I am a tireless baker - baking was the first cooking I was taught by my great-grandmother and despite the taunts of childhood friends who thought it strange a boy would like to make cakes and cookies, baking quickly became a passion. Later I added other kinds of cooking to my repertoire and long before Julie Powell embarked on her blogging adventure of making everything in “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” I had cooked the book cover to cover. It was volume 2 of “Mastering” that most got my attention because Julia Child and Simone Beck spent a great deal of time in that volume trying to teach the strange art of baking French bread.
Complexity on the Rise
It took me years to make a satisfactory baguette, and I still marvel at the complexity of making something with just four ingredients. How difficult can it be to combine flour, water, salt and yeast? Plenty difficult. Baking bread teaches nuance - those same four ingredients, sometimes modified with a few extras, create hundreds of types of bread, each emblematic of a culture and a place. Bread is the ultimate companion to wine in its ability to show the uniqueness of terroir, except with bread we can come close to duplicating that terroir wherever we are.
Bread is culture, bread is soul, bread is life. From the satisfaction that comes from slowly working a dough (there are few tactile sensations that can compare to the subtle nuance of fondling bread dough or, oh ecstasy!, shaping croissants - no dough feels more sultry than croissant dough).
Hey, big spender
Last week I found a new recipe for “Spent Grain Bread.” It is unusual in several ways: it depends on a technique that is dramatically easier than the tiresome kneading required in some recipes; it is relatively quick - you can whip up a lovely loaf of bread in less than three hours (or double or triple the batch and get several loaves in the same amount of time); it is tasty and has plenty of interesting variations; it is a bread that is a wonderful companion to wine and cheese; and best of all, it will introduce you to “spent grain.”
Spent grain is a byproduct of the brewing process. The sugar that fuels the fermentation in beer or whisky comes from grain rather than the grapes that fill that purpose in wine. The grain - most often barley and/or wheat for beer - is steeped in hot water, then the sugary water is drained off for the rest of the beer-making process. The grain, depleted of sugar and starch but still rich in fiber and protein, is a waste product to the brewer. It has fulfilled its function, and often is sold off to farmers to feed livestock. I think this explains the particularly good flavor of beef in Scotland - with careful shopping, you'll get beef raised on the spent grain from a good whisky distillery.
But back to loafing. Spent grain is a great addition to bread, adding nutrients, fiber, protein and a nutty flavor. Inspired by the recipe I found on the great Food52 website, I called Wynwood Brewing in Miami to see if any spent grain were available and owner Luis Brignoni said “come on by, we're brewing tomorrow.” I needed a cup or so of grain (about 100 grams) but when I walked in the bustling brew room and ran into cellar master Victor, he looked aghast. “A cup? I don’t have a cup. I can give you a bucket.” Now, my idea of a bucket is the sort of thing a kid uses on the beach to make a sand castle. Victor’s idea of a bucket is a container that took several minutes to fill with a shovel.
I walked out of the brewery with 30 pounds of soggy spent grains and hoped the bucket’s lid would fit tightly enough to stay sealed on the drive home. A trunk full of spent grain…well, my car has smelled like a brewery before, but not that way.
Safely at home I quickly found that with a bucket of spent grain I could either make 200 loaves of bread or figure out alternative uses for the soggy mass. I made a few calls and discovered spent grain has a useful life of less than a day - as a byproduct of the fermentation process, the wet grain would start its own series of chemical reactions and turn sour if I didn't use it quickly. One of my sources suggested freezing the grain in quart bags. That took care of ten pounds of grain (and gave me a full freezer in the process). I spread another five pounds of grain on sheet pans and dried it for seven hours in a low oven for grinding into coarse meal, a good addition to future loaves of bread, waffles, muffins….there’s a lot of grain based food in my future diet.
And I used a pound of grains to whip up six loaves of bread.
The recipe from Food52 needs salt (I added a teaspoon for each loaf), and I added a tablespoon each of chopped rosemary and zest from a few Meyer lemons that were getting a bit wilted in my refrigerator. The aroma of the bread rising was heady, and the toasty smells from the oven during baking had me searching for a hunk of cheese to have at the ready. The recipe from Food52 uses an unusual technique of folding the bread dough rather than giving it a classic kneading, and it’s a revelation. The process saves at least two hours of rising time over a classic method, and the bread is surprisingly light. Does it taste like beer? No, but there is a tangy quality that is distinctive, and cries out for a salty cheese. A slab of Lincolnshire Poacher, Montgomery’s Cheddar, a good Stilton or a chunk of Humboldt Fog goat cheese is just the thing. Add a grinder of Wynwood IPA or Pop’s Porter, or a couple of bottles of rustic zinfandel or syrah and you are all set.
And if you've done the math, you realize I only used up half my spent grain. By the following morning, 18 hours after I picked up my bucket from Victor, it was already turning sour and, not having a hungry cow on the premises, I regrettably had to toss the last bit of my spent treasure. Next time, I'll take a smaller pail with me or, better yet, join a baker gang and split the treasure.
For the recipe on Food52 click here
And click here for more information on using spent grain