Cooks have long been aware of beer's ability to add moisture and flavor to foods from short ribs to kielbasa to beans. Less well known is beer's usefulness to bakers. With its bubbles, it can lift muffins, quick breads, waffles and cakes to new heights. Its yeasty aroma enhances everything from extra-tall biscuits to fluffy Cheddar cheese scones.
Small-batch brewers and connoisseurs celebrate the variety of today's craft beers. While subtleties will mostly evaporate in the oven, beer's dominant flavors will persist. So it is still worthwhile to consider pairing your recipe with a complementary brew. Have a six-pack of an American IPA? Citrusy and bitter, it will balance the richness of quick bread made with shredded Pepper Jack cheese. Caramel sauce spiked with bock, stout or porter will gain a malt essence.
With so many local breweries producing interesting beers, the combinations are tantalizing. Black Duck Porter from Greenport Harbor Brewing, with notes of cocoa and hints of coffee, will give a tasty lift to banana bread. Or try Crooked Ladder Brewing Co.'s smooth and sweet Oatmeal Stout in place of milk in your pumpkin waffles recipe. My next batch of doughnuts will certainly include Southampton Publick House's wheaty, citrusy Double White Ale.
Recently, I brought home a growler filled with Red Ale from the Montauk Brewing Co. My friends and I drank most of what was left over after making a batch of beef, red bean and beer chili, but I managed to save a scant cup for dessert. Sweet, slightly hoppy and with a great malt flavor, this beer is perfect in combination with chocolate. So I mixed it into some brownie batter. The resulting brownies were soft and caky. A tablespoon of espresso powder and a handful of chocolate chips boosted the chocolate flavor. Just a tablespoon of beer in the glaze really set these treats apart, giving them a bitter edge to balance the sweetness of the brownies.
RED ALE BROWNIES
If you can't find red ale, another malty, slightly sweet beer such as stout, brown ale, porter or bock is a good substitute.
For the brownies:
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
2 1/2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
1/2 cup red ale or other malty beer
3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
For the glaze:
1/3 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons half-and-half
1 tablespoon red ale or other malty beer
1. Make the brownies: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8-inch-square baking pan with heavy-duty aluminum foil, making sure the foil is tucked into all the corners and there is at least 1 inch overhanging the top of the pan on all sides. Spray with nonstick cooking spray.
2. Combine butter and unsweetened chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave on high until chocolate is almost melted. Whisk until completely smooth and set aside to cool to lukewarm.
3. Whisk in brown sugar until smooth. Whisk in eggs, vanilla and espresso powder. Gently stir in ale. Mix together flour and salt, then gently fold in until just incorporated. Fold in chocolate chips.
4. Scrape batter into the prepared pan. Bake until just set, 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool completely in the pan on a wire rack.
5. Make the glaze: Place chocolate chips in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave until almost melted. Whisk until smooth and then whisk in half-and-half and ale. Spread over brownies and let set, about 30 minutes.
6. Grasping the overhanging foil on either side of the pan, lift out the brownies and place them on a cutting board. Use a sharp chef's knife to cut into 16 squares. Makes 16 brownies.