Brewers’ Bread

spent grain bread, round 2 014I 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.

spent grain dough 002But 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.

Science-y Part
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.

Fear Not
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.

Brewers' Bread
Recipe type: Bread
Cook time: 
Total time: 
I used a poolish and a sponge both to develop some serious flavor in this bread. This is some Damn Fine Bread. Make some. If you don't have access to spent grains, don't let that stop you. Use soaked oatmeal, farro, quinoa, wheat berries, or a mixture.
What You Need
For the Poolish
  • 5 oz. water
  • 5 oz. bread flour
  • ¼ teaspoon yeast
For the Sponge
  • all the poolish
  • 4 oz water
  • 4 oz bread flour
  • 4 oz spent grains
  • ¼ teaspoon yeast
For the Bread
  • 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
For the Egg Wash
  • 1 egg, beaten
What To Do
For the Poolish
  1. Stir all ingredients together.
  2. Let sit at room temperature, loosely covered, for 12-16 hours
For the Sponge
  1. Mix all the ingredients together in a big old bowl or in the bowl of your stand mixer.
  2. Cover loosely, and let stand until very bubbly on top and almost doubled in volume, about 4-5 hours.
For the Bread
  1. Dump the rest of the ingredients in with your sponge. Start with the lesser amount of water.
  2. Mix until the dough comes together, adding water if necessary. The resulting dough should be smooth, only slightly sticky and fairly extensible.
  3. 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.
  4. Shape dough into a smooth ball and put right back in your bowl. Brush the top with olive oil and cover.
  5. Let the dough rise in a warmish place until doubled in bulk, about 3-3½ hours.
  6. 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.
  7. Shape each half into a rectangle and then roll up, tucking the ends of the cylinder you've just made under.
  8. Place the dough, seam side down, in lightly sprayed bread pans. Mine were 4½" by 8½".
  9. Let the dough rise until almost doubled in bulk, another 1½-2 hours. Preheat the oven to 375F.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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!

 spent grain dough 011Attempt Number 1. Not bad, but not great.
CSA dinner and sliced spent grain bread 017Attempt 2. Now this is what I wanted!

Serving Suggestion because I am Helpful:

toast! 006And here's what I did with attempt Number 1:

CSA Salad and croutons made from Spent Grain Bread                                                                     Croutons!!

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.





      • Julia says

        I have made this recipe a few times now, each time the bread is delicious but is not that real fluffy texture. I am currently make a loaf as I type, I noticed you have the ingredients listed in oz not cups (4oz as opposed to 1/2 cup), so this batch I tried weighing everything out instead of measuring, however now my bread seems really dense……help!

        • says

          Hmmm. If you used both the poolish and sponge, the bread should be nice and light. But, not everyone’s ingredients are always the same, and no 2 loaves of bread are exactly alike. So, if, as you’re making the dough, it seems a bit firm, feel free to add additional water so the resulting dough is nice and supple and stretchy. Do let me know how it goes, and I’m sorry this round was especially dense.

  1. Anna says

    Looks delicious!  We homebrew and I’m just discovering all the things you can do with the spent grains. I have a couple of questions -1) is the spent grain in this recipe dried or still wet? 2) do you have any suggestions for how long can you keep the wet spent grain around?  Thanks!!

    • says

      The bread is really delicious! I made a sweet potato version w/cinnamon and honey that is out of this world, too. The grains I used in this bread were still wet, but I’ve also dried some and used them in cookies. To dry them, I spread them out on Silpat-lined cookie sheets and put them in the oven at about 180F for about 8 hours, stirring occasionally, until bone dry. They should keep indefinitely (within reason, of course!) The dried grains are extremely crunchy w/lots of sharp edges, so I wouldn’t recommend them for bread, but they’re great in the cookies. The cookies are the latest blog post, so you can see them if you want to.  I wouldn’t keep the wet grains around any longer than 5 days, refrigerated. Once they start smelling like anything other than sweet cereal, they need to go. We have chickens, so they get them. Plus we can compost them as well:)

  2. Katja says

    We usually dry our spent grains and sprinkle them over cereal, make various baked bars with them etc. This bread recipe sounds great, and I will try it tomorrow. I have just one question: you are meaning 4 oz of wet/moist spent grains, correct? Do you have a suggestion/idea of how much water (or other liquid) I should add to the dried spent grains I have?

    • says

      Yes, Katja, I use the grains wet. Honestly I wouldn’t know how much extra water to add if you use them dry. Since they get so crunchy, I would suggest that you rehydrate them in hot/warm water for at least an hour or so to soften up a lot of that crunchy stuff then drain and continue. The sharper the edges, the more gluten strands it will cut and the denser your final loaf will be, so I believe it’d be worth your time to try to rehydrate the grains first. Hope this helps! 🙂

  3. Katie says

    I made this bread yesterday and it sure is fine bread! This was my first time making a yeast bread outside of a bread machine and a boxed bread mix, so I was a little nervous. But it turned out great. I plan to make more of this bread very soon, but I want to use more spent grains to give more texture. How should I adapt the recipe if I were to use 2-3 cups (8-12oz) of spent grains? Less flour, less liquid? I am using wet grains from brewing. Thank you so much for posting this amazing recipe!

    • says

      Wow, I’m so glad you like it! I will say that the first time I made the bread, I used more spent grains as compared to the flour. I found the bread to be a bit too coarse, but it’s certainly all about your preference, too. I’d start by just subbing out maybe an extra 2 oz spent grains in the sponge while subtracting 1-2 oz of the flour. You may need to tinker w/the amount of liquid you add in the final bread since the grains have liquid in them already, so just add a bit less water and see how the dough comes together.

      Then, maybe during the final shaping, you can work in a few more ounces of the grain. I’m not sure that I would use as much as you’re considering since the dough would use much of its elasticity in reducing the flour. To split the difference, consider maybe doubling the recipe and using 2.5 times as much of the grains. Fortunately, extra spent grains will keep well in the freezer for a couple of months! Or, spread them out on a baking sheet and dry them in a low oven, stirring every once in awhile.

  4. Kate Richards Bruski says

    Jenni, would this qualify as “sourdough” bread? I am fascinated by sourdough because it stores longer and it’s supposed to be more digestible (due to lowered phytates). What do you think of those claims? Love hearing your thoughts. Thanks much,

    • says

      Sourdough bread is generally considered bread that has been leavened with “wild and captured” yeast strains. This wouldn’t qualify since it contains commercially produced yeast. Usually the flavor of sourdough has a bit of a tang and a more complex flavor. Using starters–even those made with commercial yeast–give the dough more time to develop flavor, but it doesn’t turn them into sourdough, although they can develop some sour characteristics. Does that make sense?

      I don’t really know anything about the phytate issue, although seems to me I’ve heard soaking and rinsing grains can help with that. Sorry I can’t be of more help on that score, Kate!

  5. Sabrina says

    I’m definitely going to try this. My husband is an avid homebrewer and I have A LOT of grains at my disposal. Did you use the spent grains whole/cracked as they are or did you dry and ground it into flour first?

  6. Cheryl Hamilton says

    We feed our spent grains to our chickens, usually wet. But this time I decided to dry them in the dehydrator. The house stank for 2 days while the grains were drying, but once dried they smelled fine. Does anyone have an idea why they smelled bad (sour) while drying? They went into the dehydrator on high heat immediately after the brew process (still hot when they went into the dehydrator).

    • says

      The only time I’ve dried mine, I did it in the oven on really low heat. I don’t recall there being a bad smell. Sorry this happened to you. The only thing I can think of is that they had sat wet too long before you started to dehydrate and maybe they got a bit funky…?


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