Honey Brown Sourdough (Part Two)

A loaf of sourdough cools on the countertop.

Yesterday morning I started preparing an experimental loaf of sourdough where I replaced all but a little of the water in the recipe with a honey brown lager.

Today, the loaf has been proofed, baked and sampled.

But let’s back up a step.

I’ve been pondering sourdough mix-ins. In the past year of pandemic lockdown I’ve baked about a hundred and fifty loaves of bread. Ninety-percent of these have been baked purely to answer the “we need bread” call. There are a few reasons I turned to sourdough as a mostly reliable source of food during the pandemic, and some of them are practical. Yet, I’ve long had a curiosity about working towards honing skills in arts and science, and tending a sourdough starter to bake awesome bread checks off a few boxes in that inquisitive mindset approach to life.

Sourdough also overlaps nicely with the Philosophy of the Cast Iron Guy (TM) in that a sourdough starter is simple, down-to-earth, and extremely useful. Flour, water, and cultivated yeasts can be fed and maintained for years (and generations) with some basic care and feeding, and at anytime a little bit of that starter can bring a bit more flour and water to life to create a delicious loaf of bread.

Plus, I cook most of my sourdough in cast iron, so there’s that.

Yet man cannot live on bread alone. Someone said that.

I have often looked for ways to make the bread a bit more interesting. Adding some cheese or herbs makes a delicious loaf. A swirl of cinnamon and sugar in a sweetened bread is amazing if it works out right. And, of course, I’ve collected various varieties of flour to play with the blend that makes up the bread itself.

Yesterday, I tried substituting the water for beer.

Beer is largely water, of course, and the other ingredients in a brew overlap so neatly with sourdough that it has been said that beer making and sourdough baking are cousins in the culinary world.

So, what does beer bring to the blend?

To prepare to answer this question effectively I made sure that before baking with a full can of my beer of choice, a Sleeman’s Honey Brown Lager I had more than one can in the house. Last night, after prepping the dough ball for it’s final rise in the proofing basket, I poured myself one of the other cans and settled into the couch to do some relaxing and a bit of writing.

The honey brown has a sweet and malty taste, and while I’m not a beer expert it would rank somewhere mid-to high on a refreshing scale. It’s not quite one of those gulp down in the heat of summer brews, but it’s closer to that than, say, an IPA which I would usually consider a run-over-your-tongue and savour-it beer. What I was focusing on with the bread, however, was did any of those beer flavours carry over to the final loaf?

First, bread had a lot more air bubbles in it than usual. I’ve made the foundational sourdough recipe so many times now that I’ve got a really good feel for times and temperatures. This can be caused by a lot of things, and usually it’s because too long of a rise, but with the outside temperatures being in the minus thirties it’s been tough keeping the house consistently warm, let alone speedy-bread-rise warm.

Second, the darker colour resembeled a loaf I’d have cooked with a blend that had a lot more full grain flours in it. I cook white bread often, because usually I run out of the smaller bags of multigrain or whole wheat and we always have white bread flour. My white bread has a distinctive shade of pale (though not ever bleached white) and this 100% white flour bread was not it. The amber-hued ale brought a richer colour to the final loaf that I liked.

Finally, the bread did have a stonger flavour than a plain white loaf. I would say that it wasn’t a beer flavour specifically but rather something more nutty or generally richer and deeper. Beer-adjacent, definitely. The best way I can put it is that while normally I eat my bread for breakfast with jams or honey, somehow I would think this loaf would do better with a bit of swiss cheese or as part of a less-sweet sandwhich. The complexity of flavour that the beer gave to the bread was enough that can confidently say dabbing a gob of strawberry jam on this would clash and make it tough to swallow.

Was it worth sacrificing a can of beer (over free tap water) for a richer loaf? Moderate postitive. I’m going to try a stronger, darker stout beer (likely a Guinness) next to see if there is an even richer final result to be had, but while the results with the honey brown lager were subtle I think I would try this again, yes.

Honey Brown Sourdough (Part One)

I’ve been thinking about beer breads a lot lately.

Since the start of the pandemic lockdown, I’ve been the family baker. Nearly one hundred and fifty loaves of sourdough of varying shape and quality have emerged from our oven in the last year.

I’ve tried numerous flour blends to mix up our sandwich loaf selection.

I’ve attempted sweet breads with sugar and cinnamon mixed in for fun and fancy.

I’ve added cheeses or herbs to create savoury side loaves to accompany larger meals.

Yet, somehow, I’ve never dabbled in diverting anything but the dry ingredients.

Bread and beer have a long, entwined history. Some have rightly noted that bread and beer are essentially equivalent food stuffs: grains, water, yeast in combination and fermented. My fitness-focused friends who avoid carbs at all costs often remind me that beer is just liquid bread, after all.

Then, does it make sense to make bread with beer as an ingredient?

My experiment began this morning as I cracked open a can of lager shortly after 8am.

And as I write this, the following ingredients are hydrating in a bowl on my countertop:

1 can (326g) Sleeman Honey Brown Lager
38g of warm water (to set the desired hydration)
500g white bread flour
12g salt
250g of active sourdough starter

This is me experimenting, please note. As I write and post this I don’t know how it will turn out and I’ll link to Part Two (hopefully tomorrow… sourdough is a multi-day process) with some notes and photos on my success or failure.

As this is an experiment, my plan is to try a couple different loaves with a couple very different beers. Also, I’m sticking with 100% white flour (y’know, to control the variables in this deeply precise countertop research project) which I hope will let the beer flavours stand out. The first beer is a simple, medium amber lager, a honey brown from a Canadian large batch brewery. For a second attempt, I’m looking to try a darker beer, likely a Guinness to see how that affects the colour and taste.

The dough now mixed will take a couple hours to properly hydrate and develop the gluten on the counter. I’m going to lean on a shorter fermentation period because, again, I do want the beer flavours to stand out over the general “sour” flavours, so I’ll be looking to have this in the fridge for some of today and then do an overnight final proof before baking tomorrow morning.

And then, voila! Beer bread? Tune in tomorrow for the exciting conclusion.

Or should I say.. con-glut-ion!