Obviously the best thing one can do with beer is drink it.
However, like wine, beer can be used in a variety of ways in the kitchen.
Plenty of cooks make beer-can chicken, and sometimes a stout is the perfect thing to enhance your barbecue sauce.
But the use of beer in baking often gets overlooked, which is a shame since it can really enhance some baked goods.
To better explain how to bake with beer, I’ve enlisted the help of Justin Relkin, pastry chef at Supper (at 926 South St.), a graduate of Johnson and Wales College of Culinary Arts and veteran pastry chef at restaurants such as Parc and Barclay Prime.
Justin is no stranger to working with beer; he has made anniversary beer cakes for the Fishtown Beer Runners (online at www.fishtownbeerrunners.com) that included a stout cake layer and candied Walt Wit, as well experimenting with sourdough bread made with the Victory Brewing Co.’s Hop Devil beer.
The first thing to keep in mind with baking is to pick the right recipe.
Look for recipes with a good amount of liquid.
“Cookie dough would be a bad idea,” said Justin. “There is such a small amount (of liquid) and you wouldn’t taste the beer.”
Cakes and breads are more ideal.
You can substitute beer for any liquid, whether it is milk, water or juice.
Justin pointed out one caveat: “If you are making a yeasted bread you have to boil the beer then cool it down and proceed.”
In the worst case, ldquo;the alcohol will kill the (baker’s) yeast,” he said.
More likely, Justin said, “it will make your bread sluggish and will not rise with the vigor you would like it to.”
The next step is to choose the right beer for a recipe.
“A baked item would work better with something with a strong malt component. The caramelized sugars in baking complement the malty and roasted flavors,” Justin said. “Darker malt benefits in the oven more so than a lighter beer.”
Stouts and porters are the obvious choice, but a German Bock or Belgian Dubbel would also work.
If you want to work with a lighter beer, such as Belgian Wits or other wheat beers, boiling it down and making lollipops or candy are also a tasty option.
If you do bake with those beers, you may want to add in some seasonings — such as coriander or cloves — since the flavor from the beer itself may be too subtle.
Justin recommended experimenting and adjusting recipes over time.
“The beer in and of itself will not cause (recipe) failure. It may not come out perfect the first time, but it shouldn’t require wild changes,” he said.
The chef also found that a different approach has helped him bake.
“Since I was a cook first, it informs the way that I bake. I think about food before I think about pastries, and I try to think about how to make that into a baked good,” said Justin.
Experiment with different beers — you can make a stout cake with Guinness, but also try Philadelphia Brewing Company’s Shackamaximum Stout, Joe Porter or Yard’s George Washington Porter.
You won’t need to adjust the recipe for different beers, but it will change the flavor of the cake.
If you are a homebrewer who doesn’t want to give up any of your precious home-brewed beer for baking, you can still get in on the action by making bread from the leftover grains used in brewing.
Save a few cups of the spent grain after brewing, it freezes well for long-term storage.
I’ve made this bread recipe at http://www.beeratjoes.com/index.php/beer-dinners/spent-grain-beer-bread/ several times; there is also a good bread recipe in the blog for a local brewer at mellodybrewing.com.
PA Beer Law Update: A change just went into effect for Pennsylvania breweries, allowing them to sell beer in any size container, not just the cases and growlers they were allowed to sell before. Philadelphia Brewing Company, at 2439 Amber St., has announced they will begin selling 6-packs and even single bottles at their retail store.
Now it will be even easier to get your favorite beers for drinking or baking. ••
Tim Patton is a Fishtown resident, beer aficionado and brewer. His column is dedicated to showcasing everything that is great about enjoying beer in the riverwards. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org