Tuesday, August 14, 2012

beer pizza / pizza beer

We know that these things go together on an elemental level. They have the same materials in them: grains, yeast, water. Then pizza has a bunch of other stuff on top of it, but its bedrock is grains and yeast. So is there any reason why pizza and beer should not exchange these essential substances in a grainy makeout session? Why not mix up the pizza and beer before they go into your stomach?

On a conceptual level I am all about this, and I think it should work in both directions: we should have pizza made from spent beer brewing grains, and beer made from the mountains of discarded pizza crusts left behind after kids' birthday parties, which ideally would ferment in an underground pit for five years and then be conditioned with tomato sauce infusions. However, I don't know much about the beer-making end of things, so my first objective in project beerpizza/pizzabeer was to make a pizza crust out of beer grains.

The concept of the beer pizza emerged during a recent high-powered meeting of Lady Brew Baltimore, an awesome homebrew club started by the lovely Laura Cohen. We were brewing a pumpkin brown ale, and after fishing the cheesecloth full of whole grains out of the boiling pot, Laura mentioned that the grains can be used in bread although most brewers throw them out. Fellow lady brewer Christine added that she once made a pizza crust with brewing grains. So I take no credit for this discovery, I only seek to advance the science of beer pizza and expose the general pizza-loving public to this innovation.

I snagged the sackfull of soggy grains and brought them home to experiment with. Fortunately the internet already knows everything and I got a recipe off there for "spent beer grains bread," figuring that pizza is just bread spread out flat with toppings on it.

This bread, however, is super grainy, as you might expect from something that contains more than 50% whole grains. (I'm not even sure what was in that cheesecloth - wheat, barley, some other stuff?). It's dark, molasses-brown in color, and the texture is moist and heavy. So, it doesn't taste anything like "pizza crust" as pizza crust is conventionally understood. However, it was still delicious topped with scallion pesto, figs, goat cheese, and balsamic vinegar. If you wanted to make it more recognizable as pizza, you could replace some of the beer grains and whole wheat flour with white flour. I'd also recommend cooking on a pizza stone, since the dough is very moist and can stay soggy underneath the toppings unless extreme heat is applied.

So here's a recipe for three loaves, or three really big pizza crusts (I halved this and got two medium-sized pies):

3 cups white flour
6 tsp vital wheat gluten
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 tsp salt
2 tsp yeast
3 cups spent beer grains ground in a food processor
1/4 cup sugar or honey
1/4 cup butter or olive oil
1 egg beaten
3/4 cup milk

Combine the dry ingredients and the wet ingredients and add them together. Knead for 10 minutes by hand or 5 minutes with a bread hook mixer thing.
Let the dough rise in an oiled bowl until doubled (90 minutes), then punch down and divide into three balls.
Let those rise for another hour in their respective oiled bowls. In the meantime get your toppings ready and jack the oven up as hot as it will go.
After the second rise, gently coax the dough onto baking sheets or pizza stones and pull/roll/stretch it into shape. It's moist and tender, so dust everything including your hands with flour and don't be too aggressive or it will tear.
Put on some toppings (again, go easy on the saucy toppings because the crust might not crisp well).
Put it in the oven for 20 minutes or until the crust is crispy (this will depend on the temperatures achievable in your home oven).
Congratulations you have a beer pizza!

So now the question is, can my vision of pizza beer ever be actualized in a way that is neither repulsive nor hazardous to human health? Were these two things ever meant to converge so early in their life-cycles, or is it an abomination against god and country? Stay tuned.

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