BERLIN, GERMANY — Beer and bread are two of Germany’s most ancient cultural assets — with common roots. Beer bread, in which bakers replace the water added with tasty “barley juice,” represents a culinary bridge between the arts of baking and brewing. The rustic loaves are especially popular around the time of Munich’s Oktoberfest fair.
Germany looks back on a unique tradition of bread and beer. Both foods are culinary ambassadors for the country and renowned throughout the world. The German Commission for UNESCO has recognized both Germany’s bread culture, with over 3,200 registered varieties, and artisan beer brewing that is still based on the Purity Law of 1516 as part of the country’s Intangible Cultural Heritage. This award could well trigger further steps toward World Heritage status.
A traditional duo
For centuries, baking and brewing were the mainstay of basic provision of food for the population. And different as the working methods were during the laborious baking and brewing days, grain, water and yeast were indispensable raw materials for both processes.
Nowadays, the baking and brewing industries work fully independently of each other. But there are widespread aspirations on the part of artisan food producers and the restaurant and catering trade to restore this historic connection.
Throughout Germany, there are instances of cooperation between small private breweries and local artisan bakers who would like to make beer in bread an attractive idea to consumers. The benefit is mutual: for the local breweries, the beer loaves are a welcome PR activity, while the bakeries can offer their customers authentic new specialties with a regional touch. Demand for the rustic “barley juice” products is greatest in summer, during the barbecue season, and at the time of the Munich Oktoberfest in early autumn.
One or other pub brewery also places its faith in the successful duo “beer and bread.” At many of the brewery restaurants in Upper Franconia, especially, it is still an established ritual to heat the wood-fired oven every day and bake country-style loaves containing their own house drink.
Beer variety and flour type
As a rule, beer bread is produced as a mixed-grain, hearth-baked loaf with a rustically split, floured crust and a succulent, aromatic crumb. There is an immense range of flavors. The taste varies from sweetly caramel through slightly acid to strong and savory, depending on whether malty, top-fermented dark beer, fruity wheat beer containing yeast cloud, mild pale ale or “hoppy” Pils finds its way into the dough mixer.
Specific selection from the different flours and other ingredients offers further scope for creativity. Besides wheat flour, coarse meal or wholemeal flour made from rye is often used, since this grain type is excellent for emphasizing the rustic character of beer bread. Sourdough also helps to strengthen the tangy flavor. To round off the taste, bakers also like to add classic bread seasonings such as caraway seeds, coriander or fennel.
Draff to give the extra kick
Draff is the ideal flavor booster for intensifying the beer note in the bread. Draff is the residue from the boiled malt grist that occurs in the brewing process. This mass is rich in dietary fiber and protein and has a pleasantly sweet and nutty taste. But since the husks might make the bread feel gritty when chewed, they first must be dried and ground into flour before they find their way into the dough.
With its rustic characteristics, beer bread is an ideal choice for a farmhouse-type snack. The slices of bread traditionally are served on a round, wooden board together with sausage, cheese, butter, lard, pickled gherkins and radishes and accompanied by a freshly tapped beer. These hearty delicacies naturally taste best in cheerful company under a shady chestnut tree in a beer garden.
Easy to prepare
Beer bread is relatively simple to make and does not require any special adjustments. It makes no difference to the structure of the dough whether the liquid added is water or beer. Misunderstandings sometimes occur concerning the use of yeast. Although beer is brewed with yeast, the finished mash usually contains no more active yeast cells. To prolong the shelf life and improve stability, the yeast is filtered out of most types of beer. For preparation of the dough, beer can never be a substitute for fresh baker’s yeast.
For bakeries that advocate a sponge-and-dough process for the production of beer bread in order to intensify the flavor and prolong the shelf life, an alternative is to start working with beer when preparing the sponge or sourdough.
Faults in beer bread products
In Germany, beer bread is produced according to countless recipes and methods. The spectrum extends from light-colored wheat loaves raised exclusively with yeast to loaves baked solely from rye, these being started with dough acidifiers or sourdough. However, the most usual variants are hearth-baked mixed wheat loaves containing 10% to 15% rye flour. The following list shows the faults that may occur in products of this kind and what can be done to prevent them:
Problem: Loaves lose their shape
Possible causes: Doughs too soft; flour quality too weak, or insufficient oxidation; softening of the dough through excessive enzymatic activity of the flour (very low Falling Number); proof time too long, or dough over-kneaded
Solution: Reduce the amount of water or beer added; use flour with a higher Falling Number or increase treatment with ascorbic acid (ELCO C); adjust proofing or kneading process if necessary
Problem: Sticky doughs
Possible cause: Weak flour; gluten unable to hold water, possibly also release of water through over-kneading
Solution: Adjust kneading time (in most cases, reduce kneading time); increase water absorption capacity (e.g. with Alphamalt TTC, possibly in combination with vegetable fibres such as EMCEbest WA Pure)
Problem: Water absorption and dough yield too low
Possible cause: Low protein content of the flour; too little starch damage
Solution: Add enzymatic compounds such as EMCEgluten Enhancer or EMCEbest WA Pure; alternatively, increase the percentage of gluten by adding vital wheat gluten (EMCEvitC); increase starch damage by raising the grinding pressure or differential speed; add pre-gelatinized flours
Problem: Poor oven rise
Possible cause: Low-enzyme flour
Solution: Increase oven rise by adding enzymes such as amylases (e.g. Alphamalt A 5070) or hemicellulases (Alphamalt H 24511)
Problem: Tasteless, no intensive beer flavor
Possible cause: Dough processes without sponge or sourdough; proof time or resting time too short
Solution: Use a sponge dough and/or lengthen the process; add dry sourdough as a flavouring ingredient (e.g. EMCEdo SW); use a beer with a stronger taste
Problem: Crust color too light
Possible cause: Oven temperature too low; use of high-extraction flour with a low mineral content
Solution: Increase the oven temperature; add amylase (Alphamalt A 5070) or malt flour to boost the Maillard reaction and intensify browning
Problem: Crust too dark
Possible cause: Oven temperature too high or baking time too long; flour too high in enzyme activity (low Falling Number)
Solution: Shorten the baking time and reduce the baking temperature. Add dough acidifier to curb the activity of the enzymes
Problem: Volume too low, poor stability
Possible causes: Weak gluten (in respect of quantity and/or quality)
Solution: Increase the amount of flour improver to stabilize the dough and enhance its processing properties and the volume of the baked goods; adjust the kneading time
Problem: Crumb too dense
Possible causes: Gluten too stiff; too little added water; kneading time too short (doughs not fully kneaded)
Solution: Increase the amount of water and kneading time; soften the dough and increase its elasticity with hemicellulases (e.g. Alphamalt HCC 2)
Problem: Crumb crumbles when sliced
Possible cause: Too little enzymatic activity; dough not fully kneaded
Solution: Stabilize the structure of the crumb by adding enzyme compounds (e.g. Alphamalt EFX Mega); increase the kneading time to produce a more homogeneous and supple dough.
Sven Mattutat is a product manager with Mühlenchemie. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.