Spent-Grain Bread

August 26, 2011

Or, “Beer Bread, Minus The Beer”.

Homebrewing is on the rise.  In 2010, according to a press release from the American Homebrewers’ Association, 82% of homebrew supply shops “saw an increase in sales of beginner [homebrew] kits”, which means, well, more folks are getting into the hobby.

Last summer, I started homebrewing, also from a beginner’s kit.  My friend Jack and I journeyed over to Perfect Brewing Supply in Libertyville, and I snatched up Jack’s father’s old carboy, as well as some of his other old brewing supplies.  Jack and I made a hefeweizen I named Too Clever by Hef, which was followed by a lemongrass and ginger-infused black ale I called Fit to be Thai’d, and that brewing season finished up with some hard apple cider (made from apples I picked with my friend Josh at his family’s home), which I dubbed Justifiable Applecide.

I am not a nice man.

Anyway, this year I’ve also been brewing – whenever a friend of mine visits, I put him to work in the brew-forges, crafting beers with me.  When Dave visited, we made a wheat beer.  When Michael visited, we made an October Ale (just like Foremole Diggum would have drunk – oo er aye.).

Now, when you make beer, you’re essentially making a sweet grain tea (the wort), which is a tasty substrate for your yeast to swim around in, eat up, and convert to alcohol and CO2.  You can make wort by adding malt syrup concentrate to a large quantity of water, or you can do a whole-grain mash and soak grains in hot water until they release all their sugars.  Basically.

Doing a whole-grain mash, as I do, leaves you with a lot of leftover, somewhat soggy grains – they don’t remain in the wort for fermentation.  And, if you’re like me, you might end up with quite a few pounds of spent grain.

Rather like this.

DON’T THROW THIS STUFF OUT.

Everyone’s always telling you to eat more whole grains.  Now you’re sitting on eight pounds of it and you just wanna chuck it out the back door?  No, sir or madam!  No, indeed!

Most of you are probably not homebrewers.  That’s okay!  Most of the people I know aren’t, either.  But, with the rising popularity of the hobby, I’m sure you have a friend or neighbor that brews.  I can think of two or three of my Chicago friends or neighbors who make beer, and I’m not even in any clubs.

My local homebrew shop, too, makes a lot of beer in-house (unsurprisingly).  I might call them, to see what they do with their spent grain, if I get the urge to make this recipe again.

Anyway, this recipe: it’s dense, it’s chewy, and it’s not too sweet.  I think a lot of bakers go wrong in their wheat breads by making them nearly dessert-cake-level sweetness.

I developed the recipe myself, after trying and failing to produce good bread with the spent-grain bread recipes I found online.  I have made this bread twice, and I am delighted to say that, for having developed a bread recipe on the fly, it works quite well.  (I followed my recipe to the letter the second time, so I know it works.)

AN IMPORTANT NOTE: this bread would taste awful if hops got into it.  Make sure that you get spent grains that haven’t touched any hops.  (This shouldn’t be an issue, if you’re brewing in the right order.)

Spent-Grain Bread
makes one large loaf

The Setup

Ingredients

  • 2 cups spent grain from all-grain mash, milled to a fine pulp in a food processor (measure after processing)
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

The Heist

Directions

1.  First, if you haven’t, mill your grains in a food processor.  If you’ve got a lot, as I did, this may take several batches.  That’s fine.  You’ve got all the time in the world.

Doesn't that look pretty?  And not like a bowl full of unspeakable?

2.  Mix the water, the yeast, the honey, and the vegetable oil in a measuring cup, and let it sit until the yeast wakes up, about five minutes.

(Photo note: these photos are from two separate sessions, which is why it’s night outside in some and day outside in others.  You don’t actually have to work from dusk till dawn to make this recipe.)

3.  Take two well-packed cups of spent-grain mush and plop them into a great big bowl.  Mix in the four cups of AP flour, as well as the salt, and mix until everything is incorporated – it might get a little ropy or clumpy, but that’s okay!  Break it all up with your fingers until everything comes together.  It should feel a little like wet sand, honestly.

It's sort of like playing with brown sugar.  It makes that same sort of satisfying thwop as it falls into a bowl.

4.  Make a well in the center of the dough and pour in the liquid ingredients; mix until everything is completely hydrated and doughy, but not sticky.  If it’s sticky, add flour, a little at a time, until the dough becomes workable again.

See - the mixed grain-and-flour looks kind of sandy-pebbly.

5.  Oil the bowl, cover it, and let the dough rise until it doubles in volume, about 90 minutes later.  Punch it down, and transfer it to a well-greased 9-inch loaf pan, which you should also cover.  Let the dough rise again for another 90 minutes to 2 hours.

It's not so terribly pretty, as far as breads go, I'll warrant.  But is really good.
6.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and, once it’s ready, bake the bread at that temperature for 50 minutes.  If you’re a stickler for doneness, and who isn’t with bread, you can check the internal temperature of the loaf when you pull it – it should be hovering around 190 to 200 degrees Fahrenheit.

Isn't that better?  I think so.

Now, you don’t need to put anything on this bread, as bread that requires butter to taste good is scarcely a bread at all.  However, bread that asks politely is rewarded with a pat on the crumb:

Hello, little pat of butter.  You are going in my mouth.

Good bread.  Good little bread.

This hearty bread makes fine sandwiches, but I like to just cut hearty slabs of it, spread it with mustard, and top it with a few pieces of strong cheese.  I had some for lunch today with a few slices of freshly-cooked beet, and it was marvelous.

Happy cooking!

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