Vive la France! Have you ever celebrated Bastille Day? Better yet, have you celebrated it with cheese-and-beer-laced bread?? It’s my first time too, and I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a new tradition. I am a huge fan of savory baking and a strong advocate of things that combine cheese and beer, so this was right up my alley! I have a special relationship with France, and Paris in particular, having lived there for a year in college. Those months were positively life-altering for my young self, opening my horizons to art, culture, food, and travel throughout Europe. It was a difficult year for sure, learning to negotiate every detail of daily life in French, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. I had already started writing this blog post when the news broke about the horrific attack in Nice on Bastille Day, and thus I continue with a heavy heart. My thoughts and solidarity are with France today and always.
One of my favorite memories of my time in Paris is strolling down the street with a mini-baguette in one hand, and piece of Camembert cheese in the other– an almost daily meal for me! Indeed, I pretty much subsisted on bread and cheese that year. And although I haven’t made a practice of actually celebrating Bastille Day at home, I love that Baked Occasions is honoring the July 14 holiday with this epic Cheesy Bastille Day Beer Bread, which we made this week for Baked Sunday Mornings. The day commemorates the storming of the Bastille prison by the people of Paris on that day in 1789, when they rose up against the monarchy and its feudal system. On the same day the following year, France celebrated its national unity during the French Revolution. In the USA, it has apparently become another occasion to party, though I can’t say it’s a big thing here in San Francisco. (In France, it is celebrated similarly to the 4th of July.) Still, it makes my heart happy to make this delicious homage to France at home.
Since this is a French-inspired bread, it makes sense to use French cheeses, but since I couldn’t find a semi-soft Brebis at the market on the day that I shopped for ingredients, I went with a similar Italian sheep’s milk cheese that was new to me: Nuvolina Lucana Pietra del Sale. (Why Whole Foods had this obscure choice and not Brebis is beyond me.) This also appealed to me because I just got back from three glorious weeks in Italy, and I’m in the throes of a deep post-Italy depression, so I’m willing to cling to any little bit of Italy that I can! The Nuvolina Lucana cheese comes from the Basilicata region of southern Italy, the “arch” of the boot. It is beautiful, mountainous, and pastoral, so I hoped that the cheese would have a similar character. It does taste “sheepy”, i.e. tangy, a little sharp, and a little sweet, but delicious to snack on (as evidenced by the fact that I ate just as much cheese as I used for the bread).
The other cheese used in the recipe is Comté, which I forgot how much I like! (Again, a not-insignificant quantity of cheese was consumed while preparing the bread…) This is a raw cow’s milk cheese with a distinct flavor because of the painstaking process required to make it. Comté possesses the European Union’s P.D.O. designation (which I’ll be writing more about regarding Italian food soon), meaning that its origin and production process are protected– cheese can only be called Comté if it is produced in the Jura region of eastern France (near Geneva, Switzerland) and follows the specific process for this cheese’s ingredients, production, and aging. Just like wine is flavored by the soil and climate of the region in which it’s made, so too does the cheese take on flavors and aromas imparted by its region of origin, such as the characteristics of the grass eaten by the cows whose milk is used to make the cheese.
I’m not a beer drinker, so I asked my fellow BSM bakers for advice about what kind of beer to use, since the recipe simply calls for “beer”. On their recommendation, I decided to go with a pale ale, and since I’ve had great success baking with Samuel Smith‘s chocolate and oatmeals stouts, I chose the Organic Pale Ale of the same brand. I also feel like hard apple cider would work really well here, which is also very French (a lot of cider in the northwestern region of Brittany) and goes well with cheese.
This loaf calls into the category of ‘quick breads’ rather than traditional bread. (In other words, it’s something like a savory cake.) It comes together very quickly, no rising or resting needed. You’ll first line the bottom of your loaf pan with some shredded Comté cheese– brilliant. This clever step gives you a cheesy, crusty bottom on the loaf; I can’t speak for anyone else, but I am fully on board with this as a general life philosophy.
Next the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, salt, black pepper, ancho chile powder) get combined, to which you’ll add the cubed sheep’s milk cheese and more Comté– I was already in love.
The wet ingredients (beer, egg, sour cream, melted butter) are then whisked together in a separate bowl and added to the dry mixture. Mine separated a bit and there was a curdled layer on top– maybe the sour cream or butter? But it worked into the flour/cheese just fine to form a thick, chunky batter. I wasn’t totally sure if it was the right texture due to the separation above, but it wasn’t an issue in the end.
Finally, you’ll cover the top with the remaining Comté, and I also added a few more turns of black pepper. The batter tasted fantastic– cheese and beer! (I figured at that point that I must have done something right.)
The bread batter looked a bit curdled after a few minutes in the oven (it was just the cheese melting), and it looked like it would bubble over in the oven, so I placed a piece of aluminum foil on the rack below to catch drips– just a few! The kitchen smelled amazingly cheesy during baking, and the loaf was perfectly done in 45 minutes flat.
The bread is moist and flavorful– I love the hit of black pepper and the little kick from the ancho chile powder. The cheese and beer flavors are beautifully balanced, and the only tiny thing I might do differently next time is to add another ½ teaspoon or so of salt, although that may make it too salty when you get the really cheesy bites. I loved the pockets of melted cheese and the crunchy cheese on top, as well as the cheesy layer on the bottom. My favorite way to eat it was toasted (took about 5 minutes to get a little crispy) and topped with salted butter!
To celebrate Bastille Day with a delicious loaf of Cheesy Bastille Day Beer Bread, visit Baked Sunday Mornings, and take a peek at the other BSMers’ loaves!
© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2016.