Choosing a beer for a recipe isn’t as arbitrary as it may appear. It also isn’t difficult, but it does require thought and planning. Substituting your favorite beer in a recipe isn’t always a good idea, and may result in an end product that is nowhere near the intentions of the recipes author.
Where do you start? The recipe or the beer?
A fair question, and it’s a toss up. Which ever way you begin, the recipe or the beer, make sure to be mindful of the flavors. Dark beers go well with “dark” recipes. If that beer you want to cook with is a stout, look for a recipe that calls for “dark” ingredients: chocolate, beef, bacon, etc. If the beer you love is a Pilsner, look for a recipe with “light” ingredients, lemon, chicken, fish, etc. There is some room to move around with this rule, but finding complimentary flavors is the key to success when cooking with beer.
Don’t cook with IPA’s. It’s incredibly difficult to cook with high hop beers due to the fact that the hops reduce to a very bitter product. If you are in love with an IPA, or another high hop beer, save it for drinking and look for another beer to cook with. If you absolutely MUST cook with that IPA, against my stern warnings, strong starches and sugar mellow hops a bit. Try a pumpkin muffin, or a sweet potato pie. But you’ve been warned.
If the recipe is where you want to start, make note of the flavors and try to find a beer that mimics those. If you want to bake a chocolate dessert, for example, look for a beer with chocolate notes, or coffee, or malt. Look at the list of flavor notes that the beer has and try to imagine those in your dish. Most large chain retailers of craft beer (like BevMo or Total Wine) have cards near the beers that explain the flavors in that beer and give you a fairly accurate flavor profile. If you are making a chicken soup, for instance, you might look for a beer with lemon or basil notes, not a beer with coffee and caramel notes.
Now that you have had your crash course in beer recipe development, please, go cook your beer loving hearts out. And don’t forget to share.
For this recipe, I choose Lagunitas Wilco Tango Foxtrot. I had four craft beers, mostly stouts, that were in the running for this recipe, and all would have made great choices. Stouts work well with chocolate desserts because most are made with malted barley, a great addition to baked goods. In the end, it came down to a gut feeling. Lagunitas WTF won out, although loosly categories as a “brown? ale” and more hops that I would generally recomend to cook with, the flavors of chocolate and malt were an incredible fit for this recipe. This is a beer to keep an eye out for, it’s smooth and bold and fantastic.
If you can’t get your grubby little hands on some WTF, a stout with notes of chocolate would make a great substitution.
Chocolate Beer Cheesecake With A Pretzel Crust
For the Crust:
4 standard sized graham crackers
1 cup pretzel rods
2 tbs brown sugar
3 tbs melted butter, unsalted
For the filling:
7 oz dark chocolate (60%)
1 cup Languanitas WTF Beer (or malty, chocolaty stout)
3, 8 oz packages of cream cheese, softened
1 1/4 cup sugar
2 tbs flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1 tbs espresso powder
For the Sour Cream Topping:
1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup powdered sugar
2 tbs Lagunitas WTF
Place one oven rack in the middle position, with one rack below. Preheat oven to 350.
In a food processor add the graham crackers, brown sugar and the pretzels and process until it’s the consistency of crumbs. Turn the food processor on, remove the stopper from the lid and slowly add the butter and process until it resembles wet sand.
Coat the inside of a 9 inch spring form pan with butter. Pour the crust into the spring form pan. Using the bottom of a heavy, flat bottom glass, press the crust very well into the bottom of the pan until well compacted.
In a pot over medium high heat, add the beer and the chocolate, stir until melted and remove from heat. Allow to cool.
In the bowl of a stand mixer add the cream cheese and the sugar and mix until smooth. One at a time, add the eggs, scraping the bottom of the bowl between additions. Pour the cooled chocolate into the mixer and beat until well combined. Lift the head of the mixer and sprinkle the flour, cocoa powder, espresso powder and salt over the batter, stir on low speed until just combined.
Pour the batter into the pan over the crust.
Place the pan in the oven in the middle position. Place a baking dish on the rack below the cheesecake, fill with water.
If you have experience with a water bath, feel free to use that technique. In my experience, the water leaks into the pan, making the crust soggy. Placing a basin of water below the cheesecake has a similar effect without the soggy crust.
Bake the cheesecake until the center no longer jiggles when you shake the rack, about 45-50 minutes. This isn’t a situation where a tooth pick inserted in the middle should come out clean, you just need the center to set and it will continue to set as it cools. Remove from oven.
For the sour cream topping: add the ingredients to a bowl and whisk until well combined. Top the cheesecake with the sour cream topping and return to the oven for 8 minutes. Remove cheesecake and chill in the pan until ready to serve, at least 3 hours.