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Winter Beer Bread

Winter can be a time for cocooning and hearth-huddling, at least for me. I think it’s the combination of frigid temperatures outside combined with the dawn of a new year. It is a season ripe for introspection and solo activities, preferably someplace warm. Which is why it’s the perfect time of year for baking.

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to try out and shoot a beer bread recipe for Edible Nashville. I have loads of experience with quick breads, but my loaf bread skills are still a bit underdeveloped. Undaunted, I told myself a new year is for trying new things, so I forged ahead.

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This beer bread recipe comes from Tennessee Brew Works, and is a lot simpler than you might think. The most difficult part is allowing yourself time to wait at the different dough-proofing stages. But hey, while you wait, you can pour yourself a glass of Southern Wit – the star ingredient for the bread. Southern Wit is a refreshing Belgium White Ale with pear and honey notes. Yum.

But even if this had been a difficult recipe, I would still be extolling its virtues here because – ohhhh my – it is some of the most delicious bready goodness I’ve ever had! And don’t get me started on its aromatic properties (your house will smell like a gourmet bakery). But that taste – I tell you it somehow tastes better when you make it yourself.

It’s a new year. Go for it! Here’s the original recipe over at Edible Nashville.

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Southern Wit Beer Bread

Ingredients (makes 1 large loaf or 2 mini loaves)

Starter

  • 1 c. Southern Wit (warm), or other Belgium beer
  • 1 c. bread flour
  • 1½ t. active dry yeast
Dough
  • 1¼ c. warm Southern Wit (warm), or other Belgium beer
  • 4 c. bread flour
  • 1 T. yeast
  • 2 T. sugar
  • 2 T. butter (melted)
  • 1 T. salt

Directions

  1. Make starter by combining beer. flour and yeast in a large bowl. Let stand in a warm place (above the oven is usually a good choice) until mixture is foamy and doubled (about 20 minutes).
  2. Add remaining ingredients and mix in a stand mixer until combined. Using dough hook, beat until dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Pour a little oil over the dough and place in the warm area to proof until doubled in bulk, about 40 minutes. Then, punch dough down and knead about 5 minutes.
  3. Shape the dough into a narrow baguette shape and place on a baking sheet (or place in a 9 x 5 x 3 loaf pan). Brush with a little melted butter and let rise in a warm area for about 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 400°F. Bake about 40 minutes or until the loaf is golden brown and sounds hollow to the touch. Place on a cooling rack and let cool at least 30 minutes before slicing.

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Your dough should look a little something like this ^ for your first kneading. If it’s too wet, add in a little more flour.

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In the last step before baking, hand roll your dough into a baguette shape like I did, or you can place the dough into a loaf pan.

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Did I mention it smells fantastic?

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Your final loaf pairs well with Gouda, pecans, pears and of course, beer. It’s great for mid-winter entertaining. But just as great as a simple, warm snack for cocooning on your own.

Jen

Fresh-picked raspberries from my family's yard - ripe and ruby-pink. Little jewels of the earth swaddled in my shirttail, sparkling with sundrops.

Travel Journal: Seattle

Switters was actually quite fond of Seattle’s weather, and not merely because of its ambivalence. He liked its subtle, muted qualities and the landscape that those qualities encouraged if not engendered: vistas that seemed to have been sketched with a sumi brush dipped in quicksilver and green tea. It was fresh, it was clean, it was gently primal, and mystically suggestive.
― Tom Robbins, Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates

Seattle – that queen of the Pacific Northwest with the quietly ominous mountains and sparkling Sound – does have a mystical air about it. The rain, the fog, the evergreen cloak it dons…all of these things fuse together in a gumbo of tastes and feelings that express themselves as pure effervescence.

