Grab your favorite beer and whip up a loaf of rich Loaded Cheddar Beer Bread dotted with smoky bacon.
The sizzle of applewood-smoked bacon breaks the silence of my sunny kitchen. Sputtering and singing, the thick strips fry to lightly-done perfection. I’d chosen this North Country Smokehouse bacon in haste, the heft of the slices in the simplest of packaging catching my eye at Hannaford’s. Fortunately, they were every bit as delightful as I expected — perfect for dotting the loaf of Loaded Cheddar Beer Bread they were destined for. Of course you needn’t hit the supermarket for bacon when there are delicious Maine bacons that would work beautifully as well — like the thick cut bacon from Tangled Oak Farm, which I usually purchase by the half-pound at farmers markets in Orono and Bangor.
Once chopped, the cooked bacon joins self-rising flour, the sharpest of sharp cheddars and chopped green onions in a bowl. With a few flicks of the rubber spatula — a brightly hued blue-green one gifted to me years ago — the ingredients mix and mingle in the bowl, awaiting that thing that will bind them together.
Today, it’s beer. After a long browse of the selection of Maine beers, I’d chosen Shipyard’s Monkey Fist, a strongly flavored Indian Pale Ale (IPA) from Portland. It lends a bold hoppy flavor to the bread.
Frothy beer is mixed into the flour mixture, creating a batter that pours easily into a greased pan.
Then the magic happens: into the oven the pan goes, where the beer, bacon and cheese bake together into a tender, fragrant loaf. The scent wafting from the kitchen is both decadent and homey, the intersection of memory and desire.
The resulting loaf bakes to a rich, golden color. Hints of green whisper and golden fingers of cooked cheddar whisper that this is no ordinary loaf of bread.
But the secret to this recipe isn’t in skill. Beer bread is a marvelously easy kitchen endeavor requiring little more than the ability to stir and use a timer. No, it’s the ingredients that make this bread something special. Simply put: good ingredients yield good recipes.
When it comes to cooking, you should cook with the best quality ingredients you can. The juicy blueberries from your backyard bush will trump store-bought ones trucked in from California. The freshest September tomatoes will create a better caprese than you can whip up in January with hot house tomatoes and wimpy bunches of basil.
And when it comes to alcohol — like red wine for coq au vin or beer for this beer bread — you want to cook with what you actually enjoy drinking. Sure, those bottles of cooking wine next to the vinegars in the grocery store are convenient, but your favorite Pinot Grigio makes a better white wine sauce any day.
For this bread, the beer adds an intense amount of flavor to it. That’s why it’s important to cook with a beer you want to drink. So when you go to make this, grab a bottle from the fridge and mix it with glee because the resulting loaf will have that familiar, favorite flavor.
Loaded Cheddar Beer Bread
yields 1 loaf
2 2/3 cups self-rising flour
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
5 slices thick-cut bacon, lightly cooked and chopped
1/4 cup chopped green onions
12 oz. bottle beer
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease an 8-inch loaf pan.
In a large mixing bowl, stir together the flour, sharp cheddar cheese, bacon and green onions. Add the beer and stir until just combined. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and tap gently to even out.
Bake for 45-50 minutes, until a knife inserted in the center of the bread comes out clean. The loaf should be golden brown. Let cool for 10 minutes before removing from the loaf pan.
If desired, serve warm with butter.