After the pomp and circumstance of Thanksgiving—the colossal turkey, the countless pies, the fancy china that must be hand-washed—it's nice to enjoy a relaxed meal or two in front of the TV with a plate on your lap and your feet on the coffee table. What could be better than watching the game with a big bowl of chili, or a pile of nachos smothered in seven-layer dip? All that spicy beef and gooey cheese calls for a hearty bread for sopping, crumbling, and wiping plates clean, so this week I tested out Trader Joe's Beer Bread Mix ($1.99). It's the stuff of Homer Simpson's dreams.
The first step was choosing the right beer. I recalled reading an article on beer bread in Cook's Country magazine that suggested using a light, American-style lager like Budweiser. I considered this, but decided that I wanted something a bit bolder. I wasn't just using the beer to leaven to bread; I wanted to be able to taste the malt. My next thought was to use a very dark beer, like a Guinness or a stout, which is a common ingredient in many gingerbread recipes. But this wasn't dessert; I wanted a savory loaf that would pair well with soups and meaty main dishes. Finally, I settled on Dale's Pale Ale, which is a medium-hopped IPA from Colorado. I thought it would be flavorful but not overpowering.
Aside from 12 ounces of beer, the only other addition to the mix was 1/4 cup of melted butter, to be poured over the prepared batter once it was in the pan. Half a stick seemed like a lot of butter to me. Nevertheless, I poured it in and watched it run to the corners of the pan and settle in golden pools. I slid my buttery beer concoction into the oven set my kitchen timer for 45 minutes. After only 30 minutes the top of my loaf was quite toasty and brown. I gave it a gentle tap and it sounded hollow. Hmm. Should I take it out now, or leave it in for the full baking time? I decided to stick the instructions, and let the bread bake for another 15 minutes.
The bread emerged heavy for its size and smelling like, well, Land o' Lakes. I let it cool and then cut it into thick slices. The edges broke apart in fat crumbs and the interior was dense and moist. I took a bite. Thanks to the butter, the crust was crisp and utterly irresistible. The center was a bit chewy, but it tasted pleasingly of malt. I served it to some friends on a Sunday night, alongside bowls of chili and in front of a football game. Everyone thought it was delicious, commenting on its hearty texture and rich, yeasty flavor. In fact, they took seconds and thirds until nothing was left but one lone end piece. In my book, that's the sign of a successful loaf.