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As Garrett Oliver, brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery, has famously noted on several occasions, “that big loaf of white bread you find in the supermarket really isn’t bread…it’s a chemical sponge. Real bread doesn’t have 40 ingredients, and it doesn’t stay fresh in a bag for two weeks.”

After enjoying a loaf of spent grain bread made from the remnants of a recent batch of beer I made with Jim Norton, editor at Heavy Table, I now understand exactly what Garrett is talking about. 

Jim and I brewed a Belgian Strong Dark Ale, shooting for something in the neighborhood of Chimay Blue. There was a 14 pound heaping mound of grains left over from the mash, mainly pilsner, a little Munich, and specialty malts including Special B, Aromatic, and CaraMunich. Jim took the bulk of it home, and today dropped off a couple loaves for me to sample. Seriously some of the most delicious stuff I’ve ever had, true artisan bread. An expertly browned crust, with some of the grains lightly peppered throughout the perfectly dense, chewy bread within. Excellent. 

Paired very well with my recently brewed roggenbier, the rye complementing the bread’s natural earthiness. The beer itself poured with a gorgeous fluffy head, giving way to a light copper coloring. Very good clarity, and a light rye and banana ester aroma thanks to the Wyeast 3068 strain I fermented with. Not a lot of hops, but the two ounces of Strisselspalt I used are certainly in the background. The taste is interesting…not as much of the rye quality as I would have hoped for, as some versions of the style really give you a pumpernickel bread kind of flavoring (thinking of Great Water’s Rye Pale Ale I recently had on cask). What you do get is more of a smooth, malty sweetness (maybe some light toffee?) that leads to a great rye spiciness in the finish, so in the end I’m pretty happy with that aspect. Fairly light on the ABV front, only about 4.5%, so certainly a great refreshing choice on a nice summer evening.

Very pleased with how this one turned out. And if you’re interested in how to put your spent grains to good use (not sure why I haven’t been doing this before), check out Jim’s recipe below.

Rating: A-

Heavy Table Spent Grain Sandwich Bread
Makes three small (9×5″) loaves

The main thing that a would-be spent grain baker is confronted with is the moisture — it comes damp as heck from the brewing process. I’ve read that you can toast it, but I wanted to incorporate that malt/brewing-infused flavor into the bread. I started with a “rustic country bread” recipe and then started changing things around to make the bread more retiring and gentle (to let the sweet, malty spent grain shine) and also account for the extra liquid. I wanted a tender crumb that would be great for sandwiches or spreads, and this seemed to yield a good end product.

Note that you can freeze spent grain, and then thaw it out again before using in this recipe. It’s best to bring it up to room temperature before you start baking.

Sponge
1/2 tsp active dry yeast (not rapid rise)
3/4 c water (room temperature)
3/4 c spent grain from brewing, still damp and at room temperature
1 1/2 c bread flour (I like King Arthur’s)

Dough
4 cups bread flour
1 cup water (room temperature)
2 tbsp honey
2 tsp salt

1. For the Sponge:

Mix the yeast into the water in a medium bowl until it’s dissolved. Mix into the flour and spent grain with a spatula and create stiff, wet dough. Cover and let the sponge sit at room temperature for at least five hours, if not overnight.  (It can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours, but should be brought back to room temperature before continuing.)

2. For the Dough:

Mix your water, honey, flour, and the sponge in the bowl of a KitchenAid or other workhorse mixer, using a spatula. Mix the dough with your dough hook attachment on a slow speed for about 12 minutes, then add the salt. Continue mixing with the dough hook for another 3 minutes.

During the course of this process, the dough should be sticking to the bottom of the bowl, but easily clearing the sides. I tend to check halfway through by pushing the dough off the hook and seeing how it sticks to the bowl and my hands. If it’s really gluey and damp, add more flour in 1/8th cup increments, mixing between each addition. You want a dough that’s smooth and tacky but not actually glue-like.

Transfer your dough to a big lightly oiled bowl, and cover it with plastic wrap that’s been greased. Let it rise about two hours, until it has roughly tripled in size.

3. Grease three 9 x 5 inch loaf pans.

Put your dough on a lightly floured surface. Working with floured hands, press it out into a rectangle, and use a bench knife to divide it into three equally sized pieces.

Roll each piece of dough into a tight 9-inch cylinder and pinch the seam closed. Place the loaves, seam side down, in the prepared pans.

Set each loaf into a greased 9 x 5-inch loaf pan.

Cover loosely with a cloth or greased piece of aluminum foil and let the dough rise until it almost doubles in size, about 45 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, put a deep metal pan or cast-iron skillet on the lowest shelf of the oven. Heat your oven up to 450 degrees F. Heat up two cups of water (not quite to boiling) and keep it on hand for your baking cycle.

5. Cut two or three slashes on top of each loaf using a sharp serrated knife. Cut almost parallel to the top of loaf, not real deep, and without sawing or tearing.

Put your loaves in the oven. Pour two cups of hot water into your pre-heated pan or skillet, to create steam.

Bake for 15 minutes, then, if the loaves are browning unevenly, rotate each loaf 180 degrees. Bake for another 5-10 minutes (or until tops of loaves turn dark brown) and test the temperature with an instant read thermometer — 205-210 degrees F is perfect.

Take your pans out, let them cool 10 minutes, then put loaves on a cooling rack for an hour or two. Voila! Serve with local honey and/or butter, or make delicious little sandwiches.