In a quest to cram even more beer into my life, I came up with a recipe for spent grain bread that involves beer in the dough in addition to the spent grain. To my delight, this was my first really successful attempt at making spent grain bread. I have tried multiple times in the past and ended up with hard, dense bread that was not palatable, but this time I got it right.
I needed to create a recipe for the bread of a grilled cheese that I was entering into a competition (the Grilled Cheese Invitational – more on that later). The name of the sandwich I was entering was The Beer Baron and it consisted of homemade spent grain bread, porter braised pulled pork, Vermont cheddar, and picked onions. Bread is a pretty critical ingredient in a grilled cheese, so it had to be great. I started off by trying a few recipes I found online for spent grain bread, but was not happy with any of them. I needed a rustic bread with nutty flavors to hold up to the pulled pork and cheese. I decided to modify a recipe for Coccodrillo bread (a special Italian bread) from my Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Baking cookbook. The recipe called for dark beer, so thought I would try it. Spent grain and beer in the bread?!?! That was taking the sandwich theme to a whole new level. My modifications worked out great and the bread was perfect. The sandwich went on to win a judge’s award at the competition, complete with a ridiculous trophy. Here is what I did:
Spent Grain Coddodrillo
Makes 2 loafs (adapted from Willams-Sonoma’s Essentials of Baking)
For the sponge:
- 1 package (2.5 teaspoons) active dry yeast
- ¾ cup dark beer, at room temperature (I used Lost Coast’s Downtown Brown for the nutty flavor)
- 3 cups cool water
- 1 cup spent grain flour (dried spent grain processed to a fine powder in a food processor)
- 2.5 cups all-purpose flour
For the dough:
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup spent grain
- 1 tablespoon sea salt
What you need to do
Start by making what is called “the sponge”. To do this, in a large bowl combine:
- The flours (spent grain and all-purpose)
Whisk them all together until combined, then cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit over night or for 8 hours at room temperature. The sponge will grow in size and look like, um, a sponge when ready – light and airy with some holes in it.
- Once the sponge is ready, add the flour for the dough, spent grain, and salt to it. Mix with a wooden spoon until it comes together. The dough will look a bit shaggy and messy – that’s OK. It’ll get its act together later. You just need to give it some time.
- Scrape the dough out of the bowl onto a floured work surface. You will probably need quite a bit of flour since the dough will be sticky.
- Knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic, about 5 – 7 minutes. Continue to flour the dough as needed to prevent it from sticking. Don’t overdue, however. The dough is supposed to be soft.
- Form the dough into a ball and place it in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough raise in a warm, draft-free place until it doubles in size (about 2 hours).
- When the dough has finished doing its magic, dust your counter and a sheet pan with some flour (yes, more flour).
- Get out a little aggression and show the dough who’s boss by punching it down (for those of you not familiar with baking, this literally means punch the dough to get the air out of it). Then, scrape it out of the bowl onto the floured counter. Bounce it around a few times shaping it into a large, round loaf.
- Put the loaf on the floured baking sheet, cover it with a towel, and let it have a little rest again in a warm, draft-free location to recover from all the activity. 30 – 45 minutes should give it enough time to rise again and double in size.
- When the bread is almost finished napping, move a rack in your oven to the lower third and pre-heat it to 400 degrees.
- When the bread is ready for action, sprinkle the top with all-purpose flour and using a sharp knife, cut the loaf right in half. Separate the two half’s and turn them a quarter turn so that the cut side is now facing up. You will end up with two oval shaped loafs
- Space the 2 loafs apart and bake until they are brown and hallow sounding (give the top a tap to determine this). Should take about 35 – 45 minutes.
- When they are done, turn the oven off and let the bread sit for 10 minutes without opening the door. I know it will be hard to not sneak a peek, but resist your temptations and leave the door closed!
- To reward your awesome baking skills and patience, take the bread out, let it cool, slice, and top with all sorts of goodness. I recommend cheese, peanut butter, pulled pork, jam, butter… (not necessarily all at one time)