Craft Beer…an under-rated, unused, unsuspecting, ingredient

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Dark Chocolate Espresso Porter Cupcake with Amaretto Cherry Filling

First and foremost, I love beer. And, for many like-minded people, that statement doesn’t hold a bit of negativity.  However, for too many people, a statement at simple as “I love beer” incites ideas of alcoholism and addiction.  A few weeks ago, while I was sick, my mother asked, “Does your doctor know how much you drink?”  How that has anything to do with a simple infection is beyond me, but I get it.  I understand that she doesn’t like beer.  I understand that her impression of beer is limited to the tasteless, watery swill. I understand… 

The biggest thing that most people, including my mother, don’t understand is that craft beer is more than just a drink.  It’s more than just alcohol.  It has more creativity in one pint than all the items on a fast-food chain’s menu. Granted beer is simply grains, hops, yeast, and water. HOWEVER, the type of grains, the amount of hops, the kind of yeast, and even the source of the water will play a major role in the flavor and variety of beer.  Craft beer is by no means simple and should never be described as simply “beer.”
It’s because of this complexity and creativity that I LOVE craft beer.  There are so many things that you can do with…besides drink it.  Trust me; I drink plenty of it.  I consider it “research” and “product testing.”  No, craft beer is so imaginative and there’s so much variety that using it to cook should be a no-brainer.
As a dessert person, I use craft beer (and hard cider) in many of my desserts.  The cupcake above is made with a local Tampa Bay-inspired porter by Coppertail brewing, and the drizzle on top…yep, that’s a syrup made from the same porter.  Once you’re able to taste craft beer (and cider) and pick up on the various flavors and notes, then, incorporating it into a recipe is only a matter of getting the courage to do it. In fact, it’s sort of like pairing wine and beer with dinner.  If you know that red wine is great to drink while eating a piece of chocolate cake, then, using red wine in the cake is easy.  The same holds true with craft beer (and hard cider).  If you notice that the stout you’re drinking is creamy with hints of chocolate and coffee, then bake it into a cake.  If you’ve tried a porter with your bacon cheeseburger and liked it, then why not glaze that burger with a porter syrup. All it takes is a little courage to try something new.
Here are some suggestions to get you started…
Syrups
Boil 1 part craft beer/cider with 2 parts sugar. Simmer for 10-15 minutes to reduce the mixture.  Drizzle it on ice cream, on cakes, on tarts.  Use it as a glaze on burgers or ribs.  Incorporate it into BBQ sauce!  Use it on your pancakes and waffles…cider syrup will change breakfast forever!!!
Cake Batter
Use craft beer/cider in place or in addition to the liquid you would normally add to a cake. Of course, you need to keep in mind that beer can change the color of your cake.  I wouldn’t add porter or stout to a vanilla cake unless I was prepared to deal with a new cake color.  Try adding porter & stout to chocolate cake, a spicy winter ale to a carrot cake, a cider to vanilla cake, or tripel to a coffee cake.
Icing/Frosting
As long as kids aren’t eating tons of it, use craft beer/cider in frostings.  I’ve made my fair share of champagne buttercream, and because there’s so little champagne in it, the alcohol level isn’t going to hurt anyone.  As for craft beer, just like cake, add dark beer to dark frosting and lighter colored beer to light frosting.  What about an IPA buttercream going on a citrus cake?  Or a dark chocolate stout frosting going on cookies?
Other Desserts
Torte…replace the liquid with beer.  This works really well with a dark chocolate torte and a porter.
Zabaglione…replace the sherry with a light, citrusy beer, like a grapefruit IPA, a blood orange IPA, or even an orange blossom ale.
Cookies…replace extracts with a beer syrup (reduce the beer to a syrup to concentrate the flavor)
Cobbler…macerate fruit in beer and sugar before adding it to the batter
Bread Pudding…use a cream ale or milk stout in the custard
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