I just now made up that name. Brewers’ Bread. Nice, huh? Bread and beer are closely related and share almost the same ingredients. And this Particular bread has even more in common with beer than most since I used the spent grains from The Beloved’s latest Brewing Escapade in the dough.
To brew beer, you can either use a malt extract, which is an evaporated form of what you’d get if you boiled cracked whole grains. Or, you can start with the cracked grains and boil them to extract a lot of the flavor. The leftover grains–pounds and pounds, even for fairly small batches of beer–are generally composted or fed to chickens or otherwise tossed away.
But just because they’re called “spent grains” doesn’t mean that they are completely bereft of goodness. They still have some flavor left, a bit of the wort (pre-beer) clinging to them, texture and fiber–all good things, when it comes to bread. Unless you’re a fan of the bread with Colorful Circles on the wrapper. In which case, you are in the wrong place entirely.
If, however, you like a bread with a strong bready character and flavor, one with a moist, soft-yet-chewy crumb and caramelized crisp-chewy crust, then you are Totally in the right place. You must make this bread. Do you have to use spent grains? No, but if you do make home brew or have a craft brewery in your area, it’s worth it to ask for some of their spent grains. Chances are they will be happy to let you have some. If you can’t come by spent grains, you could easily substitute soaked grains such as oatmeal, farro or wheat berries. Or quinoa. You could even throw in some sunflower seeds, if you want.
When I made the ciabatta for Food52sday this week, I purposely doubled the amount of poolish so I could use it later in the week. Traditionally, you shouldn’t let a poolish hang out too long, but I Laugh in the face of tradition. Ha. Ha! Also, I might have been unaware of that tradition…
What can happen if you let a starter hang out too long (but didn’t, thankfully) is that the yeasties can end up eating up all of the goodies in the flour, rendering it gluten-less and therefore Not stretchy. Fortunately, this did not happen in this case. I did make sure to check that the poolish was still active before using it, and as it was, I went for it. So, while I made the poolish on Saturday evening and didn’t use it until Wednesday morning, I wouldn’t recommend that you do the same. I was lucky this time, but you may not be. And I might not be if I try that little trick again.
Do use a poolish, though, as it is what lends complexity and chew to your finished bread. Breads made with starters, or pre-ferments (a mixture that lets the yeast get a head start), are chewier than breads made without. If you’re a fan of chewy bread, definitely use a starter of some sort.
I also turned the poolish into a sponge, which is another interim step that isn’t strictly necessary, but as I didn’t want to use very much yeast at all, making a loose sponge allowed the yeasties that were there to multiply and eat and stretch without having a heavy dough weighing it down. If you want to skip the sponge step, just add more yeast.
Want a little bread baking science? I shall give it to you. However much flour you are using in your bread is considered 100% of the flour. Because 100% is another way of saying “all.” A poolish is made of a portion of that 100% of flour, and can comprise up to about 50% of the total weight of the flour. So, if your bread will contain 500g of flour (500g=100%), the flour in your poolish can weigh up to 250g, or 50%.
Poolish is also generally considered to be equal parts, by weight, of flour and water along with a smidge of yeast. In this particular bread, my poolish was 5 oz (142g) each of flour and water. My bread ended up containing 25 oz (709g) of flour, 5 oz (142g) of which was contained in the poolish. So the percentage of flour in the poolish is calculated thusly: 142/709 x 100=about 20%.
Of course, there’s more to the formula than just the flour. The other major player in bread dough is, of course, the liquid. (weight-wise, at least. I realize the yeast is a pretty big player!) In regular sandwich bread, the liquid, usually water and/or milk, is scaled at 50% the weight of the flour. This percentage of water is pretty much the standard and allows for an even, tight crumb which is good for spreading butter on without it dripping through. In artisan-style loaves, the hydration percentage, or amount of water, is sometimes as much as 75%. That’s what gives you that lovely open crumb and big old holes. Lots of character, but not so great for a pb&j.
In my loaves, between the poolish, the sponge and the water I added plus any liquid left in the grains, my hydration percentage was about 56-ish%, or 14-ish oz of water to the 25 oz of flour.
If all that science-y stuff is Upsetting to you, please fear not. I did not sit down and do the math before beginning. Nope. That requires planning, and you guys know that I’m not a planner. Plus, I’m pretty sure that the Bakers of Yore didn’t do a ton of math either. They just baked by feel. That’s what I did, too. But I’m doing the math now to show you how you can figure out how much dough to make and how much flour and/or water to put in if you’re Inclined to do Math.
OK. Enough talk. On to the bread. Remember, only make your poolish half a day or so (12-ish hours) before starting to bake.
- 5 oz. water
- 5 oz. bread flour
- ¼ teaspoon yeast
- all the poolish
- 4 oz water
- 4 oz bread flour
- 4 oz spent grains
- ¼ teaspoon yeast
- all the sponge
- 16 oz bread flour
- 2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 Tablespoons honey
- 2-3 teaspoons kosher salt (to taste, but don’t leave it out)
- 4-6 oz water
- 1 egg, beaten
- Stir all ingredients together.
- Let sit at room temperature, loosely covered, for 12-16 hours
- Mix all the ingredients together in a big old bowl or in the bowl of your stand mixer.
- Cover loosely, and let stand until very bubbly on top and almost doubled in volume, about 4-5 hours.
- Dump the rest of the ingredients in with your sponge. Start with the lesser amount of water.
- Mix until the dough comes together, adding water if necessary. The resulting dough should be smooth, only slightly sticky and fairly extensible.
- Once the dough is mixed, knead by hand for a good 15 minutes or for about 7 minutes on medium-low speed on the stand mixer.
- Shape dough into a smooth ball and put right back in your bowl. Brush the top with olive oil and cover.
- Let the dough rise in a warmish place until doubled in bulk, about 3-3½ hours.
- Evenly press the gases out of the dough, fold it over on itself several times, and divide the dough into two equal parts. Each of my loaves scaled at 21.7 ounces, but yours will vary depending on how much water you ended up adding.
- Shape each half into a rectangle and then roll up, tucking the ends of the cylinder you’ve just made under.
- Place the dough, seam side down, in lightly sprayed bread pans. Mine were 4½” by 8½”.
- Let the dough rise until almost doubled in bulk, another 1½-2 hours. Preheat the oven to 375F.
- Brush the loaves evenly with the egg wash. You can slash the tops of the loaves with an oiled razor or just leave them alone.
- Bake on the lowest rack for about half an hour, or until the internal temperature of the bread is around 205F and the loaf sounds hollow when you thump it.
- Let the loaves cool on wire racks for at least an hour before slicing and devouring.
For those of you who hang out on the fan page and/or twitter (hi, guys!), you know that this is round 2 for the spent grain bread. The first try was good, but I knew it could be so much better. It wasn’t exactly a failure, because we ate it all, but it was definitely a learning experience that I put to use to make this second batch as yummy as it is.
It’s great to get things 100% correct the first time you try, but I find that I learn so much more when I get things maybe 75% right, or even just half right. Failures and partial successes force us to troubleshoot and analyze. We truly do learn from our mistakes.
This was an Extremely tasty learning experience, indeed!
Serving Suggestion because I am Helpful:
And there you have it. I hope you enjoy it; we certainly did!
Have a lovely day.
PS, if you’re interested in a bread made from the beer that these grains were used to brew, check out my ciabatta from Food52sday.