Agave Beer Bread: the one-hour wonder

DARLINGS, the snowpocalypse has arrived!  We’re in blizzard #3 of this winter, and it is magnificent outside!  The city is hymn-like in its hushed reverence.  The building across from me has grown icicles, dropped those icicles, and is reforming a few new ones.  Parking lots are meccas for snow angels.  Trees have become snowbound free-standing art installations.

Days like this were made for blanket-bound havens, steaming mugs of hot chocolate, good music, and board games.  Days like this were made for warm laughter and warmer bread.

My go-to bread, regardless of weather, is beer bread.  It doesn’t need time to rise; it doesn’t need to be kneaded; it doesn’t need to be babysat through an afternoon.  No starter, no timers, no cheesecloth.  And the whole loaf takes only one hour to make, which gives you time to construct a blanket fortress or call up the gang and organize a snowed-in Scrabble extravaganza.  Or whatever.

Ever since I stumbled upon this amazing concoction, it has become a firm staple in my life.  And the lives of my friends, as I keep pressing variations upon them.  And each one — from a VT wheat beer, to a heavy Guinness, to a nice PA lager, to the burble of Three Philosophers — has been better than the last.  This is the bread that keeps giving.

Agave Beer Bread

  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp agave (or honey)
  • 1 bottle beer (12 oz)
  • 4 tbsp melted butter

Pre-heat oven to 350F.  Grease your loaf pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.  With a wooden spoon, stir in the beer and agave.

Pour half of the melted butter into the loaf pan.  Spoon batter into the pan, and pour the rest of the butter on top.

Bake for 50-60 minutes, until golden brown (or a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean).

Let cool, and serve!

There are plenty of cheeses you could pair with this, or  you can just slather it with butter/jam.  It’s an amazing winter treat, a good bread to (always) have handy, and a good way to use up those extra bottles of beer leftover after a party.  Oh, and it’s pretty much foolproof!



“Whuh-Oh Wow” Fudge + Agave-Balsamic Syrup

THE HOLIDAY season is upon us.  Brunches (!), lunches, dinners, and other holiday gatherings are calling.  Potlucks require inventive recipes, culinary ingenuity and, in my case, last-minute recipe retrieval.  Why is it that, when faced with a potluck or gift exchange, I always wait until the last minute to figure out what my contribution is going to be?!

But no longer!  With this pretty fail-safe recipe — you just need to set aside about 3 hours to get it made; which gives you plenty of time to gussy up and wrap that last-minute-found-in-the-back-of-the-closet gift — you’ll have a hit to take with you to any party!

It took me quite a while to come up with this recipe, I will admit that.  I initially intended to make peanut butter bacon maple fudge, but realized I was going to a soiree attended largely by vegetarians.  Undeterred, I looked up a few spicy fudge recipes, but nothing was really leaping out at me.  So in g-chat conversation with my friend JM (he’s a big fan of cinnamon and vanilla together), we came up with the idea of balancing spicy with a bit of a sweeter tang.  Voila!  Chili powder, meet balsamic vinegar.

It might take a moment to wrap your head around that one.  But this is where the genius lies: it takes your palate a moment to get it all, too.  First there’s the heady chocolate of the fudge; then the sudden onset of the chili/cayenne mix (“whuh-oh, wow” is how someone described it); then the agave-balsamic syrup sets in with just enough tang to keep it interesting but enough sweet to soothe the chili down.

So if you’re attending (or hosting) a decadent holiday brunch — or if you’re home alone with a mountain of work — this should make a star cameo.  I’m just saying.

“Whuh-Oh Wow” Fudge

  • 12 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 4 oz dark chocolate bar, chopped   I used Ghirardelli’s 100% cocoa for balance
  • 14 oz (1 can) sweetened condensed milk
  • dash salt
  • pat butter
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp chili powder *
  • 1 tsp cayenne *

* Adjust spice levels for those with more restrained palates

Line an 8″ or 9″ baking dish with waxed paper and set aside.

Melt all ingredients in a heavy saucepan over low heat.  Stir occasionally.  Remove from heat when melted and smooth.

Pour into lined baking dish.  Cover with foil and refrigerate until firm (2-3 hours should be fine).

Agave-Balsamic Syrup

In a small saucepan, bring the agave nectar and balsamic vinegar to a boil.

Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 9-10 minutes, swirling occasionally (there will be bubbles on the surface).  Remove from heat when the syrup is thick enough to coat a spoon, but not too thick.  It will continue to thicken as it cools.

Place in a jar to keep for later.  I poured my batch in a salad dressing bottle and dropped a cinnamon stick in there, for easy stirring.

NOW, the fun part.

Cut the fudge into squares and refrigerate in an airtight container.  When you’re ready to serve/eat the fudge, pour out the agave-balsamic syrup into a small bowl and garnish with a cinnamon stick.  Using the cinnamon stick, drizzle (or paint) syrup onto your fudge square.