At some point in every homebrewer’s life, usually shortly after her first all-grain brew, the inevitable question arises: what can I do with spent grain?If you live near a farming community you can donate the grain, otherwise spent grain disposal options are limited to dumping it in the bin, composting it, or cooking / baking with it.
When I first encountered the idea of spent grain bread, it seemed like a brilliant idea, but I quickly discovered the one hurdle that stands between spent grain and baking spent grain bread. Storage.
Even a small brew leaves behind a quantity of spent grain more than any casual baker would need, so storing it for later is quite inevitable. The challenge lies in that spent grain is wet and hot after the brew, ideal circumstances for decomposition if stored untreated.
Before you can store spent grain you have to dry it properly. I’ve found the easiest and most economical way to do this, is to simply sun-dry it. Well-drained spent grain, if spread out thin and evenly on a surface exposed to directly sunlight (and a bit of a breeze) for 6 hours, should dry out completely. A large oven on low heat is a less cost-effetive alternative.
In my case I have neither a large oven, nor a full day of direct sunlight, which is why it took 3 days to dry the 2kg of spent grain I saved from my last brew. I turned my pile of grain frequently (it was layered too thick) in about 3 hours of morning sunlight, and stored it, uncovered, in the fridge at night.
Between the sun and fridge it successfully dried out and without any off aromas that would have indicated decay.
Spent Grain Wholemeal Bread Recipe
Since first writing this article I’ve baked many a spent grain wholemeal bread and have found that using more than 25% spent grain leads to an exceptionally dense loaf.
Below is a tweaked recipe that produces the best looking spent grain bread.
- 80g (20%) dried spent grain, blended into a very coarse flour
- 320g (80%) white bread flour
- 8g salt
- 300g cool water
- 1 pkt yeast
- 25g soft, unsalted butter (optional, but contributes significantly to the flavour)
- Oil for your work surface;
- An oiled proofing bowl;
- A prepped bread tin;
- A sprinkle of flour for dusting before the oven;
- Optional: Baking tray that can hold boiling water;
- Optional: Water boiled just before you’re ready to put your bread in the oven;
- An oven, set to 220ºC;
- Put all the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. Butter goes in the middle, and start squishing the ingredients together until the butter disappears.
- Next, gradually add the water squeezing the ingredients together until you have a cohesive dough. The strength of your spent grain my vary, so judge accordingly how much water you need. You’re looking for a dough that’s plyable, but easily comes of your fingers. If your dough is on the dry side, it’s easier to work with, but will not rise as much, giving the bread a dense crumb. If your dough is on the wetter side it’s stickier, but will likely rise more and give the bread a wide crumb. I’ve found with using spent grain, wetter is better.
- Once you have a workable dough, tip it out onto a pre-oiled work surface and knead for 5 – 10 minutes, stretching it as you do until you have a nice, elastic dough. Resist the urge to add more flour, but if it’s horribly wet and unworkable, sprinkle the minimum you need to get it all together.
- When the dough is smooth, supple and bounces back when poked, work it into a ball, then put it in your pre-oiled proofing bowl, cover with plastic wrap and put it somewhere warm.
- Let it rise / double in size over the next 1.5 hrs to 2 hrs.
- Once doubled, tip out onto an oiled surface again, knock it down (gently) with your knuckles and try to form some kind of circle, but don’t fuss over it too much. Flip a 2 or 3cm margin on the left and right inwards, roll it up like a carpet and place it in the bread tin with the seem at the bottom.
- Cover in plastic wrap again and let it sit for another hour. It should roughly double in size again, shaping to your bread tin.
- After an hour, if you’re happy with the progress, fire up your oven to 250ºC. We’ll be baking at 220ºC, but the extra heat hopefully compensates for what escapes when I open the door. If you want to use the magic of steam, make sure you’ve got boiled water handy.
- This next few steps happens quickly, lest you lose your dough’s rise because of the temperature difference. Take off your plastic wrap, dust the dough (a little sprinkle of flour over the top), then score the dough with a sharp knife along its length. Make a nice deep gash, it fills out again – part esthetics, part helping CO2 escape, apparently, although nothing untowards have happened to the loaves I didn’t score.
- Arm yourself with oven mits and protective eyewear, then open the oven door, shove the bread-tin inside, and pour about 2 – 3 cups of boiling water into the baking tray at the bottom of the over. It will hiss, spit and create a lot of steam, so be sure not to burn yourself.
- Close the oven door, make sure you’re on 220ºC and watch your bread enjoy the sauna. The steam keeps the crust supple for the first 10 minutes or so, helping your bread to better rise ot the occassion. Once the steam has evaporated the crust hardens for a perfect finish.
- Depending on your oven’s reliability, bake for 40 – 60 minutes.
- When the crust is a nice, deep brown, remove from the oven, tip onto a wire rack, do the knock test to see if it’s hollow (and cooked) and let it cool.