Cooking with Beer: Baking Bread & Goat’s Cheese, Stout and Onion Tarts

After our visit to the Holgate Brewhouse and the starter of garlic beer bread, I decided baking bread with beer had to be next on my ‘to-make’ list. Being made with an almost identical list of ingredients, they were meant for each other. Beer and bread also appear in recorded human history at approximately the same time. Bread is regarded as one of the foundations of the rise of human society. Thanks to the farming of grain, settlements became common and the rest, as they say, in an overused cliché. Archaeologists have considered beer to have been instrumental in the development of civilisations. Sitting around a table, the fire roaring, conversation and beer flowing. I can see why. This gives rise to the pressing philosophical question of which came first, beer or bread? Both were likely accidents, as if often the way with great ideas. For my most recent bake, we can assume the beer came first.

A bottle of Hargreaves Hill Pale Ale.

The internet recommended using a malty bitter, or something with a big hop hit. I had a couple of bottles of Hargreaves Hill Pale Ale in the cupboard. They’ve been there for a while now, I suspect they’re close to being past their best. I’d hate to throw a beer away, so figured I’d give a pale ale bread a shot.

A loaf tin full of pale ale bread dough.

Baking bread came as a pleasant surprise, it was so easy. Flour, sugar and beer mixed in a bowl, topped with some melted butter and thrown in the oven for about 50 minutes. Not so long ago, I’d have sat in front of the oven and watched it the whole time, waiting for something to go wrong. Instead I found myself with time to do the vacuuming and clean out the budgie cages. I checked in on the bread a few times just in case anything needed my attention. It didn’t. Everything went just fine.

A flat loaf of pale ale bread.

The bread didn’t rise as much as I expected, it might have needed a little longer. I wasn’t sold on it at first bite, but the following day I cut some slices and threw them in the oven. Crisp and golden, topped with a satisfying, artery-clogging amount of butter it was delicious. There was an unexpected sweetness followed by a hint of hops at the end of each bite. Even better was a couple of days later, once again loaded with butter. It was breakfast, soft boiled eggs were on the menu. The crusty loaf made perfect soldiers. It would work just as well with soup, and as part of a ploughman’s.

Slices of beer bread.

I picked up a piece of the appropriately named Red Hill Mountain Goat Blue cheese from the Queen Victoria Market. I was cautious at first. I like blue cheese but was worried it might have packed too much of a punch. When I opened it for a taste I had to fight the urge to eat it all. The cheese was smooth, moist, and for the most part sour but with an unmistakable sweetness. I haven’t been this excited about cheese in a long time.

Onions, stout, blue cheese, fennel, garlic and mushrooms.

I picked up a piece of the aptly named Red Hill Mountain Goat Blue cheese from the Queen Victoria Market. I was cautious at first. I know I like blue cheese but I thought it might have packed too much of a punch. Instead, when I opened it and had a taste I had to fight the urge to eat it all. The cheese is smooth, moist, and for the most part sour but there’s an unmistakable sweetness as well. I haven’t been this excited about cheese in a long time.

Stout and onion cooking in a frying pan.

The rest of the ingredients make for a delicious combination; onions, mushrooms, fennel, and Surefoot Stout. The onions were fried for half an hour. The fennel and garlic received a similar treatment before everything was mixed together with the stout. The vegetables came together to form a sweet, sticky, caramelised topping.

Two goat's cheese, stout and onion tarts in the oven.

I cheated a little by buying ready made puff pastry. I’m an occasionally busy man, I don’t have time to slave away over what appeared to the daunting task of making my own. I sliced off the edges to make rectangles, spooned over the onions, crumbled the cheese on top and threw it all in the oven. 20 minutes later I had crispy pastry, bubbling cheese and a hunger ready to be satisfied.

Goat's cheese, stout, and onion tart.

The tang of the cheese, the sweetness of the onion and fennel, the bitterness of the beer combined to bring a balanced and classy dish to the table. Had it not been the middle of the afternoon, had I not had places to go and people to see, I have strong suspicions a glass of the stout would have washed the whole thing down rather well. I was one satisfied customer. With one eaten between Elena and I, I’m yet to know if the tart is as good cold as it is fresh from the oven.

After my most recent sessions around the stove, I’ve found my confidence continues to grow. The kitchen is less of a daunting place and I now leave it almost as clean as I found it. I’m hoping to now refine a couple of the recipes I’ve tried before moving on to something new, which will follow in all good time.

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