Sour Beer Soda Bread

Gueuze and gueuze soda breadDuring the week I spotted a Twitter conversation about bread, and it came to soda bread and how to make it if you don’t have buttermilk handy. Buttermilk is difficult stuff to get hold of sometimes – we couldn’t even find any in the mahoosive Bar Hill Tesco “extra”… but Waitrose in St. Ives came to the rescue. I’ve struck this problem before. Soda bread is a very quick alternative to yeasty bread… and while I prefer the latter I do have a place in my heart for the convenience of the former. In the past I have resorted to using milk acidified with a squeeze of lemon juice. However, thought I, how about sour beer?

Part of the action that makes soda bread work is the combination of acidity and bicarbonate of soda, without the acidity you’d just not get enough *puff* to lighten the crumb. But buttermilk isn’t just about acidity – it has a richness and creaminess that contribute to the soft texture of bread… so any old acidic liquid isn’t going to work. Thus I’ve worked out a mix of milk and beer that does the job.

First step… a touch of total nerdery… what’s the pH of buttermilk? It turns out that for the buttermilk I bought it was 4.4… so I aimed to replicate this with a beer and milk mixture. I chose to use Gueuze 1882 from Brouwerij Girardin and Kriek from Brouwerij Boon for this experiment – and they turned out to both have a pH of 3.6. Mixed with milk to a ratio of 5:3 (beer:milk, i.e. 125g of beer plus 75g milk) this yielded a 4.4 pH in a creamy-curdled milky mixture.

Buttermilk pH

Buttermilk pH

Kriek pH

Kriek pH

Gueuze pH

Gueuze pH

I made 3 loaves to this template, based on a HFW recipe on the River Cottage website:

  • 250g plain flour
  • 200g liquid
    • i.e. buttermilk or 75ml milk + 125ml gueuze/kriek/lambic of your choice.
  • 1tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 0.5tsp salt

Soda bread ingredients

Mix the ingredients together quickly, adjust with milk or flour as needed to make a smooth and slightly tacky dough – it should be quite soft. Do not overwork the dough. I found the buttermilk mix needed a touch of milk to wet it and the beer mixes both needed a touch of flour to dry them. Very lightly knead to shape, pop onto a baking tray, slice an X across the top of each loaf, then into a 200C (gas 6) oven. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes – until you can insert a knife into the loaf and feel no resistance drawing it out again.

Soda bread

The end result was fantastic. The guezue and kriek loaves are both soft and well “puffed” with a similar crumb to the buttermilk one. If anything they’re a little less soft and just a little less risen – with just a touch more rubbery bounce in them. Adding more fat could help – using a 1:1 beer milk ratio might be enough. When eaten warm you’d not notice this at all however – and the beer ones really shine when warm, the beers are present in flavour and even more so in aroma.

Crumb detail - buttermilk, gueuze, kriek

Crumb detail – buttermilk, gueuze, kriek

Even when nibbled on cold a few hours later the flavours of the beers are present, subtle yet clear. The kriek one especially injects a ghost of cherry to the sinuses as you chew it. But for maximum effect I suggest enjoying fresh and warm with a generous spread of butter.

And that, my friends, was breakfast... or brunch? It's OK to have breakfast at 1PM on a Sunday, right?

And that, my friends, was breakfast… or brunch? It’s OK to have breakfast at 1PM on a Sunday, right?

What do you think?