Which came first, the bread or the beer? And what happens if you use beer as the liquid in bread? I can’t answer that first question with any certainty, but I can tell you that the second is a worthy experiment.
Curious about the flavor that a beer might impart to bread – whether the hops would be discernible, what the yeast would think of the alcohol, how gluten development would be affected, etc., yes, I’m kind of science-nerdy sometimes – I went about adapting a brioche recipe because I had a hankering for fresh hamburger buns and also because I like the way it sounds: beer brioche. It’s just as nice in French: brioche à la bière.
My first attempt was not a success. I waited and waited, but the dough simply refused to rise. I worried that I may have killed the yeast with the alcohol in the beer, but then I told myself that beer doesn’t usually reach the alcohol concentrations required to kill yeast. So it probably wasn’t that. But it was definitely something. The yeast were there, they were moving, but so slowly that even after four hours in a warm, humid space created just for their liking in my oven, my rolls had barely puffed at all. I went ahead and baked them, and ate them, but they were heavy and dense and nearly cakelike. I considered that too much butter may have been the culprit – brioche is notorious for making life difficult for yeast with all that added fat requiring heavy lifting – and made a mental note to adjust the amount.
I also switched the beer, from Leffe to Jade, self-described as France’s first organic beer. It’s decent, with a little more flavor than your average macrobrew. I thought the distinct malt character and mild flavor would be good in a brioche, and the alcohol content was lower, too. As you can see, there was some left for me, too, which is nice.
And I changed the yeast, from active dry to instant. just to see what happened. (This is the part where I’m not a good scientist, because I changed way too many variables at once.)
I made sure to get a good dough going before adding the butter – I’ve found this really helps in getting a rise out of a rich dough. You need to get the gluten development going so as to have a strong network in place when you add the butter, which just tries to get in the way of those gluten chains forming. My little hand-held mixer (I bought it recently during a buttercream fiasco) fared admirably, and gave me a nice, smooth, more-cohesive-than-adhesive dough.
Round 2 was an unqualified success.
It rose in about 3 hours, which is in line with my brioche experience, and puffed gorgeously in the oven. The crumb is fluffy yet chewy, the crust is thin and pliable, and the bread toasts marvelously. I wouldn’t say you can taste the beer as such, but there’s a whisper of malt and something almost savory about it that I don’t usually associate with brioche. In addition to the buns (which are the ideal texture for supporting a hamburger and lots of gooey toppings) I made a loaf, which is fantastic toasted and smeared with butter and jam. I bet it will make terrific French toast.
The impetus for developing this recipe was Beer Month, and this is the first of two beer recipe link-ups. Here’s what the others have posted:
- Our hostess, Sophia of NY FoodGasm, made Dos Equis Rice and Beans with Grilled Chipotle Chicken and Lime “Sour Cream”
- Lauren of Hall Nesting made Herbed Cheddar Stout Bread
- Jessica of Jessiker Bakes made Black Velvet Baby Cakes
- Minerva of Much Ado About Fooding made Miniature Guinness Cupcakes
And finally, here’s my recipe, which encouraged me to add a bread section to my recipe index:
Wanting to explore the common roots of brewing and baking, I thought using beer in place of the milk in a classic brioche recipe could yield something interesting. While I was scaling out the ingredients, it occurred to me that beer and bread share two key components: yeast and grain. I didn’t have any barley flour, which would have made the most sense, but I did sneak in a little rye and whole wheat flour, both of which are also grains used in brewing. The result? A brioche more savory than most, still fluffy-textured and rich, but with a hint of malty complexity that make it an excellent hamburger bun. Because beer and burgers go hand in hand.
350 g all-purpose flour
55 g whole grain flour (wheat, rye, barley, oat, or a combination)
8 g instant yeast (1½ tsp. or one packet)
40 g granulated sugar
10 g fine sea salt
120 ml beer (something reasonably light, 4-5% alcohol, with a nice malty character)
150 g butter, cool room temperature
1 egg, beaten
sesame seeds or poppy seeds (optional)
- Combine the flours, yeast, sugar, salt, beer and 3 eggs in a large bowl and mix well. Knead to form a smooth dough, about 5 minutes with a hand-held mixer, probably less in a stand mixer. (Hand kneading is possible, but will likely be very sticky and frustrating and I don’t recommend it.) With the mixer running, add the butter in small bits and continue mixing until it is incorporated. Knead another 5-10 minutes, until the dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl. It will still be pretty soft and sticky, but should be cohesive.
- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise about 2 hours, or until doubled, whichever comes first. Punch it down re-cover the bowl, and place in the fridge overnight – at least 6 hours, but not more than 24.
- Turn the chilled dough out onto a floured surface. Divide into 8 equal portions and shape into balls. Space the balls out on a floured baking sheet for buns, or place in a well-greased and floured loaf pan for a loaf. Cover loosely with plastic wrap or a clean lightweight cloth (or better, make a proof box in your oven by turning on the light and pouring boiling water into a jelly roll pan placed on the bottom – in this case, covering the dough is unnecessary) and let rise in a warm place until doubled. I test this by dipping my finger in flour and gently pressing the side of a roll. If it springs back into shape, it’s not ready yet. If the impression stays, and the dough slowly comes back to the original shape, it’s ready.
- Preheat the oven to 350 F / 180 C. (If you’ve been proofing in the oven, make sure to take the dough out while the oven is preheating.) Brush the rolls with the beaten egg (use a light hand doing this, you don’t want to deflate the dough) and sprinkle with sesame seeds or poppy seeds, if desired. Bake 16-18 minutes for rolls, 30-35 minutes for a loaf, until the crust is a deep golden brown and the internal temperature (if you want to measure it) reads between 180-200 F / 82-93 C. Cool and serve. Brioche will keep, well-wrapped, up to 2 days at room temperature, up to a month in the freezer.
Makes 8 buns, or 2 loaves, or a combination.
On this day in 2011: Moving Week, or Eating Down the Pantry (this is only the third of six Aprils in Paris where we aren’t moving!)
Originally published on Croque-Camille.