This story originally ran in 2003 and caused quite a stir in the Boalsburg community, which is currently busy getting ready for Memorial Day festivities on Monday. Don’t miss the soup and bread sale that takes place behind the blacksmith’s shop, where quarts of donated vegetable beef soup are co-mingled in a giant cauldron and stirred by community volunteers. The bread that you get with your soup is also donated by community members; maybe you will be lucky and end up with a slice of this “Mystery Bread.”
“Five ladies and I were at the Boalsburg Historical Museum’s soup and bread sale. We were in the garage area buttering the bread that the community’s cooks donate. Around 9:30, someone brought in two loaves of bread, wrapped in teal-colored Saran wrap. The bread was very dense and, while a yeast bread, when cut it reminded all of us of a batter bread. The top was more moist rather than crusty. The bread itself was more sweet than yeasty. It was wonderful (and yes, we cut a slice and sampled!)”
The plea from June Walter was intriguing and, with the help of a nearly anonymous tip, the mystery of the Boalsburg Memorial Day Soup and Bread sale was solved. The bread that was delivered was a three-ingredient loaf that mixes in a matter of minutes, needs no rising and does have a remarkably chewy consistency and yeasty flavor — for a batter bread. No wonder those women were stumped.
Once the tipster told me the three ingredients and their amounts (3 cups of self-rising flour, 1/2 cup of sugar and a bottle of beer) I was able to experiment on my own — and try to track down the origin of the recipe. Though still not at the source, I have made four variations of the bread and admit that it is a remarkable creation.
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Do a search on Google for “beer bread” and you can imagine the infinite number of matches you get. There is Unitarian Beer Bread, Irish Beer Bread, Military Beer Bread and more beer bread mixes at $7 and up a pop than you can imagine. Many use self-rising flour, a special flour that is already equipped with a leavener. If you don’t have some on hand, you can make your own, by adding baking powder in the proportion of 1 tablespoon baking powder to 3 cups of regular flour. The advantage of using the self-rising flour — I found out in my own experiment that yielded little hard round white balls of undissolved sodium bicarbonate — is that the leavening agent is more finely milled.
Another wide variable in the recipes was the amount of butter, if any at all, used as a topping for the loaf. Many of the recipes called for melting a stick of butter and pouring it over before baking, with one warning to bake the loaf on a tray to catch the puddles of oozing butter. I found that a butterless crust is fine, but one that is brushed with about a tablespoon of melted butter during the last 10 minutes of baking time is vastly improved.
Many recipes add grated cheddar cheese, some add herbs. One specified Irish beer, which had me dreaming of other combinations: use Heineken and grated Gouda, Caribe beer and minced Scotch bonnets, Carlsberg and Danish blue cheese? Perhaps our own central Pennsylvanian signature beer bread, with Black Moshannon Ale and Spring Bank Goat Cheese? The possibilities are endless. But the basic recipe itself is so pure that it deserves to be tried once, simply.
Anne Quinn Corr is the author of “Seasons of Central Pennsylvania,” of several iBook cookbooks (“Food, Glorious Food!” “What’s Cooking?!” and “Igloo: Recipes to Cure the Winter Blues”) that are available for free on iTunes. She regularly posts to the blog HowToEatAndDrink .com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
IF YOU GO
What: Boalsburg Heritage Museum Soup and Bread Sale
When: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday
Where: Boalsburg township garage
Boalsburg mystery bread
Makes one loaf.
▪ 3 cups self-rising flour
▪ 1/2 cup sugar
▪ One 12-ounce bottle of warm beer
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Prepare a loaf pan by spraying it well with nonstick spray or by greasing it. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the self-rising flour, sugar and beer. Stir quickly and immediately pour into the prepared pan. Bake until the top is risen and crusty brown, about 45 minutes or so.
For less sugar: The basic recipe proved sweet to my taste for a bread with dinner, though some tasters declared it “just right.” I tried another version and reduced the sugar to 2 tablespoons and the loaf came out fine. I also tried brushing it with 1 tablespoon melted butter during the last 10 minutes of baking, which improved the color and texture of the crust.