Simple and Artful Beer Bread

I was one of those bakers that bought beer bread mixes.  They were so easy and so delicious, and they cost $6!  After repeated chiding from Meredith, the economist, I decided to give it a go from scratch.  The first few recipes I found called for self rising flour.  Again my "frugal beer bread guide" insisted that I should make it from scratch. So I found a great recipe on Farmgirl Fare that includes many delicious variations.  

When I was buying those $6 mixes, the package did mention that I could use anything from beer to soda, but I never experimented (not at $6 a shot).  Now that I'm making my own beer bread from scratch for pennies a loaf, I'm experimenting!  I generally keep four types of flour on hand: hard red whole wheat, hard white whole wheat, soft white whole wheat, and unbleached white flour.  (That probably deserves a future post.)  Today, I made the whole wheat recipe with hard white wheat flour.  But even better than that -- I used Schlafly Pumpkin Ale, made here in St. Louis.  I've made this bread plenty of times with what I call plain ole' beer, but the flavor really changes as I use different flavors and styles of beverage.  Craft beer, imported beer, draft, light, canned, bottled... I'm planning to try Kasteel Rouge and Woodchuck Granny Smith Cider this week-end; I hope their fruity flavors carry through.  Many stores also offer a mix and match six pack, perfect beer bread fodder!  I'll also be trying soda, as well. Lemon lime, peach, and root beer all sound delicious to me.

(I also know someone who home-brews excellent and interesting beers.  I plan to take advantage of those brews soon!  This week, I also marinated stew meat 24 hours in just a bottle of beer.  The meat was very tender, and you could taste the subtle flavors imparted by the beer even when the stew was done. I can't wait to experiment with more beers as marinade.)

Here's my favorite thing about beer bread.  The ingredients are shelf stable, quick, simple, and inexpensive!  This bread is a delicious item you can literally throw together and serve with a meal or as a meal with just honey, butter or jam.  And granted that you have an oven -- it's ready in an hour.  You can also use beer bread to make french toast for a special breakfast.  (Or breakfast for dinner!)  Chunk it up to make some delicious bread pudding.  Dice, season, and bake it for some extravagant croutons.  I'm certain I'll be trying to make it in a dutch oven this fall. (Maybe I'll try that this week-end, too.)  I'll also start working with my kids to make this bread.  They love cooking and baking.  Serving their own loaf of bread will certainly do wonders for their kitchen confidence.

Maybe you could use a little kitchen confidence, as well.  Or perhaps you are quite experienced in the kitchen.  Either way, I challenge you to stretch out of your comfort zone and experiment with this quick and delicious recipe right away.  Then let me know what you think.

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