by Chef Jacquy Pfeiffer
1. Form triangles by first gently shaping the 350-g dough pieces into rounds, then folding three sides into the center.
2. Once the loaves are shaped, mix the beer mixture, and brush it on the loaves, coating them almost entirely.
3. Generously dust the loaves with rye flour, and proof for about one hour.
4. Bake the loaves longer to release more of the bitterness of the beer crust.
As a child in the Alsace region of France, I remember my father baking a rustic, flavorful bread that is now known as pain à la bière, or beer bread. According to World Champion Baker Pierre Zimmermann, this bread is a modern phenomenon, perhaps created as recently as twenty years ago by Meilleur Ouvrier de France Boulanger Joseph Dorffer.
Many other beer bread formulas are found throughout Europe, but this traditional Alsatian beer bread, which has become an authentic specialty of France despite its youth, provides a uniquely wonderful bread experience. The bitter crust balanced with the crumb's creaminess due to rye flour proves there is more to pain à la bière than just flour and water. This bread has a depth of flavor that is both simple and complex, making it a perfect accompaniment to any meal. Yet, unlike other breads, the soul of this bread lends itself beautifully to a hot bowl of lamb stew and a pint of Guinness.
For the crust, which gives the bread its name, you can use any beer, but a rich hearty lager works best. The quality of the crust and the silky richness of its crumb provides the final flavor of the loaf. Still, the bread may be altered in many ways, including using cider, specialty beers or even champagne for the crust.
Of particular interest in this formula is the addition of mashed potatoes. This process dates back to the days of flour rationing during wartime. For efficiency, this formula uses instant mashed potatoes, but boiled mashed potatoes may be used as well. The addition of potatoes produces a smooth, creamy crumb that is both moist and light. Including starches, such as potato or parsnip, was not only a way to "stretch" the formula, but also to create a bread that fortified the meal.
The traditional shape of beer bread in Alsace is a triangle, which was particular for this bread due to its lack of cohesiveness as a result of the potato. Now, the shape has become the Alsatian thumb print of the loaf.
Although I am an advocate of freshly baked bread, this Alsatian beer bread retains its hearty delicious qualities even after being frozen. As a guaranteed crowd-pleaser, this bread is sure to increase profits for bakeries, restaurants, hotels and cafes.
Chef Jacquy Pfeiffer, co-founder, pastry chef and instructor at The French Pastry School at City Colleges of Chicago, teaches his students the art of pastry during the 24-week L'Art de la Pâtisserie program. Along with teaching, Pfeiffer has been a coach and member of many winning pastry teams, including the United States teams at the 2002 World Pastry Championship and 2000 National Pastry Championship. Chef Pfeiffer continues to share his passion, enthusiasm and expertise for creating world-class pastry. For more information on The French Pastry School, visit www.frenchpastryschool.com.
Pain à la bière Alsatian beer bread
(Base Temp: 65˚C)
Method: In a 20-quart mixer with the dough hook, combine the bread flour, sea salt, yeast, fermented dough and rye flour. In a separate bowl, mix the potato flakes and 195 ml water. Add the potato mixture to the dry ingredients. Then, add 480 ml of water. Watch the amount of water being added because the entire amount may not need to be added. Mix on first speed for six to seven minutes, then mix on second speed for another two to three minutes, and proof for one hour. Scale the dough into 350 g pieces, and shape the pieces into triangles. Place on a sheet pan lined with a linen cloth. Combine all the ingredients to make the beer mixture, and spread it over the loaves, then dust with flour. Let the bread proof for about one hour at 80.6°F (27°C) and 85% humidity. Transfer the loaves to a baking peel. Inject steam before placing the loaves in a deck oven. Bake at 470°F (245°C) for 25 minutes, vent closed and for an additional 15 minutes with the vent open.
Yields six loaves