Text by Sue Burns | Photos by Lori Rice
Ales, lagers, dunkels and dubbels…pilsners, porters, stouts and IPAs…craft beers have been gaining traction by leaps and bounds in the U.S. for several years. And they’re not just for drinking. It’s common to use beer for cooking sausage and in stews and, of course, there’s the ever-popular beer bread made with just a few ingredients, including the nondescript “12-ounce can of beer.” We tend to reach for the usual suspects — big-name beers that have been readily available at most every market for decades.
There’s a new sheriff in the bakery, though, and armed with her new book, “Beer Bread,” she’s teaching us about innovative craft beers and how to incorporate them into a slew of delicious treats.
From growing up with a mom who owned a cake shop to a career in public health and agriculture with a master’s degree in nutritional science, to traveling and connecting with food cultures around the world with her husband, Lori Rice has always had strong ties to food and cooking. Having her mom’s baked goods and homemade breads on her family’s table and working in bakeries in high school and college sparked her love for bread. While working on her master’s in nutritional sciences and undergraduate degree in nutrition, fitness and health, she had exposure to food, working in university restaurants, and local and state agricultural programs.
Her interest in foods — from how they are grown to how they are served — led her from her endeavors in nutrition to freelance writing to her food blog. While educating people about food has always been a priority, her blog, FakeFoodFree.com, sparked her interest in helping people learn not only about food but how to cook and eat healthy. This led to photographing food.
Traveling abroad with her husband, Dan, piqued Rice’s curiosity about craft beers. She was especially taken with those in Germany and Ireland. She’s always had an interest in the history and processes of beer, and as craft beers became more popular in America, it became more of
a part of her life here. Dan’s secondary degree in beer brewing and distilling fuels his enthusiasm for the subject (and keeps him from being disappointed in constantly eating breads and foods cooked with beer as Rice develops and tests recipes).
Because of her affinity for breads and baked goods, Rice has always wanted to write a book on baking with beer. After the success of “Food on Tap,” her first book on cooking with beer, her publisher requested a baking book. Rice was delighted to make that a reality.
“Using craft beers in cooking and baking helps one to look deeply at the flavor profiles of different beers,” Rice said. “When you get more into craft and traditional styles coming to the U.S. from around the world, there are so many more options for flavors. This opens the idea of experimenting with those flavors in food. Baking is more of a science, and the carbonation helps with leavening. What happens with the flavor and what happens chemically when I bake with it? It’s a really fun approach.”
Not surprisingly, she is delighted with the recipes in the book, but does have some favorites. Six Pack Cinnamon Rolls, yeasted dough using spiced or brown beer, makes individual rolls in Mason jars for a real six pack.
Curry Chickpea-Topped Lager Flatbread has a soft and chewy Naan-style crust that is grilled and topped with smashed chickpeas, curry, lemon juice and yogurt tahini sauce. Cheese and Herb Pale Ale Bread — a twist on traditional beer bread pleasantly bitter from the pairing of hops and cheese — is a stir-and-bake recipe that’s a great start for someone new to baking with beer.
The nature of writing a bread book is challenging. In cooking, you have more freedom to throw ingredients together; baking is more scientific. One must be precise with ingredients and amounts, especially with yeast breads. Knowing when dough has been kneaded, proofed and baked long enough can be perplexing. The hard and fast time guidelines in most recipes don’t really apply. Think rising times in the Central Valley in the chill of winter versus the triple digits of summer — “one hour” may not be long enough in the former and too long in the latter. This led her to provide examples of what to look for to make sure bread dough is ready for the next step.
Rice also focused on developing recipes suitable for novice and experienced bakers. With her tutorial on craft beer varieties and “Find a Beer” suggestions for every recipe, everyone can have fun learning about and experimenting with flavor profiles. All of the recipes in “Beer Bread” use either 6 or 12 ounces of beer (half or full standard bottle or can) to avoid leaving beer unused. All recipes use one standard packet of yeast. “In general,” Rice said, “if you’ve got a bottle or can of beer in the fridge, you can pick a recipe and make it.”
In addition to writing, Rice has a successful business in food photography and recipe development, working with ag boards and brands. She offers online courses and enjoys speaking to people wanting to fine-tune their skills for a specific product. She’ll be teaching sessions on fresh and farm food photos to farmers market professionals in San Diego; “Better Beer Photos” to beer bloggers and influencers at the Beer Now Conference in Austin, and How to Photograph Your Own Cookbook and How to Photograph Sous Vide at the Food Photo Affair in Napa in November. You’ll also find Rice at signings for “Beer Bread” and she’ll talk about the book on upcoming podcasts.
“I definitely want to keep writing, but there’s nothing specific planned right now,” Rice said about plans for future books. “I would like to do more writing about food and its history, or more about farms … that is the direction that I think I’d like to move in.”
(For schedules and more information, visit loririce.com/blog.)