Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Beer-Batter Cheese Bread, Cooks Illustrated

At the risk of breaking some sort of copyright law, I'm sharing this awesome recipe for beer-batter cheese bread from Cooks Illustrated. I made the sharp cheddar/jalapeno variety tonight and it turned out just great! Easy, delicious, even better slathered in butter...what more could you want from a quick bread? Enjoy!

Beer-Batter Cheese Bread
Beer-batter cheese bread often tastes more like leftover beer than cheese and is so greasy
you have to pass out extra napkins for just one slice. Could we improve this quick bread?
Nothing warms up the house like the smell of baking bread—but making a yeasted loaf from scratch can take half the day. Luckily, there are quick breads, like beer-batter cheese bread, that can be on the table in less than an hour. The basic recipe for this bread is simple: Just stir together flour, sugar, cheese, salt, beer, and baking powder; scrape the batter into a loaf pan; pour melted butter on top (to create a rich and craggy crust); and bake. There are no long rises, kneading, or hassle. Best of all, the beer gives this bread a hearty flavor.
Unfortunately, there were a lot of problems with the recipes I found. Many loaves tasted sour, like stale beer, while others had negligible cheese flavor. And some breads were so greasy that I had to pass out extra napkins at each tasting. I wanted a lighter loaf of bread enhanced with the yeasty flavor of beer and a big hit of cheese. And I wanted it to be as easy as advertised.
To test beer flavor, I made two loaves, using an inexpensive American lager in one and a dark ale in the other. The dark ale tasted great in a glass, but its strong flavor turned bitter when baked in the bread. The mild domestic lager (Budweiser and Millet Genuine Draft were our favorites in a later tasting) provided a clean, subtle flavor without any sourness at all.
Mild cheddar is typically the cheese of choice in this recipe, but no matter how much I used—up to 3 cups for a single loaf—the flavor was well, mild. I turned to more assertive cheeses like Gruyère, and extra-sharp cheddar. The bolder cheeses let me get away with using less (about 2 cups per loaf), so the bread was less greasy. Since my tasters professed a preference for biting into pockets of cheese in the bread, I shredded half the cheese and diced the rest for added texture.
While some of the greasiness was gone, the loaves still felt too stodgy and heavy. Increasing the amount of baking powder helped lighten the crumb a little, but I knew that pouring melted butter over the batter before baking—which creates a beautiful crust—was part of the prob1cm. Cutting back the butter from a full stick to half a stick made the loaf considerably lighter while still producing that craggy crust. I finally had a beer-batter cheese bread that was as easy to eat as it was to make.
—DIANE UNGER, Cook’s Country
Insert the toothpick in a few spots when testing for doneness; it may hit a pocket of cheese, which resembles uncooked batter on the toothpick. Strongly flavored beers make the bread hitter, so mild American lagers, like Budweiser, work best here.
8 ounces Gruyère cheese, 4 ounces shredded and 4 ounces cut into ¼ -inch cubes
3 cups (15 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1½ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1 (12-ounce) bottle light-bodied beer (see note)
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter, melted
1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9 by 5 inch loaf pain.
2. Combine the shredded and cubed cheese, flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Stir in the beer and mix until well combined. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan, spreading it to the corners. Drizzle the melted butter evenly over the top of the batter,
3. Bake until the loaf is deep golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes. Cool the bread in the pan for 5 minutes, then turn it out onto a rack. Cool completely and slice as desired. (Although this bread can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days, after the second day the bread is best toasted.

Follow the recipe for Beer-Batter Cheese Bread, substituting 8 ounces extra-sharp cheddar for the Gruyère. Stir 2 stemmed, seeded, and minced jalapeno chilies into the bowl with the cheese.
Follow the recipe for Beer-Batter Cheese Bread, substituting 8 ounces smoked Gouda foe the Gruyère. Stir 8 slices bacon, cooked until crisp and then crumbled, into the bowl with the cheese.

Though its fame derives mainly from its use in fondue and French onion soup, Gruyère is also a table cheese revered for its creamy texture and savory flavor. Both Switzerland and France make authentic versions that are crafted from raw cow’s milk and aged for the better part of a year in government-designated regions (the French cheese is called Gruyère de Comtè). Though labeled “Gruyère,” domestic cheeses of this type bear little resemblance to the real thing. Made from pasteurized cow’s milk, they are aged for fewer months and have a rubbery texture and bland flavor. In fact, in a blind taste test of nine brands, tasters overwhelmingly panned the two domestic versions, likening one (from Boar’s Head) to “plastic.” Imported Gruyeres, on the other band, received raves. The top picks in the lineup were three reserve cheeses, aged 10 or more months to develop stronger flavor: the Gruyère Reserve carried by Whole Foods Market, Emmi Le Gruyère Reserve, and a Gruyère Sale from a Boston-area cheese shop.


srhcb said...

I found this recipe with a Google search after I'd already put a loaf of James Beard's Butter Beer Batter Bread in the oven. (His recipe uses 1 stick of butter but no cheese)

The bread is great, but I can see where CI's and your ideas might improve it. I'm thinking of adding Bacon, if for no other reason than it starts with B!

Libbie said...

Hi there! I'm glad you found the recipe! I know you'll enjoy it. I'll have to try James Beard's Butter Beer Bread (with bacon) soon! :)