Monday, March 2, 2015

Cheddar Cheese Jalapeño Beer Bread

A souvenir is supposed to be a something small, relatively inexpensive article. These mementos, remembrances, or keepsakes are intended to serve as a reminder of an occasion, event, or place visited. Somewhere along the way the concepts of small and relatively inexpensive got lost on me (as in like the sterling silver purchased on a recent trip to New Orleans). However, on my recent trip to Wisconsin I seemed to have found my way back to what a souvenir was intended to be (this probably had more to do with the fact that most stores and galleries were closed for the winter or had limited weekend hours versus me showing souvenir restraint). But to go on a trip and bring back nothing, how crazy is that? For me that would border on being seriously delusional. So in the spirit of maintaining my own sanity, I managed to pick up a few things. Only this time my souvenirs turned out to not be the keeping kind, but instead the perishable kind.

In addition to the warm, freshly made cheese curds (I didn't know how good these are), I came back with some aged cheddar cheese, cherries, and beer. Why, of all things, beer? Well it seems there are some beers you can only buy in Wisconsin (what's up with that?). Since I sort of have a thing for bringing back regional items not found anywhere and everywhere, I couldn't resist buying a couple of six packs. Either I sensed the end of the world was coming (too many post-apoliptic books and television shows) or I had been invaded by a body snatcher as showing moderation and buying relatively inexpensive souvenirs would not be how most of my friends would describe me. Am now hoping whatever alien has found its' way into my pysche hangs around for awhile. Hopefully much longer than the life of the cheese, cherries and beer.

As someone who is a big fan of Rebecca Rather, a chef and cookbook author, born and raised in Texas, I found myself leaning toward making an ever so slight variation to her beer bread recipe. Beer bread may have an ancient history, but there are parts of the country claiming to have significantly contributed to its' sweet and savory evolution. Texas happens to be one of those places. The idea of adding both aged cheddar cheese and jalapeño pepper to a basic beer bread recipe sounded like a pretty good one. And now having consumed more than my fair share of it, I will go on record and say it was a great idea. Wish I had thought of it!

If you like savory breads, this Cheddar Cheese Jalapeño Beer Bread is for you. Of the many words I would use to describe this bread, addictive would be one of them. And not because there is beer in it, but it is really, really hard to have only one slice.

This is a no yeast needed, no kneading involved, and no long sit and let rise waiting time kind of bread. And it all comes together with a wooden spoon and a large mixing bowl. Quick and easy.

When their seeds are removed, Jalapeño peppers are rather mild as well as add great flavor to pretty much everything they are added to. This Cheddar Cheese Jalapeño Beer Bread is no exception. The amount of minced Jalapeño peppers added to this bread is mostly influenced by personal preference. For this bread I used somewhere between six and seven tablespoons or about 1 1/2 Jalapeño peppers.

I had another recipe in mind when I bought the aged cheddar cheese. But it seemed a shame not to use some of it for this one. And six ounces of shredded cheddar cheese wasn't going to take too much of a dent out of my souvenir stash (okay so I bought alot of cheese).

I could not bring myself to use a bottle of the 'you can only get in Wisconsin' beer for this bread. Maybe next time I told myself, maybe. Besides I had other uses in mind for the beer I traveled hundreds of miles for. In choosing a beer for this recipe, be certain to choose one you enjoy drinking because the beer flavor will come through in the bread. This is not one of those recipes where you have to travel to ends of the earth or hundreds of miles to buy one of it's ingredients. Unless you live in remote part of the country, you can probably find most of them within minutes of your home.

Once the beer is added and slowly stirred into the dry ingredients, cheese and jalapeños mixture, the batter becomes very thick. Stir only until the flour is fully incorporated.

Before scraping the batter into the loaf pan, three tablespoons of the melted butter are poured into it. The remaining four tablespoons of the melted butter are poured over the top of the bread batter. Do not smooth out the top of the batter. You want the bumpiest finish possible. To avoid having any butter spill over into the oven and creating a smokey mess during the baking process, place the loaf pan on a baking sheet. In a preheated 350 degree (F) oven the baking time for this bread ranges from 50 to 60 minutes or until the top crust is both bumpy and a golden brown. My baking time ended up being 55 minutes. The hardest part of making this bread was waiting the 10 minutes before removing from the loaf pan and slicing.

The chilled bottles of the 'souvenir' beer went perfectly with the Cheddar Cheese Jalapeño Beer Bread making me glad I had saved them for 'drinking' use. I would not go so far as to say you will feel 'drunk in love' when you taste this bread. I will only say that your level of intoxication from the aroma of the bread baking in the oven and in eating it might have something to do with your tolerance levels. Regardless of whether they are low or high, this bread will leave you feeling pretty gosh darn good.

Cheddar Cheese Jalapeño Beer Bread (inspired by Rebecca Rather's recipe in The Pastry Queen cookbook)

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
6 ounces cheddar cheese, grated (recommend a two-year aged cheddar)
6-7 Tablespoons minced Jalapeño peppers (about 1 1/2 Jalapeños)
12 ounces good quality beer (the Founders All Day IPA was perfect)
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and divided

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F). Line a 9"x5" baking pan with parchment paper. Set aside.
2. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar. 
3. Mix in the grated cheddar cheese and minced Jalapeño peppers.
4. Pour in beer and stir until combined with a wooden spoon. Do not beat or over mix. 
5. Pour 3 tablespoons of melted butter in bottom of prepared baking pan.
6. Spoon the batter into the pan.
7. Pour the remaining 4 tablespoons evenly over top of the batter.
8. Place baking pan on a baking sheet, place in oven and bake for 50-60 minutes (until top of the crust is bumpy and golden brown). Note: My baking time was 55 minutes.
9. Allow to rest in pan 10 minutes before removing.
10. Slice using a serrated knife. 
11. Serve with butter and/or honey.
Note: The Cheddar Cheese Jalapeño Beer Bread is great served all on its' own with beer, but it is also the perfect accompaniment to pulled pork, chili, and grilled steak or chicken.
Icicles on the rocks along the shore of Lake Michigan.

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