Friday, October 2, 2009

50th Post and Guinness Quick Bread

Wow! This is my 50th post to The Messy Apron! I’m not sure I really knew when I started this that I would have 50 different ideas about food, let alone that I would still be enthusiastically posting by this time. Perhaps these pages no longer have that new blog smell, but this is still fun, and I think 50 blog posts is worthy of a celebration.

You know what else is fun? Guinness! You know what else is worthy of a celebration? The 250th anniversary of Guinness, which just so happens to be this year, the same year that I wrote my 50th blog post! What are the odds? (Never tell me the odds.)

In the interest of full disclosure, I don’t really celebrate with alcohol, not even in the traditional (read sacred and holy) form of stouts or other blessed dark brews. I just don’t care for alcohol (I’ll have half a glass of wine with a meal), though I do recognize good quality when I taste it. (I think I drank most of a whole bottle of Guinness once, probably on St. Patrick’s Day. That was enough.) Now, I know one or two of you out there, including Harry, will be happy to be drinking a Guinness or three (responsibly, of course) in celebration of 250 years of the good stuff, but what’s a dry girl like me to do?

Well, if I don’t celebrate with traditional beverages, I do celebrate with traditional baked goods. It just so happens that Guinness bakes very well, especially in this cake at the Epicurious web site. I needed to put together something a bit faster, though (and, frankly, smaller), so I modified a beer quick bread recipe from The Clueless Baker by Evelyn Raab. I borrowed a little from the cake recipe I mentioned above to spice things up a bit and added toasted hazelnuts for a bit of crunch, and a little more British Isles flair. Perhaps it’s not purely Irish, but neither are most of the folks who enjoy Guinness.

This bread is a little more dense and a lot less sweet than more common quick breads like banana bread or zucchini bread. I like the rich, slight bitterness of the Guinness with the molasses and hint of warm spices. The toasted hazelnuts seem to flavor the whole loaf, and I like the added crunch they bring to the party. If you don’t care for them, just substitute a different nut, or leave them out. In fact this bread is so quick and easy that it begs for endless variations with different beers and mix-ins. Think lager with cheese or Leinenkugel’s Sunset Wheat with dried blueberries. I could go on, but I’ve got celebrating to do. Happy 50th post to me!

Toasting and Skinning Hazelnuts
This seems as good a place as any to give a quick review on how I toast and skin hazelnuts, a process that I believe is essential for great dishes that include hazelnuts. It is a bit of a tedious process, but the crunchy, toasty hazelnuts sans bitter, fibrous skins are their own reward.

1. Preheat oven to 375 F.

2. Place hazelnuts on a baking sheet in a single layer. Bake at 375 F until the nuts are just beginning to brown and some of the dark brown skins are beginning to pull away, about 8 minutes. (Watch the nuts carefully, as you want to avoid burning them.) Remove from oven and cool slightly.

3. While still warm, dump the nuts into a clean dish towel. Rub them vigorously with the towel to remove the skins. Some will relinquish their coats more easily than others. Remove the skinned nuts from the pile and continue rubbing the remaining nuts. Some nuts can be rubbed with your fingers to remove more stubborn skins. I find that it is pretty much impossible to get all the skin off of all the nuts. Some of them just insist on remaining attached to their skins.

Guinness Hazelnut Quick Bread Recipe
Modified from The Clueless Baker by Evelyn Raab. If you don’t have whole wheat pastry flour on hand, you could replace it with additional all-purpose flour.

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons molasses
1 (11.2- 12 ounce) bottle dark beer, such as Guinness (I used the Limited Edition 250th Anniversary brew)
1 cup toasted, skinned hazelnuts, coarsely chopped

1. Preheat the oven to 375 F. Grease a 9 x 5-inch (or an 8-inch) bread pan with oil, butter, or cooking spray (I use the spray). Mix together the flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg until well combined.

2. Add the molasses and beer and stir until well mixed. The batter will be fairly thick and somewhat spongy. Stir in the hazelnuts.

3. Pour the batter the prepared bread pan and bake at 375 F for 45 minutes, or until a wooden pick inserted into the center comes out clean (ie, with no globs of unbaked batter). If you are using an 8-inch pan, the baking time may be slightly longer.

4. Cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then remove the loaf from the pan and cool on a rack. Slice and enjoy while still warm, or cool completely.

Makes one loaf.

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