Recipe: Makgeolli Bread or Rice Wine Bread (막걸리 술빵)

It's a little embarrassing just how much I love makgeolli. In addition to enjoying hitting up my favorite makgeolli joints around town, I love having friends over, whipping up a quick and easy anjoo (this being a fine example of one such anjoo) and just chatting about life over a makgeolli bottle... or two... or three...

Recently I had an unopened makgeolli  leftover (a true rarity) and after contemplating whether I should just swig it as its expiration date was looming close, I decided to invest in some time to try making some makgeolli bread.

Yeast is an important component in baking, as everyone knows, but alcohol with live cultures such as makgeolli can act as a perfectly fine substitute. There are actually a few varieties of rice cakes called 'sool ddeok' or 술떡 (literally meaning alcohol rice cakes) which are popular with the older Koreans and go through a similar cooking process.

This is a relatively easy bread to make, even for a novice baker like me, and is actually made by steaming rather than baking. It's a very simple but flexible bread which allows you to control the amount of sugar and any toppings or ingredients you want. I chose to add some simple slivered almonds and dried cranberries but you can add toppings like sunflower seeds, black beans, sesame seeds, peas, corn, whatever suits your fancy.

If you have a big pot, steamer, and cheesecloth, you're all set to go but if you're lacking some of the equipment, you can improvise like I did (more on that below).

Makgeolli Bread (막걸리 술빵))
Makes one loaf

You'll need:
- 2 cups of Flour
- 1 tbsp of Baking Powder
- 1 tsp of Salt
- 2/3 cup of Brown Sugar (many recipes call for 1 cup but I found 2/3 to be enough for me)
- 2 large Eggs
- 1 cup of saeng Makgeolli
- Small handful of your favorite toppings (seeds, dried fruit, beans, etc)

1. In a bowl, measure out and sift the flour and baking powder.

2. In another large bowl, add in the sugar, salt, eggs and makgeolli and mix until most or all of the sugar is melted.

3. Carefully incorporate the flour and baking powder into the egg/makgeolli mixture and mix until the mixture is mostly smooth.

4. Cover the top with plastic wrap with a few holes punched to let it "breathe". Set it aside in a warm place for about 2 hours to let the makgeolli do its work in letting the mixture rise. If you're short on time, you can set the bowl over a pot of hot (not boiling) water for an hour or so to accelerate the work.

After 1-2 hours, the mixture should have risen considerably with plenty of bubbles formed.

5. Prepare a big pot with water and place your steamer inside with a cheesecloth over it. In my case, I didn't have a large enough pot for my large steamer so I improvised by using a dol sot or stone pot (돌솥) in lieu of the steamer and placing a cheesecloth over it.

When the water begins boiling, pour the mixture into the cheesecloth and sprinkle whatever toppings you want to add on top.

Close the lid over it and let it steam on high heat for 25-30 minutes. You can check if it's cooked thoroughly by sticking a chopstick or skewer in and seeing if it comes out clean.

6. When it's finished, the bread should easily plop right out of the cheesecloth. Let it cool a bit before cutting into wedges.

For the initial few hours, there may be a slight alcohol odor in the taste which goes away as time passes. It should be fluffy, moist and soft- inside and out- with a sweet taste.

Perfect for a snack or part of a breakfast to go in the morning. If you like it warm, you can give it a whirl in your microwave for about ten seconds to reheat but it's fine unheated as well.

I should say, it's not likely you'll have much, if any, leftovers of this bread... :)