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!

Dozens of Dozens of Sourdough

I woke up at 6 am this morning to bake bread.

It had been proofing overnight in my cast iron loaf pan, dusted with flour and lightly covered with a bit of plastic wrap to keep it from drying out for the twelve hour counter-top rise.

It was the one hundredth and fourty-fourth loaf I’d baked since that first pandemic lockdown began back in March 2020. One dozen dozen sandwich loaves.

Bread as far as the mind can see.

Had I not picked the “cast iron guy” as the name for this blog, a close runner up could have easily been something to do with sourdough.

As much as countless people have jumped on the sourdough bandwagon during these times of COVID restrictions and being stuck at home needing something to do I’m going to claim early-adopter status and say I have been dabbling in sourdough bread for half a decade now. My interest sparked after reading a book by Michael Pollan where he discussed the history of fermentation and other slowish food preparation methods. My research didn’t end there, though, and after a couple false starts with starters, I gave rise to my current levain in early 2019.

Yet a mere one year ago my two year old starter was nothing special. I’d been baking bread three or four times a month, usually when we needed a good dome loaf for a holiday or a party or to accompany a nice meal at home.

Then about ten and a half months ago I got sent home from the office to “temporarily” work from home.

On my drive the radio was talking about potential food shortages and the chance for panic buying as people stocked up for the long haul. I stopped and picked up a few groceries, including a big bag of flour. Upon arriving home I pulled the starter from the fridge to let it warm up for a batch of bread.

I’d been tracking my bakes with sharpie tick-marks on the lid of the starter’s container, but I switched colours to track the loaves I was going to cook while the pandemic passed us by. The Kid asked me as I was weighing out the flour if I could make “square loaves” (instead of the usual domes) because it was easier for her sandwiches. We baked those first loaves the next day after a long rise in a pair of cast iron loaf pans. We haven’t really stopped. Multiple times per week fresh bread comes out of the oven, usually two loaves in a batch, and there is always fresh sourdough to be eaten on our counter.

One hundred an fourty-four loaves later, a dozen dozens, sourdough has become our pandemic legacy.

So many sandwiches, breakfast toasts, afternoon snacks, and heels turned into garlic wedges.

A pair of pans.

A tub of cultured flour, water and natural yeast.

And one family fed on a reliable source of delicious bread.

Gaige’s Famous Inside-Out Grilled Cheese

Some day I’ll dig into my second-favourite cooking topic after cast iron, and write some posts about sourdough bread.

In the meantime, know that my classic sandwich loaf sourdough serves as the base for a mouthwatering recipe that blurs my passion for cast iron cooking with fresh bread and delicious lunch foods.

It’s a simple hack for your grilled cheese, but add a bit of grated cheddar to the buttered outsides of a classic grilled cheese sandwhich (bread, butter, cheese and heat.)

2 slices of sourdough bread
1 tablespoon of butter or margarine
1/2 cup of grated cheddar cheese

Grill as normal. (My normal is on a hot-hot cast iron griddle.)

If you’ve got a soft spot for fried cheese, the crisp exterior of your sandwhich will warm your heart (and probably clog your arteries … did I mention that this is a sometimes food?)