Baking with beer: How to brew up great desserts

 In the Fall 2018 issue of Sift Magazine, cookbook author Lori Rice shares her wisdom about baking with beer. While most bakers are accustomed to reaching for spirits to accent their baked goods, the range of flavor profiles found in beer is much wider. With so many styles of beer to choose from, how do you know which is best for the recipe you want to make? Come explore with us.

Beer is a truly underutilized baking ingredient, considering that it can have flavors from citrus and coriander to pepper, vanilla, and caramel. But where to start?

Which beer for which recipe?

Baking with beer starts with flavor and moves into science. Because of its carbonation, it assists with leavening baked goods. When used as the liquid in a recipe, it gives extra lift and tender texture to breads and cakes.

baking with beer via @kingarthurflour

Beer types, left to right: Brown Ale, Saison, Double IPA, Sour, Barrel Aged, Pilsner, Stout

baking with beer via @kingarthurflour

If you’re new to baking with beer, porters and stouts are the best place to begin. Because they’re brewed with dark roasted malt, they lend flavor notes of cocoa and coffee.

Porters lean more toward chocolate and malted flavors with less bitterness. Stouts offer a more intense bitter coffee flavor and are often higher in alcohol. Used in caramel, stout is reduced with the cream as the caramel cooks.

baking with beer via @kingarthurflour

This Milk Stout Caramel Tart is complex and well balanced, the bitter from the stout in harmony with sweet caramel. A sprinkling of flaky salt is the crowning touch.

In our Chocolate Pecan Coconut Porter Cake, we use porter for part of the cake’s liquid, which gives it a unique fluffy texture.

Bourbon Barrel-Aged Blondies (shown in our opening photo), have just a few tablespoons of barrel-aged beer for flavor, much the same as you’d add a healthy splash of vanilla extract.

baking with beer via @kingarthurflour

All hail brown ale

When baking with beer, amber and brown ales behave just as nicely as porters and stouts. Their low bitterness and nutty flavor with hints of caramel work well with cookies, pies, and sweet sauces.

baking with beer via @kingarthurflour

We’ve been especially fond of the complex note amber ale gives to these Ginger Molasses Amber Ale Cookies. The first step is reducing the beer to a syrup, which concentrates its flavor. When added to the cookie dough, it balances the raisins and spice in every bite.

Paler brews like lagers and Witbiers with citrus and coriander notes do great things for cakes with similar flavors.

baking with beer via @kingarthurflour

Try pairing them with bold citrus in this Blood Orange Witbier Cake. You’ll be amazed at how well this combination works.

Tips for baking with beer

  • Use freshly opened, room-temperature beer. Pour it out and let it sit for 5 minutes before adding to the recipe. This lets the foam dissipate and releases some of the carbonation.
  • Beer works better with full-fat dairy. It’s acidic and can curdle lower-fat ingredients.
  • Beer desserts are best when fresh. The flavor of the beer can change over time, so bake and serve on the same day if you can.

With so many styles and flavors available, baking with beer is an adventure you can try over and over. Explore your local craft brews and let us know how you’d like to use them in the comments below. You’ll be amazed at all the great baking you’ve been missing.

Susan Reid
About

Chef Susan Reid grew up in New Jersey, graduated from Bates College and the Culinary Institute of America, and is presently the Food Editor of Sift magazine. She does demos, appearances, and answers food (and baking) questions from all quarters.

comments

  1. LISA SCHWARZ EAGER

    MY OMA TAUGHT ME HOW TO MALE BERN BROT, BEER BREAD. IT IS A REAL GERMAN SWEET RYE BREAD. THE BIG PROBLEM IN THIS COUNTRY IS THE HORRID BEERS THAT WE HAVE TO CHOOSE FROM. THEY ARE ALWAYS TOO HEAVY WITH THE BITTER YUCKY WHATEVER KIND OD HOPS THAT ARE USED. GOOD GERMAN BEER IS TWICE THE ALCOHOL CONTENT BUT WHEN THE BREAD IS BAKING THE ALCOHOL EVAPORATES AWAY COMPLETELY. SO SIMMER DOWN YOU DEAR OLD TEETOTALERS. NONE REMAINS. I HAVE MY OMA’S BREAD RECIPES. FOR MORE INFO GIVE ME A SHOUT. LISA

    Reply
  2. Juliet Bram

    Kathryn Kemp – Thank you for posting your beer bread recipe!

