Beer and muffins - there are two words you don't often see in the same sentence, let alone in the same recipe. Most muffin batters, even savory ones, are moistened with milk or buttermilk. But beer will do the same job, adding flavor and bubbly lift.
Beer is more often used in quick bread. Its carbonation helps the bread rise, and its yeasty flavor mimics the flavor and aroma of "real" bread in a fraction of the time it would take to make a yeast-risen bread.
I will never turn down a loaf of beer bread, but I like muffins better. With no slicing, and no crumbs, they are easier and neater to serve. They are also easy to save. Leftover bread goes stale quickly, but you can keep leftover muffins fresh by wrapping them in plastic and freezing them. Defrost on the countertop, rewarm in a 300-degree oven for 5 minutes, and they will be indistinguishable from a freshly baked batch.
For my beer muffins, I started with the simplest beer bread recipe, adapting it to fit my muffin tin. Some beer bread recipes rely solely on the carbonation in beer to raise the bread. In my experience, the result is a little bit gummy and heavy, so I added some baking powder to lighten up the dough. I filled each muffin cup just halfway, and the combination of baking powder and beer caused my muffins to rise impressively.
For the tallest muffins, get them into the oven as soon as you mix the dough and before the beer's bubbles have a chance to pop.
Some shredded cheddar cheese and melted butter, mixed into the batter and sprinkled and drizzled on top just before baking, lend richness to the muffins. Take care to grease your muffin tin well for an easy release. If the cheese sprinkled on top has melted onto the pan, to remove from the cups run a sharp paring knife around each muffin to loosen.
Here are a few variations using beers of different styles and from around the world to get you started:
• Guinness, cheddar, a little bit of sautéed onion and a tablespoon of caraway seeds
• Corona or Dos Equis, Jack cheese, scallions and a chopped chipotle chile
• Peroni, Italian Fontina, Parmesan and basil
• Pumpkin Ale, cheddar, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, 1 teaspoon mustard powder and 1 tablespoon mustard seeds
Sweet muffins benefit just as much from the bubbly flavor of beer (and hard cider). For breakfast or teatime, try one of the following combinations:
• Hard cider, cheddar, chopped apple and 6 tablespoons sugar
• Raspberry ale, crumbled goat cheese, 3/8 cup frozen raspberries and 6 tablespoons sugar
• Stout or porter, grated orange zest, 6 tablespoons sugar and 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips.
Beer Muffins With Cheddar Cheese and Dill
Makes: 12 muffins
• 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
• 2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
• 2 teaspoons baking powder
• 3/4 teaspoon salt
• 1 cup lager-style beer
• 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled, divided
• 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese, divided
• 1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 12-cup muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray.
Whisk together the flour, brown sugar, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl. Stir in the beer and 4 tablespoons of melted butter until a rough dough forms. Stir in 3/4 cup cheese and the dill.
Divide the batter among the muffin cups. Drizzle the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter over muffins. Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup cheese on top.
Bake until the muffins are golden and a toothpick inserted into the center of one of the muffins comes out dry, about 18 minutes.
Cool in the pan for 5 minutes, invert onto a wire rack, reinvert, let cool another 5 minutes and serve warm.