, or juice is thoroughly drained from the additions. Fresh veggies like spinach, broccoli, or squash have too much moisture and don’t work well here unless they are roasted or sweated first.