Bake with beer in honor of St. Patrick’s Day

Mmm…Guinness cupcakes! BY JACK CLEMONS
March 17, 2014

In honor of Saint Patrick’s Day, this week we’re going to bake with beer. Or, to be more specific, Ireland’s signature beverage: Guinness. Most of us have seen recipes for stew or chili or pot roast that call for adding beer to the braising liquid, but mixing beer into a cake or pancake batter might come as a surprise.

Cooking with beer has a similar set of guidelines you would consider as you would when cooking with wine. Like the many differences between red and white wines, different types of beers have distinct aromas and flavor profiles. The hops and malt flavors will depend on the strength of the brew. In recipes that call for beer, you’ll need to select the correct variety to pair with the ingredients.

For example, wheat beers or the lambics brewed in Brussels are a good match for the lighter-textured proteins in seafood and poultry. Light, fruity beers highlight the sweeter notes in sorbets and quick breads. Ales or porters work well with beef, pork and lamb dishes. Stout, with its distinctive hints of chocolate and coffee, can add interest to a meat marinade or a chocolate cake.

When you bake with beer, you need to be attentive to the recipe, since beer acts as a leavening agent. While sautéing or roasting may be more forgiving of an error in measurement, baking is an exact science. Beer changes the chemical composition of your batter, and you don’t want to create too much rising action in your oven. In fact, you can substitute flat beer for a fresh bottle without any difficulty.

One of the easiest recipes around is Beer Bread, an Irish classic that uses beer instead of yeast. With just a few ingredients, the batter mixes up quickly and doesn’t require any rising time like traditional yeast bread. I’ve included a basic recipe to create a dense, moist and chewy loaf.

After you’ve sampled the simple version, you can begin experimenting with your favorite combination of herbs and cheese from those provided. If you don’t enjoy the tart sharpness of a dark beer in this recipe, you can substitute a lager or ale to soften the flavor.

Beer will impart a subtle sweetness, as well as a light crumb to baked goods, as in the Stout Chocolate Pancakes. Stout here refers to the Guinness in the list of ingredients, but could also describe one’s size if this dish is eaten for breakfast too often. For a visual treat, you can stack the dark pancakes and top them with whipped cream so they resemble a glass of Guinness with its foamy head.

The cupcakes in the photo have an incredibly moist texture and rich chocolate taste enhanced by the Guinness Stout in the batter. These were iced with a cream cheese frosting instead of buttercream, which would have been too cloying. Feedback from my panel of taste-testers was unanimously positive, and I was invited to bake another batch at my earliest opportunity.

Although baking with beer reportedly improves the shelf life of cakes, these didn’t last long enough to find out. Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

Guinness Chocolate Cupcakes

1 1/4 C flour
1 C sugar
1/3 C cocoa powder
3/4 t baking soda
1/4 t salt
3/4 C Guinness stout
1/4 C light cream
1/4 C canola oil
1 1/2 t vanilla
2 eggs
1/3 C sour cream

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Coat a 12-cup cupcake pan with nonstick cooking spray; set aside. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt; set aside. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together Guinness, cream, vegetable oil and vanilla until combined. Whisk in the eggs, one at a time, until completely incorporated. Whisk in the sour cream. Fold the dry ingredients into the Guinness mixture, whisking just until combined. Pour the batter into the prepared muffin pan. Bake until a cake tester comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Allow cupcakes to cool completely before removing from the pans and frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting

8 oz cream cheese
2 t vanilla
2 C confectioners sugar
1 T cream

Combine the cream cheese and vanilla in a mixing bowl; beat until smooth. Add the cream and continue beating until light and fluffy. Gradually add the powdered sugar, beating until completely incorporated.

Chocolate Stout Pancakes

1 C flour
1/4 C unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 C sugar
1 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
1 1/8 C Guinness Stout
1 egg
2 T melted butter

Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl; set aside. Whisk together the Guinness, egg and butter in a large mixing bowl. Add the dry ingredients to the Guinness mixture and stir just until combined. Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat. When a drop of water skitters in the pan, pour in 1/4 C of batter for each pancake. Cook until surface is covered with bubbles, about 3 minutes. Turn over the pancakes and cook the other side until the bottom is golden brown, about 1 or 2 minutes. Repeat for the remaining batter. Yield: 8 to 10 pancakes.

Beer Bread

3 C flour
1 T baking powder
2 T brown sugar, loosely packed
12 oz beer
1/8 t salt

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Coat a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray; set aside.

Stir together the flour, brown sugar, baking powder and salt in a mixing bowl. Slowly pour in the beer and stir just until combined. Pour the batter into the loaf pan. Bake until the top of the bread is lightly browned, about 45 minutes. Cool in the pan for at least 15 minutes before serving.

Optional additions:
2 T fresh or 2 t dried herbs (dill, chives, rosemary, oregano or basil)
1/2 C grated hard cheese (cheddar, Swiss, asiago, Parmesan)
1/2 C minced onion or sliced scallion