Got a hankering for baked beans.
Sure, it’s cute watching Jay Bush and his golden retriever Duke, who seems to be on a mission to sell the secret recipe, like any capitalist dog would be. Makes you want some beans. Or a golden retriever. Makes me want neither. Bush’s Beans are probably a perfectly fine product, but I’ve always been a B&M kind of guy, and I’m not particularly fond of dogs, although I’ve grown to love my wild and crazy German shorthaired pointers, Argos and Maggie (Argos, I should point out, has no interest in selling any of my recipes; he has a one-track agenda, which is to eat everything I cook. Maggie, on the other hand, would sell my recipes in a heartbeat if she thought she could turn a profit; she’s probably the most dedicated capitalist in the family).
But I digress (I hate when I do that).
I was reading someplace recently that some kid’s favorite food was baked-bean sandwiches–homemade baked beans on fresh homemade bread–and I got to thinking about that. Could that be nature’s perfect food? The writer was recounting how such sandwiches ignited his love of all things food and how they inspired him to become a chef. It started, he says, because he couldn’t find a pile of baked beans anywhere near as good as the scratch batches his grandmother made for him. I can relate. I was raised on the cooking of a wonderful woman who came from the Piedmont of Virginia, where home-grown pork and chickens and corn and cabbages and greens were on the table every day. She made her baked beans (and everything else) from scratch, and the tale of baked-bean sandwiches massaged a longing in me I hadn’t felt in quite a while.
Consequently, I got a hankering for baked beans.
Lily Jones was not available to make me beans, and I’ve never really worked up a recipe of my own. So I decided to do some research, find a recipe to start with, and then make it my own. Something hearty, flavorful, bold, and memorable.
I must have read 500 recipes. What I kept coming back to was a fabulous website chock full of recipes that use beer as the principal ingredient. Beer! That’s the ticket! But not just any beer. It needed to be thick, dark, malty, nutty–hair-raising. I found a recipe that resonated, and then kept reading, comparing each next one I found to the one that sang to me, and not one measured up.
And then, I made the beans. Incredible. Salved my hankering, my wife, the remarkable Ellen, followed up with a honey-Hefeweisen boule made with a locally brewed winter wheat beer, and voila! Baked-bean sandwiches for the Gods.
Next, I had to make the recipe my own. The recipe on the website is perfect as is. But it’s not mine, alas, and I thought I could improve it. Guess what: I couldn’t. It’s perfect as is. The only thing I did change was to use turkey bacon (we don’t eat much pork around here) cooked in two teaspoons of extra-virgin olive oil; and instead of a smoky porter I used Sierra Nevada Coffee Stout.
Try this if you want perfect beans. And if you want a perfect bean sandwich, make the bread, too. It’s almost as simple to make as the beans–no kneading, just rest and love.
Slow Cooker Maple Bacon Beer Baked Beans
- ½ pound Great Northern beans
- ½ lbs Navy beans
- 4 strips thick cut bacon (I used turkey bacon)
- 1 large sweet onion, chopped
- 3 tablespoons full-flavor molasses
- ¼ cup real maple syrup
- 2 cups smoked porter beer (I used Sierra Nevada Coffee Stout)
- 2 cups water
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 tablespoon liquid smoke
- 1 teaspoon granulated garlic
- 3 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon fine ground white pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon dry mustard
- Place the beans in a large pot with 3 cups of water. Cover and bring the pot to a boil, and cook for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and soak for 8-12 hours; overnight is good. Rinse with cold water and drain.
- Cook the bacon in a skillet over medium high heat, remove bacon from pan. Add the onions to the bacon grease, cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Chop the bacon.
- Add the bacon, onions, drained beans and remaining ingredients to a slow cooker. Cook for 8 hours on low, stirring once or twice during cooking. If beans are still firm after 8-10 hours, turn to high and cook for an additional 2 hours.
And now the bread:
Honey Hefeweizen Boule Loaf
- 4 ¼ (19 wt oz) cups all-purpose flour
- 1 package (2 ¼ tsp) rapid rise yeast
- ¼ cup honey
- pinch salt
- 12 ounces wheat beer*
- egg wash (1 egg, 1 teaspoon water, beaten)
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook add the flour and yeast, mix to combine.
- Heat the beer to between 120 and 130F degrees.
- Add the beer and the honey to the flour, beat on high until dough gathers around the hook and is no longer sticky, about 6 minutes.
- Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl, cover and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
- Place a baking stone in the oven, preheat for 30 minutes prior to baking.
- Once the dough has risen, place a bread peel (or a sheet of parchment paper) on a flat surface, cover in cornmeal or semolina flour. Grab the dough in your heads, folding it into itself gently a few times, then form into a tight ball. Place on the peel (or parchment paper), allowing to rise for about 30 minutes.
- Brush the top with egg wash, slash an “X” on top of the loaf using a sharp knife.
- Transfer the dough to the pizza stone using either the peel or by simply placing the parchment paper on top of the heated stone (if you don’t own a bread stone, just place the parchment on top of a baking sheet and set that into the oven when you are ready to bake).
- Bake at 400 until top is a dark golden brown and makes a hollow “thump” sound when tapped, about 30 minutes.
- Allow to cool slightly before slicing.
*This recipe is for a very low IBU (low hop) beer. If all you have is a pale ale, IPA or hoppy wheat, use 3/4 cup beer and 3/4 cup hot water or the beer taste will be overpowering.
And to Jackie Dodd, “The Beeroness,” I offer a toast: Jackie (wwwthebeeroness.com), you’ve won my heart. Or more accurately, my appetite.