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Friday, October 9, 2009

A different strain of bread

This bread is very tricky and time consuming to make.  I experimented quite a bit with brewing yeast as a baking ingredient, and it was well, interesting.  Brewing yeast is a completely different animal (literally) from baking yeast.  If you deviate from these instructions, your mileage may vary.

Handling and care of Brewing yeast:
The yeast I used was American Ale 2, harvested from (512) Brewing's Pecan Porter.  I suspect that ale yeasts will roughly behave the same way, but I could be wrong.  I can be very, very wrong.  Do not use a lager yeast with this recipe.  Brewing yeast handling is different from baking yeast in many ways, with the most notable different is that it is suspended in liquid.  Brewing yeast should not get above about 80 degrees or else it might die.  I've been told that it may be able to handle a bit higher temperatures, but I'm not taking risks.  I "pitch" it into the dough mixture at 75-80 degrees.  I also keep it in a jar with a loose lid.  Brewing yeast hates pressure, and so keep the lid loose.  For brewing, you do not want to use a loose lid so that it won't get contaminated with other flavors.  For baking, it isn't that big a deal as the bread will be baked and bacteria won't survive the heat.   I also keep the jar at room temperature.   

In order to grow yeast, you must make a starter for it.  I start with 2 tablespoons of dormant yeast for my starter.  I take it from the bottom of my big jar of yeast, and place it into an air tight container.  If you are lucky enough to get some yeast from a brewery, it will likely be dormant and settle at the bottom of the container.  Dormant simply means that it has eaten all the sugar in it's solution and is taking a nap.  We're going to wake it up and feed it with sugar.  There are many starter recipes online, and here's my very generic recipe. Heat 1/2 cup of water and a 1/2 cup of liquid malt extract (any kind) until it boils.  While it is heating, whisk rapidly to incorporate air.  Allow to cool to lower than 80 degrees, and pour into a jar with 2 tablespoons of dormant yeast.  Place the lid on tightly, and shake vigorously.  Open the lid to allow air in, then close lid and shake again.  I repeat the shaking to incorporate air.  After three times, I leave the lid on loosely and allow it to sit for 24 hours.  Within a few hours, the yeast should start bubbling and putting off a nasty looking foam.  It might also smell sour.  That's a good thing.  The yeast is active and alive.  Before use, I skim off the yucky looking foam on top.  The brewing yeast is now ready for baking. 

Dough (2 small loaves)
1 cup beer (I used a Hefe, but any beer you like will do)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 cups (or more) unbleached all purpose flour, divided 
2/3 cup of malt extract (extra pale)
jar or active brewing yeast (should be just over a cup of liquid)
1 teaspoon salt
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
Optional: mix-ins such as chocolate chips, dried fruit, nuts, or grains

Warm beer and butter in glass measuring cup in the microwave or the stove top to 80°F. Be very precise on the temperature. Disaster may ensue if the temperature is off.  Pour into bowl of stand mixer fitted with hook attachment. Add 1 cup flour, sugar, malt extract, and yeast. Mix for 3 minutes, occasionally to scrape down sides of bowl. Add the remaining flour and salt. Stir on low until flour is absorbed and dough is sticky, scraping down sides of bowl. The dough will get tougher and tougher for the mixer to move.  If dough is very sticky, add more flour by tablespoonfuls until dough begins to come together.  The bread will not really have a structure no matter how much flour you add.  It will be very loose and difficult to knead.  I call it the blob dough.  Turn dough out onto lightly floured work surface. Knead until smooth and elastic, adding more flour if sticky, about 8 minutes. Form into ball as best you can.

Lightly oil large bowl with nonstick spray. Transfer dough to bowl, and spray with nonstick spray. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, then kitchen towel. Let dough rise in warm draft-free area until doubled in volume, about 48 hours.  The dough will not rise rapidly not increase greatly in volume.  Instead, you'll see tiny bubbles form on the plastic wrap and bubbles coming up from the below.  It will look like the bubbles that form on top of pancakes as they cook.

Turn dough out onto lightly flour work surface and knead again. Again, it will still be sticky with not structure.  Be prepared for some hard work.  Mix in dried fruit, nuts, grains, or chocolate at this point if you like.  I like to mix in cranberries and walnuts and shape into small buns.  Good for breakfast.  Split dough in half if making two smaller loaves.  Shape the bread slightly, and place in lightly greased baking pan.  Allow to rise covered with plastic wrap in a warm draft-free place for at least another 24 hours.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes. 

This bread is very dense and hearty.  It will not rise drastically during baking, and it is tasty with cream cheese or clotted cream.  Below are some photos of the past experiments. 

Tiny bubbles.

No structure, whatsoever.

The cranberry biscuit.


Baked with Cranberries and Walnuts. Photo by John Knox.

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