Monday, March 23, 2009

All part of a balanced breakfast ale

Mia prides herself on being a quality helper in the kitchen, especially in regards to the arena of baking. Any opportunity to don her mini-toque and mix, punch, dollop and squash her way through an afternoon of food prep is one she'll gleefully take up, upon realizing that's what's on the agenda quickly running to unseen corners of the house to noisily retrieve her stepping stool and perhaps even her mini-apron, keeping an eye open for a free whisk or spoon, prepared to warn anyone within earshot when the oven is hot. Astoundingly, she'll see a job through to the end, with hardly any little person attention deficit to speak of. What began as a rainy day rescue plan has now become as routine as reading or playing music or piecing together puzzles. For a kid who isn't particularly driven by food, and has even less of a sweet tooth, it's still the first thing she'll want to fill me in on when I step through the front door in the evening. If there's a totemic symbol of all that wholesome home-centric adorable fuzzy awesomeness, an icon that fits conveniently in the palm of your hand that represents the process and the product in the hendiatris of head, heart and hands, it would have to be the oatmeal raisin cookie. And if there is an act more nourishing to the development of the toddler psyche - from it's fine motor skills to its lessons on procedure and cause and effect and collaboration to its establishment of work and reward - than baking oatmeal raisin cookies, I haven't found it yet (with the possible exception of the wholesome family singalong).

Think I'm getting soft in my old age? A whole post about baking cookies with a little kid? Give me a break. Your reward is forthcoming, for having made your way this far. It's still all about the beer. Nourishing, centering, fulfilling, "breakfast for dessert of vice versa" beer.

Beer, in today's case, born with the heart and soul of an oatmeal raisin cookie. Let's make some, shall we?

Because face it: homebrewing is a lot like baking, in many ways moreso that cooking. Ability to follow directions with an underlying understanding about the purpose of each step, the use of time and chemistry as the major catalysts, and the focus on a core set of a few simple ingredients are all hallmarks of baking and brewing. In the interest of putting together a recipe that capitalizes on the highlights of fresh, chewy, pungent, homebaked delightfulness, entrapping all those facets of a child's culinary masterpiece within a prism of their dad's favorite beverage, it makes sense to single out some slightly unorthodox brewing ingredients that could potentially make the difference:

Toasted oats: Well, duh, you say. Oats, in oatmeal cookies? Genius. Sure, but while oats have a celebrated history in brewing, the typical flaked oats that find their way into a brewer's mash tun have a far more neutral character than those that have spent some time sweating it out in a hot oven. Following a tip from Randy Mosher's most excellent Radical Brewing, we took a half pound of hand-picked Grade A local hippie co-op approved bulk oats and spread them out on a baking tray in a 300° F oven until the house was unmistakeably haunted by the ghost of deliciousness. Allowed to rest for a few days in the interest of casting off any harsh residual chemicals conjured up by the toasting action, they were then added in with the remainder of the grist.

Raisin puree: If it weren't enough for us to be "radical", the least we could do would be to include something "extreme". Thanks to Sam Calagione's treatise on that very subject, we experimented with a new approach to freeing up all the trapped fermentable sugars trapped in a half pound of raisins. Simply enough, put the raisins in a blender with a cup of hot wort from the kettle, frappe them beyond recognition, dump the resultant goo into your kettle about ten minutes shy of the end of your boil, and relax.

Candi, candi, candi, I can't let you go.
All my life, you're haunting me. I loved you so!

Homemade candi sugar: The image of oatmeal cookies as the health-conscious option on the bakery shelf is a bit strained, as everyone knows the most important ingredient is still sugar. Sweet sweet sugar. So what better opportunity, then, for us to attempt to knock out some amberescent candi sugar by following these simple instructions? The beauty of doing this yourself, like the toasted oats, is that you're completely in control of yet another deeply flavorful brewing component where you can dial in to whatever nuance you'd like to convey. As the sugar cooks, it gradually darkens in color, slowly developing more deeply toned aromas, going from a spun-sugar cotton candy scent into something more richly toffee-ish, caramel-like. Next time we'll have no choice but to go even darker to see where that takes us...

Chances are, despite the duplication of some key ingredients and the resultant intensely comforting waves of olfactory bliss that permeated the home with window-steaming warmth, the finished product in the glass will likely be as akin to an oatmeal raisin cookie as our Old Fashioned Ale was to its namesake cocktail (as in, "not very"). But was it delicious? Indeed it was. Perhaps we ought to chalk this up to my budding theory on the built-in success of backwards engineered brewing recipes. We shall see.

The recipe is here. (It's no small coincidence that the ingredient menu has an "odds and sods" look to it, smidges of all sorts of character grains and an odd stylistic ambivalence, because that's exactly what it is: a leftovers batch. But what of the beer that warranted all these castoff ingredients? What possible Frankenstein of an experiment could have yielded these scraps? To be revealed in our next episode: Tokyo Fog.)

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5 Comments:

Blogger Ray Grace said...

Thanks for posting the recipe Rob. Methinks you've inspired me to brew something along these lines. I happen to prefer oatmeal chocolate chip myself. So maybe something like an oatmeal chocolate stout. Hmmm

4:33 PM  
Blogger Jesse said...

I'm surprised you included carafa malt - Wouldn't you have wanted something more amber in color, like the namesake cookie?

4:40 PM  
Blogger Rob said...

Jesse, what you don't know about me is that I put Carafa in pretty much everything: my coffee, chicken soup, curry, cheesecake... (Okay, not really, but come to think of it, some of those don't sound too bad.)

Truthfully, the Carafa found its way in because I had an open bag of it. But hey? With the limited number of de-bittered roast grain options out there, why not use it in everything?

Have I mentioned that I really like Carafa? (And chocolate wheat malt!)

But you're right, it looks *nothing* like the cookie namesake. Unless, of course, you burnt it. Which I can do.

7:17 PM  
Blogger Jesse said...

Actually, I'm a fellow carafa lover - I include it in the now becoming standard bag of homebrew goodies i give chefs to play with (along with crystal 40, liquid extract, east kent goldings and cascade hops) to get inspired for a beer dinner. I include it specifically because it is dehusked, making it more food friendly.

At my Scalas dinner, Jen rolled shortbread cookies in them to crust them, and at Mission Street Food this last week, Anthony ground it with powdered suger to make one of two malt sugars (the other was with the crystal) to top a funnel cake made with beer.

10:24 PM  
Blogger Mario (Brewed for Thought) said...

No brown sugar?

And the idea of a cookie beer is absolutely brilliant Rob. Also, the idea of making the little one bake cookies, and enjoy it, while you're off at work sounds like an idea I will be stealing as soon as Kaleigh gains a few more motor skills.

11:58 AM  

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