I’ve been to Seattle a dozen or so times now and I never tire of its majestic landscape and “ambivalent weather.” There’s something about inhabiting this land, locked in an embrace with the Pacific Ocean, that has a way of re-energizing the soul and of course, awakening the palate. This June, I got the chance to stay there for a week with some family and absorb as much as I could of the culture, climate and of course, food. Afterwards, it occurred to me that the experiences I’d absorbed had directly inspired the meals my family and I prepared. I know, it sounds obvious, but it wasn’t something I’d planned!  These experiences have now lodged themselves into my brain – and have altered my way of thinking about my meals now that I’m back in Nashville. I wanted to share these visions of the Queen City and perhaps, help us all bring a little piece of that effervescence into our daily lives, no matter where we live. So here are my Seattle experiences, and the snacks and meals they inspired, in no particular order…

1. A complex taste for a complex history…

On Seattle’s underground tour, we got to see firsthand the city that once was, and hear the tales of how this logging, outlaw-ish town grew to be a thriving metropolis. It truly has a “layered” history in every sense of the word.

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Steps descending into Seattle’s historic underground near Pioneer Square.

What can match a complex history better than a complex cheese? We headed to Beecher’s Cheese for a sample. We came away with a local English-style cheddar and an herbed goat cheese and immediately paired them with fresh, west coast figs. Complex, dark, rich. Just like those logging barons. :)

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Goat and cheddar cheese from Beecher’s with fresh figs and thyme.

And what’s better than a good cheese with a good brew? How about a beautiful view of the sun over the Sound? Luckily we found both.

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This Hefeweizen from Whistling Pig is as clear and bright as the Summer sky.

2. Contemplative and cultured

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Totem in Pioneer Square, Downtown Seattle.

There’s a solemn stillness that permeates the environment here in the Summer. Maybe it comes from the mouth of the Sound, which breaks and halts the wild ocean. It’s also present in the soft echoes of a cultured past made of native peoples and wild pioneers. Whatever it is, I wanted to try to capture that stillness.

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A man fishes in the Sound near Seahurst Park, just south of Seattle.

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My little lady walks on the docks of Pier 50, Downtown Seattle.

Figs seem somehow fitting with just such a contemplative mood, with their reputation as “forbidden” and a cultivation record reaching back to ancient times. They’re the perfect snack for long days lost in thought…

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Fresh market figs, waiting to be devoured.

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Grilled figs with drizzled honey and fresh mint leaves.

3. Farm fresh

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Pike Place Market is the proverbial middle of your Seattle culinary Bingo card. Can you truly say you’ve been to the city if you haven’t visited it? Yes, it’s overcrowded and touristy. But, those willing to push past that surface will be rewarded with a truly delicious bounty. I’m talking the freshest choice seafood of scallops, salmon and crab and the ripe fruits of your dreams like Washington cherries, blackberries and of course, figs. Check this landmark off your list first, and then explore further. There are plenty of other local markets that may yield even greater riches.

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Market cherries on the chopping block. They’ll make their way into a salad of fresh greens, goat cheese and walnuts.

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Market figs, cherries and blooms form a charming pattern.

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Local blackberries and fresh mint await their dinner treatment.

One such local treasure is B & E Meats & Seafood, which has been serving up the freshest local Copper River King salmon since 1958. We grabbed some fillets and grilled them in olive oil while a fresh blackberry compote bubbled on the stove. We topped off the salmon with the blackberry concoction, added in some local asparagus, and dinner was served.

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Copper River King salmon with blackberry compote and a side of asparagus.

4. Sea-bound

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My little lady treads lightly toward the gently breaking waves of the Sound near Seahurst Park.

Ultimately, the Puget Sound inspires so much of the beauty and cuisine in Seattle. The food is so brim-full of freshness and light, like a bay-skimming breeze, that it often needs no additional adornment.

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Fresh oysters at the Athenian, a downtown institution overlooking Puget Sound. The Athenian is as famous for its seafood as it is for its role in a little movie called Sleepless in Seattle. ;)

One final meal of inspiration based on this simplistic approach: scallops. Straight from the sea, purchased from Pike Place and prepared the same day…this might be what heaven tastes like. Fresh indeed.

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Blackened, pan-seared scallops, served with simple avocado slices.

I hope I’ve carried home some of the sensibilities of my food finds in the Pacific Northwest. I’d like to incorporate even more freshness and depth into what I make here in Nashville.  In the meantime, I raise a frosted glass of Whistling Pig and say, cheers to you, Seattle. You’ll always be a queen of a town to me.