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July 23rd, 2009

Cheaper than Schlitz... and still useful.

I make beer bread from time to time and I've used a few different beers to do it. Since it's pretty much just baked away the beer need not be anything great, but it ought to be something that doesn't make one stare at the bottle in disbelief and wonder what the brewer has against people. This is a variant of what I've dubbed Child's Law. Julia Child said that one should never use so-called "cooking wine" to cook with. Use a wine that you would drink. It doesn't have to be anything great, just something you'd drink.

Some might argue that I've already been violating any variant of Child's Law by using Schlitz. The return to the 1960s recipe is an improvement over what it had been, but it's not a truly great thing. It is, however, good enough that I wouldn't refuse one for taste reasons. Thus it is good enough for baking.

I got curious about another name, Schmidt, which was (scarily) even cheaper than Schlitz. When I opened a bottle I got a whiff that reminded me of Schlitz. Turns out it's made by the same company (Pabst/Heileman). It did not taste like Schlitz, with that peculiar note of.. something I can't identify and am not sure I really want to... and is pretty much a typical cheap U.S. bland macrobrew. Inoffensive to the point of almost not even being there. I've decided it's a suitable "lawnmower beer" (one you'd have on a hot day to cool down and still claim to be having a beer) and might be reasonable with hot dogs or pizza. It's nothing great, but nothing that I'd pour down the sink either.

And a couple of days ago I made beer bread with it. That turned out quite well. I did make a couple changes to the recipe I had been using: I baked at 375 F rather than 350 F and for 45 minutes rather than 30 minutes. That seems to make for a less crumbly, higher quality bread and drives off more of any undesirable odd flavor (something that Schlitz would leave behind). I'm not sure that would work for Budweiser's American Ale, but that's almost upscale for baking anyway.



I saw an article about making homemade butter on the Star-Tribune web site a few days ago and decided to give it a try. I didn't get terribly involved and seek out a specific dairy or even a dairy per se but just bought a couple pints of heavy cream (without carrageenan which would make the buttermilk froth. Curiously the stuff in the organic section had this. I know it's natural or naturally derived, but it still seems odd.) I did not bother souring the cream (letting it sit out for some time) but just started right in.

Making butter is simple enough: beat the cream the same way to make whipped cream and then just keep on going. Simple doesn't mean that that is all. Once made, it has to be separated from the byproduct: buttermilk. Simply kneading the butter forces the milk off and most can just be poured off - and into a jar for later use. This takes a while and is a bit messy. Once as much buttermilk as possible has been reasonably extracted, the butter is "washed." Cold water is added and the kneading continues and the water is drained off - not into the jar, but down the sink. This is repeated until the water stays clear. Then there is both butter and buttermilk.

The butter is simple and if salt is desired it will need to be added - probably just after the buttermilk is poured off. I think the result is sweeter than regular store-bought butter but I don't really notice the difference on bread (another reason I made that beer bread: to test the butter). I did try a side-by-side comparison and found that there is no difference, for me, big enough to justify going out of my way for this very often. I'm not saying there is no difference. I am saying that I do not taste enough of a difference to consider this more than a novelty project.

The buttermilk is nothing like the "cultured buttermilk" commonly sold. It's lighter. It isn't weirdly, sickly thick. It doesn't smell spoiled. jmaynard complained that it was just regular milk and found it lacking. I found it a tremendous improvement. I would like to try some commercial "churn buttermilk" sometime if we can ever find any. I think it would be good to compare that with what I wound up with and with the cultured stuff. It's possible that had I let the cream sour the results might have been different. I might give that a try sometime, but I'm in no hurry.

Iconology: Baking

I am getting the impression that a baking icon would be a Good Idea. Any idea what one ought to look like?


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