Sir Isaac Newton, it is said, discovered gravity by chance when an apple fell from a tree and bonked him on the noggin. My recent decision to Google the words "beer" and "bread" was prompted by a similar, if far more painful, encounter. Not once, not twice, but thrice, a jumbo-sized container of Louisiana Hot Sauce fell out of an upper kitchen cabinet, bonking me on the head, rattling my teeth, and nearly knocking me unconscious. Eventually, I decided it might be a good time to clean out the overstuffed cupboard, throw away all the things I don't use, and make a little room for the hot stuff that was about to give me brain damage.
The cabinet purge revealed wonders. There were all kinds of fancy commercial rubs and marinades given to me as gifts by well-meaning friends who don't seem to understand that I make my own and don't trust anything trussed-up in raffia. There were strange boxes of exotic flavored gelatins that must have been tempting at the time but which now sounded vile. There were baggies full of bread crumbs and lost sticks of shortening. And then there were all the bread pans that I never use because breadmaking is far too time-consuming. I was on the verge of putting them in a pile to go to the thrift store when I noticed a brown, raffia-adorned sack marked "Jiffy Bread" or "Miracle Bread" or some such nonsense. It was halfway into the garbage can by the time I noticed the instructions reading, "Just pour a warm beer on it, stir, and bake." It sounded easy enough, and I had a beer.
After settling into a warm yeasty loaf of Sam Adams bread, I went straight to the computer to find out where I might order more of this magnificent creation. But, unable to locate a vendor, I simply typed in the words "beer" and "bread." The summary of the first result read, "The easiest bread you'll ever make." Looking down at the $4 price tag on my empty bag of mix, I was already beginning to feel a little bamboozled.
The basic beer-bread recipe was incredibly simple: Three cups of white self-rising flour and three tablespoons of granulated sugar. Pour a room-temperature beer on it, mix, and bake at 375 degrees until the outside is crusty and golden. There was a note informing bakers who might want to use healthier whole-grain flours to add three teaspoons of baking powder to the mix. It really was that easy.
It's a scam, I thought. The whole breadmaking business would go out of business if the general public caught on to this little trick. "I need a cooking show on Spike TV," I told my wife. How can you go wrong with the catchphrase "Just pour a beer on it"? Like the unknown manufacturers who thought they would become rich and famous wrapping up flour and sugar in a bunch of raffia and selling it for four bucks, I had stars in my eyes.
Handfuls of cheese were added to the recipe to see what would happen. It resulted in perfect cheesy bread. Herbs livened up the flavor. A blob of butter added to the flour mixture gave loaves a cakey texture. Budweiser worked well enough but added very little flavor to the bread. Pabst Blue Ribbon, alas, produced bread that smelled and tasted like PBR, which is good for beer but bad for bread. The most flavorful loaves were produced using a variety of hoppy microbrews.
When a bunch of bananas started turning brown, I cut them up and added them to the basic bread mixture along with a handful of chopped nuts, a cup of molasses, and a bottle of Guinness stout. It didn't really taste like banana nut bread, but it wasn't half bad either.
Inside of a week I'd made loaves from every kind of brew on the supermarket shelves. Most were acceptable, and many were excellent. I had cakey fruitbreads made with fruity beers, fluffy white bread made with wheat beer, and dense whole wheat made with barley wine. I had herb muffins and a crumbly variation on focaccia, both made with Moretti, and lots of drop rolls made with Rolling Rock.
This bit of baking advice comes with a stern warning: Baking beer bread is addictive. I became so obsessed with mixing beers and flour that my friends started treating me like some guy walking down the middle of the street talking to himself. Every time I excitedly called for my wife to "come taste," she answered with mock excitement. "Do you mean to tell me you just pour a beer on it?" she'd ask, feigning airheaded amazement. "You really need your own cooking show on TV, so you can teach guys how to trick women into sleeping with them by making them fresh bread."
It was almost as humiliating as being smacked on the head with a jar of Louisiana Hot Sauce. Repeatedly.