    My husband loves beer bread and I’ve been looking for a “from-scratch” recipe as an alternative to the boxed mixes. To change things up every so often, I add shredded cheddar cheese and chopped turkey pepperoni. I never thought to add diced apples, so I’ll have to try that out. Do you know what beer you use when adding apples (or Susan can you advise)?

    Reply
  3. Kathryn Kemp

    For years I have made beer bread, remembering the recipe as 1-2-3:
    1can of beer
    2 spoons of sugar (or stevia, honey, etc.)
    3 C. Self-rising flour (Add the last cup a bit at a time; you may not need it all.)
    (Also a bit of salt if you wish)
    This makes a heavy batter that can be cooked plain, but it’s more fun to add stuff: nuts, cut up apples raisins or other dried fruit, shredded cheese…whatever you like, it can take up a generous amount.
    400 degrees in a loaf pan for about 30-35 min. Thump the bottom to check for hollow sound of doneness.

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid, post author

      Love this! In case others want to try, a few notes. 3 cups of flour fits nicely in an 8 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ loaf pan, but if you start adding those other goodies (apples and such) a 9″ x 5″ pan is a safer choice. Thanks, Kathryn! Susan

  4. Rebecca Turner

    Not knowing my alcohol…since I don’t drink…question…since beers are sold in six packs, how would Budweiser, coors, etc. be qualified? If I get something “generic”, as in not “double IPA, stout, Pilsner, etc., how would I know which is best/most applicable in recipes so I’m not having all kinds of alcohols around?

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid, post author

      Hi, Rebecca. I don’t know if grocery stores near you do this, but in this neck of the woods we have a choose-your-own option in the beer section where you can buy one bottle of any kind of beer (a great help in testing these kinds of recipes, believe me!). Budweiser and Coors are lagers, which would work for the Whitbeer pound cake recipe. I think if reduced they might be ok for the cookies, as well, but they’re not as well suited to the caramel tart or the porter cake. You might see if you can convince a beer-loving friend to part with one of those for a slice of the results? 😉 Susan

  5. tmana

    One that goes over well with my friends is Wilton’s Black and Tan cake, a chocolate stout cake filled and iced with lager buttercream. The lager is reduced to a syrup and added in place of vanilla extract.
    I prefer to have a filling that is not icing/frosting. Any suggestions (other than chocolate pudding) for that sort of cake profile?

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid, post author

      Hi, Phyllis. Not that I can point you too right this moment, but it’s a great idea. I would recommend reducing a porter to a syrupy consistency and using a tablespoon of that in place of vanilla. I’ll bet they’ll be great. Susan

  6. Chris

    Is there any disadvantage to using non alcoholic beer? I’m a teetotaler so I really don’t want to buy alcohol for a recipe.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      No problem at all, Chris! It’ll still give you the flavor and the bubbles which are the important parts. Happy baking! Annabelle@KAF

    2. LISA SCHWARZ EAGER

      FEAR NOT YOU DEAR TEE TOTTER. WHEN TOU COOK WITH ANY ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGE THE ALCOHOL EVAPORATES AWAY WHEN COOKED . RUM ,FOR INSTANCE HAS A GREAT TASTE WHEN MAKING RUM RAISIN BREADS AND PASTRIES,WINE LIKE BURGUNDY AS IN BEEF BURGUNDY,RUM OR A SWEET WHISKEY LIKE SOUTHERN COMFORT PLACED IN A SHOT GLASS AND PUT A FRUIT CAKE IN AN AIRTIGHT CONTAINER AND JUST LET IT EVAPORATE OVER A FEW WEEKS TO IMPART A WONDERFUL BUT NONE ALCOHOLIC FLAVOR. PERSONALLY I LOVE THE WONDERFUL HEADY FLAVOR OF MEYER’S DARK RUM THAT IT GIVES A FRUITCAKE ETC,ETC,ETC….. HUGS, LISA

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