Beer, rice pudding and whipped cream: The perfect dessert


Having beer with dessert was a new culinary step for me.

It was different than those nights, years ago, when I vainly searched the fridge for ice cream and ended up settling for a beer. That beer was the dessert of last resort.

But this, this porter with rice pudding and whipped cream, was part of a planned menu. It was served by a real chef, at a restaurant.

Most important of all, it was good. I could have eaten two helpings.

I had the beer dessert last week when I was in Philadelphia at the Samuel Adams Brew House. It was one of the restaurants participating in the city's ninth annual Book and Cook Festival, a food conference that teams up visiting cookbook authors with restaurant chefs.

You behave differently when you are out of town than you do when you are on your home turf.

For example, in Baltimore I often skip lunch. But shortly after I arrived in Philadelphia I ate a cheese steak sandwich at Jim's Steaks for lunch.

Once the cheese, the grilled meat and the onions were in my stomach and the aroma had permeated my shirt, I felt like I belonged in the city. This was a hefty sandwich, in a town not afraid of strong flavors and big portions.

I began to walk the sandwich off. It took a while. After about 20 blocks of walking, I arrived at the Dock Street Brewery and Restaurant, one of the city's brewpubs, establishments that make their own beer. There I had a quick glass of their Dunkel, a dark, chocolatey lager.

Then I walked over to the Samuel Adams Brew House, a long-standing Philadelphia restaurant. The name comes from the fact that one of the owners is the owner of Boston Brewing Company, makers of the Samuel Adams brand of bottled beers sold around the country.

After sampling the light Golden Ale, and the heartier Poor Richard's Amber Ale, I found my favorite, George Washington Porter. This is a dark beer, a blend of caramel and chocolate malts with Northern Brewers, Kent Goldings, Hallertau Hallertau hops and honey. It is named in honor of America's first president, who reportedly was a big fan of porter.

Jay Harlow liked the porter as well. He was the visiting San Francisco food writer and former chef who, as the title of his book "Jay Harlow's Beer Cuisine" (Harlow & Ratner, $17) implies, enjoys cooking with beer.

It was Harlow's recipe that the restaurant used to make the rice pudding beer dessert.

The recipe called for using stout, the restaurant had a porter. Harlow said the switch of liquids was OK. The terminology can be confusing, Harlow said, but the important fact was the flavor of these dark ales.

Depending on who makes them, these "black beers" can have varying degrees of sweetness.

For dessert, Harlow said, you need a sweet stout or porter, like the oatmeal stouts made by the English. The dry Irish stouts would likely be too bitter.

For a moment or two, the detailed talk about matching beer with food started to make me feel uncomfortable.

I wondered if engaging in this kind of talk could lead to the wine-snob syndrome. This is a type of behavior, found at some wine tastings, where the question of whether the beverage in question makes you curl your toes with delight, seems to get lost in the recitation of the wine's sugar statistics.

Harlow quickly put me at ease when he said he "had no more use for beer bores than for wine bores."

Feeling reassured that it was OK to have beer with dessert, and to talk about it, I ate the pudding.

Moreover, when I got back to Baltimore I began searching out other beer cuisine opportunities.

The other day I found myself at Baltimore's newest brewpub, The Wharf Rat. It is on the 200 block of West Pratt Street, across the street from Festival Hall in a building once occupied by P. J. Cricketts restaurant.

The brewer, Harold Faircloth, said he made six types of ales, among them two naturally conditioned ales, and a stout.

One of the owners, Jill Oliver, said the ale is used in the restaurant's beef and onion soup.

So far, she said, the suds have not crept beyond the soup course.

However, when I tasted the stout, my first thought was "Mmmmm."

And my second thought was, "This could be dessert."

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