Beer. Birra. Ale. Porter. Micro-brew. Home Brew. Brewer’s Festivals. My son brings me
bottles of his first batch of home brew: a smoked chocolate concoction that is
intriguingly flavorful. Beer is hot these days. The only thing missing is a beer movie that
can make beer drinking chic instead of synonymous with college keg parties.
Even though, I’m not a beer drinker, I have found a great
use for beer: it goes into my bread dough. The bread comes out with a crackling
crust and an incredible foamy head. OK, you got me, my bread doesn’t really
have a foamy head; it’s just good bread.
700 g bread flour
600 g mother (starter)
50 g rye, whole wheat or spelt flour
Combine the bread & rye flour in a bowl where your mother
has been resting and allowed to come to room temperature. A mother is the
ferment, or natural yeast dough starter that contains the yeast you need for
this bread. For me, the mother is the heart of the bread, it gives it character
and attitude. Not unlike what my flesh and blood mother gave me.
Using either a bread scraper (soft flexible piece of
plastic) or a knife, cut the mother up into small chunks, incorporating the dry
flour. When you’ve gotten to the point where the mother isn’t one big clump,
add the ale, then start adding the water until you get the bread fully
hydrated. Add the ale or beer first because that is a consistent measure,
whereas the final quantity of water added will be dependant on how your bread
dough feels. You want it loose enough to knead, but it should be a sticky mass
when you turn the dough out onto the table to knead. Yes, knead your bread.
It’s good for the mind, body and soul to knead bread, skipping this step is
like sex without foreplay. You get to the end result, but without the fun part.
Do not add flour to the bread, and do not flour the table.
Just start kneading. One of the wonderful things about this bread is how
quickly it will come together, which I believe is a factor of using a mother
and beer; they just start having fun together right away. After about 5 minutes
of kneading, the bread will come cleanly away from the table and it is time to
add the salt. I slap the bread down on the table and gently spread it out, then
layer the salt on and roll it up and continue kneading for another 5 minutes or
so. You’ll literally feel the dough come alive in your hands, and once you can
no longer feel any salt crystals and the bread is bouncy in your fingers, make
it into a ball and place in a clean bowl. Cover the bowl with a cotton or
linen towel, place in a warm spot in the kitchen and let it rest and rise for a
good hour or so. After the hour, give it a turn in the bowl (expose the bottom
side of the ball to the air), cover and let rest for about 2 hours. At this
point it’s time to shape the loaf into any size that warms your heart: long
baguette, round boule, or regular slicing loaf. Turn the oven on as hot as it
will get, and let the bread rise again as the oven warms. I aim for about 500F,
which takes about ½ hour with my oven.
If you bake bread often, then you probably have a stone and
know what you are doing at this point. If you are a novice, place the loaves on
a good cookie sheet that has been lined with oven paper (carta al forno as we
say here in the old country, it’s that white paper that comes in rolls and you
bake on it. I honestly forget what its called in the States….!). I don’t have a stone here in Italy, so I use the baking sheet method and I
get good bread, so don’t get all twitchy if you don’t have a stone. But, you do
need a water spritzer bottle.
Spritz the bread dough before it goes into the oven and before you slash
the loaf, spritz the pan, give the bread a good dousing. This helps to create
that crackling crust. Slash the
bread to give it some breathing space and quickly get it into the oven. I mean
quick. Don’t keep the oven door open a second longer than you have to. Wait 3-4
minutes, crack the oven door open and spritz everything all over, avoiding the
light bulb in the back of the oven.
Let the loaf bake for about 20 minutes, then rotate the pan,
spritz and reduce the heat to around 400F and bake until the loaf is golden
brown and sounds hollow when you knock on it. Let cool for at least an hour,
then eat! Would probably taste
great with a hearty cheddar cheese and a nice glass of home brew, but, I know
it tastes great with some parmigiana and a glass of red wine.