Cupcakes and Cookies and Beer—Oh My!

By Lisa Morrison

Move over, milk and cookies! Beer and baked goods are becoming friendly bedfellows—at least for the adult crowd. And while dunking an Oreo in a glass of Dunkelweizen might not sound appetizing (on second thought, maybe it does), a growing number of small, local bakers and confectioners are turning to craft beer as a flavorful ingredient in their goods.

Cougar Mountain Baking Co. in Seattle, Wash., turned to local craft brewer, Pike Brewing Co., for its first venture into baking with beer. The result is Double Chocolate XXXXX Stout Cookies, a seasonal tasty treat that’s available in October as the bakery’s Flavor of the Month.

“I was approached by one of our airline customers about making a cookie for their Oktoberfest-themed menu,” said Cougar Mountain President David Saulnier. “I originally said, ‘We can’t make cookies with beer!’ But then, I got to thinking about it and decided I would try. To this point in my career, this was the most fun I’ve had doing research and development. Many a pub crawl was necessary to find the right beer.”

“We chose Pike XXXXX Stout for several reasons, but first and foremost was the quality and purity of flavors. We found the most real flavors in this beer,” Saulnier adds.  “It helped us to create the cookie because we were able to add just the right amount of molasses, ground coffee and cocoa to the cookie to accentuate those flavors already present in the drink.  We also love (Pike) because they’re local and super-nice to work with.”

Supporting local craft brewers seems to be a common theme with chefs who are adding beer to their sweet treats. Liz Begosh, who owns Betty’s Speakeasy in Philadelphia, Pa., started experimenting by adding beer to fudge several years ago, first using Victory Brewing Company’s German Helles-style Lager. She now makes six different cupcakes made with beers from local breweries.

“Beer is close to our hearts as far as inspiration,” Begosh says. “Our community has a local food vibe that supports lots of collaboration. So, we started making these cupcakes because we want to work with our friends.”

Double Cocolate Yeti Cupcake

Kim Boos, pastry chef and owner of Tee & Cakes in Boulder, Colo., couldn’t agree more. She uses local beers in a number of her treats —like the Stout Beer Cupcake, made with Denver-based Great Divide Brewing’s Oak-Aged Yeti and the Java Porter Cupcake that features neighboring Mountain Sun Brewing Company.

“We love Mountain Sun as well as coffee and beer,” Boos says. “It seemed like a perfect compliment: highlight a local, great business and combine two ingredients that we love and go well together.”

Rebecca Scarberry takes her beery collaboration one delicious step further. She uses all organic ingredients in the confections she creates at Becky’s Blissful Bakery in Pewaukee, Wis. Scarberry selected Lakefront Brewery’s Organic ESB from neighboring Milwaukee for her popular Beer & Pretzel Caramels.

“The reason I chose the beer is because it is local, organic, and very good beer,” Scarberry says. “The beer adds a very unique color, consistency and taste to the caramels.  When I describe the Beer & Pretzel Caramels to our customers they instantly smile and want to try the unique combination.  I continually hear, ‘Only in Wisconsin!’”

Tips and Ticks for Baking with Craft Beer

But home cooks be warned: baking with beer can be a bit tricky. Cougar Mountain initially struggled to get enough beer in their cookie batter to influence the flavor without making it a runny mess.

“Then came my ‘ah-ha’ moment in tasting all the Stouts we could find,” said Saulnier. “We realized that there are many subtle flavors present, and honed in on those flavors in the beer of our choice. Then we put as much beer in the recipe as possible without adversely affecting texture, and accentuated the flavors we found in the beer with those actual elements,” he says.

Another trick shared by chefs is to make a reduction of the beer to intensify the flavors before adding it in an equal amount to the liquids you will be replacing. They also suggest experimenting with different beers to find the right flavor profile.

Stouts and Porters, with their chocolate and coffee goodness, are naturals, but Begosh says she prefers beers that surprise her customers. Among her creations: Witty Pear, a spiced pear cake with Philadelphia Brewing Co.’s Walt Wit topped with ginger butter cream frosting; and Yard’s Saison Cupcake, made with Yard’s Brewing Saison, ginger, orange and cornmeal, topped with an apricot butter cream made with the Saison.

“It’s about not following those strict guidelines that you always hear about,” Begosh adds.

But the hardest part about baking with beer? Boos says it best: “Not drinking all the beer before we make the cakes!”

Lisa’s Suggested Recipes

Salted Beer Caramels

Java Porter Cupcakes

Beer Caramels Java Porter Cupcakes

If you liked what Lisa had to say about baking and craft beer, be sure to find out her thoughts on pairings for cheesecake in “The Sweet & Savory Side of Cheesecake & Craft Beer”.

Photos by Tee & Cakes Bakery

Lisa MorrisonLisa Morrison, also known as the Beer Goddess, hosts “Beer O’Clock!,” a weekly, hour-long commercial radio show devoted to craft beer, available in podcasts on KXL.com and on iTunes. She is a regular columnist for numerous beer publications and blogs, and was the first female recipient of the national Beer Journalism Awards. Her first book, Craft Beers of the Pacific Northwest will be released in April.