I’ve heard beer referred to as “liquid bread”. With this in mind, I decided to make a beer mash starter, which is composed of grains and yeast, just like bread.
Disclaimer: I’ll be the first to tell you that I am not a master bread baker. There are bakers who have devoted their career to understanding the complicated and intricate art of bread making. I had bread baking classes in school and I’ve always baked bread at home, but never as a part of my job. With that out of the way–
My son, who turned 21 this year, got a beer making kit for Christmas. He loves to cook and he loves science so we figured beer making should be right up his alley, and it is.
He made his first batch of beer when he was home from school for winter break. Beer making is very similar to bread making; mix the ingredients with water and yeast, allow it to ferment to create air bubbles, bake (or bottle), and enjoy the fruits of your labors.
As I watched him siphon the beer off the grain mash a light bulb went off. I decided to make a bread starter from the mash, which is composed of grains and yeast, just like bread.
I made a couple of baguettes with the starter the next day. They were beautiful and delicious, some of the nicest loaves I’ve ever made. The crust stayed crisp even as the bread cooled and the crumb was chewy and flavorful. The bread did have a slightly bitter aftertaste, which I didn’t really mind. My son was making an India Pale Ale, which uses hops for a bitter flavor, so it’s not surprising that that came through in the bread.
I’ve used the starter several times over the past few months and by now the bitter edge is gone and it has a nice yeasty sweet aroma.
Unless you or someone in your family is into beer making you probably won’t have access to beer mash, but you could make a starter using a little dry yeast. I’ve given both options in the recipe below. There are many, many ways to create a bread starter.
Dinner for One!
Recently my husband was out of town and I’d been working long hours and just eating any old thing. After a day or two of tuna and canned soup I decided it was time to cook a decent meal, even if it was a meal for one. I was rooting through the refrigerator and saw my neglected beer mash starter.
I took it out of the refrigerator, added 1/2 a cup each of water and flour, and set it over a bowl of warm water. After an hour or so I could see signs of life, whew!
Dinner for one would be a fresh baguette with grilled veggies, pesto and ricotta salata. Perfect!
- 1/2 cup Unbleached All Purpose Flour
- 1/2 cup Rye Flour
- 1 cup room temperature water
- 1/2 tsp dry yeast
- 3/4 cup starter
- 3/4 cup slightly warm water (about 110 degrees)
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 - 2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon instant yeast (not fast rising)
To Create the Starter
- Combine all the ingredients until it forms a smooth batter.
- Loosely cover and allow to sit in a warm spot for at least 8 to 12 hours
- The starter will rise up and be filled with small bubbles when it's ready.
- Keep unused starter in the refrigerator
To Refresh the Starter
- Take the amount needed for your recipe.
- Replace the amount used with equal parts flour and room temperature water
- (e.g.,If you use 1 cup of starter refresh with 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup water)
- If you don't use the starter for at least 2 weeks discard 1 cup of the starter and refresh with 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup flour. Keep at room temperature until it's bubbly and active then place back in the refrigerator.
- Combine the starter, water salt and yeast in a mixer bowl.
- Mix on paddle to combine
- Add 1 cup of the flour and mix until combined
- Switch to the dough hook
- Add enough of the remaining flour until the dough comes together and gathers on the hook.
- The dough will still be slightly sticky, but not wet. You might not use all the flour.
- Transfer to a lightly floured surface
- Knead just enough to form a smooth ball
- Place the dough ball in an oiled bowl, turning once to coat the dough
- Cover with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for 1 hour
- Dump the dough onto a lightly floured surface
- Pick up the top edge of the dough and fold it towards the center
- Repeat folding on the bottom and two sides of the dough ball
- Return to the bowl
- Cover and allow to rise until doubled in volume, about an hour
- Dump the dough onto a lightly floured surface
- Don't knead or punch down the dough, just gently stretch it to form a long oval shape
- Working from the long side of the oval, tightly roll the dough into a baguette shape.
- Make sure to pinch the dough tightly along the seam
- Place on a peel or baking sheet sprinkled with corn meal,
- Cover with a damp kitchen towel and allow to rise until doubled in size (about 1.5 hour)
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees
- If you have a baking stone allow at least 1-2 hours for the stone to heat up
- Place a small pan (with a few stones if you have them) onto the floor of the oven.
- When the loaf is ready, score several diagonal cuts along the top with a very sharp knife or single edge razor
- Carefully pour a cup of water into the pan on the floor of the oven. Lean away from the pan while pouring since the steam will rise up quickly.
- Immediately place the loaf directly on the baking stone or slide the sheet pan onto the middle rack
- Bake about 15-20 minutes until nicely browned and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom
You can use a portion of the starter for your recipe as soon as it's active, but the flavor will improve as it ages. You can make the starter several days before you're ready to bake the bread. Each day remove a 1/4 cup of the starter and stir in 2 tablespoons of water and 2 tablespoons of flour.
I use "whiskey rocks" to create the steam in the oven. I place them in a small baking pan and allow them to preheat while the oven preheats.