Pain à la bière

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Pain à la bière is often referred to as 'ale bread' or 'beer bread'. It's a generic bread that uses beer to enhance flavour and also to create a poolish, whose use lightens the final bake and adds an interesting texture. 

It arrived almost in reverse. Back in Mesopotamia and in the times of the Pharaohs, beer was made by forming dough made from ground-germinated cereals and baking it into bread. It was then soaked in water and the maltose sugars leeched out, fermented and made into beer. 

In the 13th century England the Assize of Bread and Ale legislated for the quality, weight and price of both commodities, closely linked in the culture of the times. 

Beer yeasts went on to be the main source of a fermentation agent for bread right through the centuries, almost up to the modern era when commercial yeasts were designed and produced. 

Ale bread, or Pain à la bière turns things a little on their heads. This bread incorporates commercial yeast but uses it in conjunction with beer to form a pre-ferment or poolish. 

What's a poolish? 

The poolish originated in Poland and was first 'designed' in the 1840s when yeast was in short supply and expensive. 

It arrived in France in the 1920s and is now the key pre-ferment in many French bakes. 

If you'd like to read more about the origin of the word 'poolish',  click here:

Traditionally, the poolish is one part liquid to one part flour and then a little commercial yeast is added. The main component in a poolish is time. Time is given to allow the flour and water to combine and the fermentation process to start. 

In ale bread, beer replaces the liquid in the poolish, adding even more taste and natural yeast to the pre-ferment. 

INGREDIENTS for four loaves

for the poolish

125 gms of strong white bread flour

125 gms of beer (tepid temperature)

2½ gms dried yeast (5 gms fresh yeast / 1½ gms instant active dried yeast)

Now, a note about the beer. The colour of the beer gives colour, taste and texture to the bread. I prefer an Indian Pale Ale (IPA) but this can be made with a brown, ruby or golden ale, a stout or a lager. 

Into a clean container or jar, add the flour and the beer and stir. Add the yeast and stir.

Place in a warm spot for about 3 hours. At room temperature, it may take up to 5 hours to double. 

for the dough

The poolish from earlier

50 gms wholemeal / wholegrain flour

750 gms strong white flour

500 gms tepid water

13 gms crushed sea salt

2½ gms of dried yeast (5 gms fresh yeast / 1½ gms instant active dried yeast)


If you are using a bread machine - use an instant start programme (e.g. Pizza setting) and stop the machine as soon as your dough is formed. 

If you are using a stand mixer, start on low by adding the poolish, flour, water and yeast. Add the salt as you switch the machine from low to medium and stop as soon as a dough has been formed. 

If you are mixing by hand, add the poolish to the water and then add the flour and the yeast. Mix together and then leave to rest for 10 minutes. Then add the salt. Mix well and tip out onto a non-floured board. Knead until you have a soft and silky dough. 

Place the dough in a bowl.  Cover and place in a warm place for an hour. 

After one hour, stretch and fold the dough in the bowl - turning the bowl in between stretches and folds so that all the dough has the same workout. Cover and return to the warm place for a further hour. 

Very gently, tip the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Handle the dough as gently and as little as possible. 

Divide into four equal pieces. With floured hands, gently form the piece into loaves and gently place each piece on a piece of parchment paper and then onto a prepared baking sheet. Cover with a cloth and leave at room temperature for between one and two hours until they have only just doubled in size. 


Preheat the oven to 240⁰C. and preheat a baking sheet, steel or pizza stone. (You may need to work on two levels here)

Dust the top of the loaves with a little rice flour or semolina flour. Slash the top in one line down the length of the loaf.

Mist the inside of the oven.

Transfer the loaves to the hot baking steel / sheet / pizza stone and mist once more before closing the door. 

Bake for five minutes at 240⁰C. Then drop the heat to 220⁰C and continue to bake for about 20 minutes or until the bread is golden brown and hollow when tapped on the underneath. 

Cool on a rack. 

Happy baking. 


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