Sourdough spent-grain bread

Long ago I posted something about my thoughts on how to bake an artisanal loaf of bread. It wasn’t super helpful, though, because I was seized with the need inspired to share my process at the moment that I was baking spent grain bread, which is rather esoteric. You need a husband who happens to be brewing and can supply you with the spent grain, and then you need to be ready to bake. The fact that I was also able to take pictures at that moment, vs. when I was making a simple loaf of white bread, isn’t much of an excuse.

But the various overall idea was still there, and I do hope you got a shred of bread-baking wisdom out of it. I don’t do it on purpose, obscure my advice… although I realize that’s how it turns out. I do have more “regular” directions — for sourdough baking here.

But recently, after a long hiatus in the brewing department, the Chief mixed up a batch and donated more spent grain to the domestic bakery. These days, I’m almost always using sourdough starter to leaven my bread dough, so I was wondering if I was up to the challenge. So I will inflict obscurity on you again. You are so patient!

It turned out so well! Very tasty. You can use the method with any soaked grain — doesn’t have to be the leftovers from beer-making! A cup of oats mixed with coarsely ground cornmeal or some cracked wheat will produce just as hearty loaves.

If you go here to that post, you will find the method using yeast, but what I’m about to tell you here is very similar. The yeast way, you need to make a starter (preferment or levain) with a little yeast, flour, and water; the sourdough way is to use a bit of your starter, not yeast.

If you are used to baking bread with yeast that you’ve proved in that manner, have confidence as you move over to sourdough baking. Instead of following painstaking directions, tell yourself “I know how to bake bread” and just substitute your (fed) starter for that yeast mixture.

I’m always learning more about sourdough baking. I have recently decided that I need to use more fed starter in my doughs, especially if they have a lot of heavy ingredients, like this spent grain bread does. However, even a little will work. It just takes more time.

The method, such as it is:

Spent Grain Bread

At least a cup of fed, lively starter — up to 2 cups. (I mix about 1/4 cup of starter with 1 cup of warm water and the following, enough to make a thick batter-like levain: all purpose or bread flour plus 2 tablespoons of rye flour, and 1 tablespoon of diastatic malt powder, which is optional but helps overall with the rise and gluten development)

1 cup of spent grains from brewing or some combination of oats, cornmeal, cracked wheat, or other whole-ish grains (put the rest in the freezer for next time)

6 cups of bread flour (actually I just fill my Kitchenaid 5qt mixer bowl up to about 3 inches from the top — who knows how much flour that is)

1 cup of whole wheat flour

1 tablespoon of salt (or 2 1/2 % of the weight of the combined flours, if you are using something other than table salt)

A little honey or molasses if you like, but the spent grain has a sweetness to it.

Enough warm water, added at a steady pace as the mixer runs, to make a nice dough, not too stiff, not too wet; probably around 3 cups

Combine all the ingredients by whichever method you prefer, hand or sturdy stand mixer (did you know that my Kitchenaid is nigh 30 years old? And that I’ve been abusing it the whole time I’ve owned it?)

Let the dough rest for at least 20 minutes.

Turn it out onto your counter and fold it over on itself a few times, gently but firmly. Let it rest for another 30 minutes and repeat the process of folding it into a new ball at least once and up to 3 more times. If you want to, you can precede these folds with a “lamination”: gently pull the dough out flat (about 1/2 inch thick all over) on a lightly floured surface and fold it by bringing one side into the middle and the other side over that to the edge; then fold the ends inwards in the same manner and roll it up into a ball. Continue with the folding process as described after a 30 minute rest. All this builds the gluten.

You can also skip any part of these directions after the first post-rest fold.

I usually do this “bulk rise” on my butcher block island, covering the dough with a damp cloth between folds. You could put it back in the bowl with the cloth.

Let the dough rise until it’s doubled, or if it’s on your counter and you can’t really tell about the volume, just note when it becomes rather puffy and seems much airier. If you are doing all the folds, you will notice that the dough feels taut but definitely gains more volume after each one.

After the last rest when it has risen nicely, gently pull it out if it’s in a bowl or spread it out if it’s on the counter and shape into your various loaves. I like to have different sizes so that I can choose what I want from my freezer, depending on who is here for supper. Also, my bannetons are, annoyingly, different sizes and shapes. I suppose their lack of uniformity quells my OCD, though, which would be in overdrive if I had to make each loaf weigh and be shaped exactly the same. But still, I would like the opportunity to try…

Sprinkle each loaf with flour and also dust your banneton liners with flour. I lost some liners along the way, so I use cloth napkins too. A napkin in a random loaf-sized basket or even bowl works just fine if you don’t have bannetons. You can also shape your dough and put it in the greased pan you want to bake it in, just like a regular yeasted dough.

Put the baskets or pans in the fridge, covered with a damp cloth if you aren’t using napkins that fold over the top.

After an overnight (or up to 12-hour) rest in the fridge, pre-heat your oven to 450°. You can bake your bread in a Dutch oven (directions here), but my method of filling my mixer bowl makes 4 loaves and that might take a while to bake them one by one.

I use a cookie sheet onto which I’ve placed two pieces of parchment paper to receive the shaped loaves and two small oven-proof dishes for boiling water — both methods are employed to add moisture to the air the loaves are baking in — the former using the moisture from the dough itself and trapping it; the latter adding it into the oven.

Mug for scale — these are compact little dishes that fit on the baking tray in between the loaves, filled with boiling water to provide steam for the bake.

After 25 minutes, remove the dishes with the water or uncover your Dutch oven. Turn the oven down to 350° and bake for another 10-15 minutes (depending on the size of your loaf) or until the internal temperature reaches 200° and the loaf is a nice appealing color. (I highly recommend using your instant-read thermometer (affiliate link); feel free to go to a higher temp, but not lower.) Turn onto a cooling rack and cool completely.

I think you will enjoy this bread if ever you can get ahold of spent grains! I’m proud of the evenness of the crumb. It rose well and the air bubbles are interspersed throughout.

For a whole-grain-heavy loaf, the rise and oven-spring were excellent and the crumb is hearty but also moist and airy. There’s a sweetness from the brewing grains and a good whole-grain flavor overall.

bits & pieces

  • My son Joseph tweeted about Muphry’s Law a while ago and that reminded me of this syndrome of correcting a typo or grammatical error with the inevitable typo or grammatical error. One sad one I have observed is someone who replied to an error by saying “I’m a proof reader.” (If you don’t understand why this is ironic, go here to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the standard reference dictionary in the US. And don’t blame me for any issues in this paragraph — I will simply refer you to Muphry’s [stet*] Law!) *proofreader’s note meaning “let it stand,” i.e., it’s not a mistake.

from the archives

  • As Advent approaches, my dear readers will note offerings of “devotional aids” to purchase and subscribe to — it’s the season to gin up the mill. And for that reason I wrote this post a while back. The success of Matthew Kelly has made the religion industry even bolder. Let me put it this way: get your spiritual direction from the tried-and-true.
  • Sitting down to organize your homeschool with pen and paper isn’t just a way to keep records. It helps you clear your mind and make your way through the plethora of offerings that threaten to overwhelm. Setting goals is key, and sometimes the simple methods are best. Even if it’s almost November, if you feel like you are drowning in your daily schedule and curriculum demands, it might be worth it to do.

liturgical living

St. John of Capistrano

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