01 Feb 2010 @ 7:59 AM 

I’m a big fan of using every part of the buffalo, as it were. I try to recycle my brew water (especially in the summer months) and be as eco-friendly as possible. My spent-grain goes directly into my compost pile so that it can go right back into a garden somewhere, but sometimes it seems a shame to let microbes and other beasties get all that great grain when I could be eating it, myself. So I make bread.

It’s a lot like brewing, really. I mix up water and grain, I add yeast and patience, and in the end I come up with something awesome that I can consume.

It’s taken me quite a few tries to come up with a good recipe for bread with spent grain. Since the spent grain is so wet it’s easy to make a loaf that is cooked solid on the outside but still pretty much raw dough on the inside. It can also make a huge difference in the composition of your bread; it’s rather hearty – after all, the grain is only crushed not milled – if you add too much it can be incredibly dense and chewy. So, since I’ve gotten this down to a recipe I enjoy, I’ll share it with you.

Caveat: I tend toward artisanal free-form loaves, rather than something in some sort of fancy pan. I like my bread rustic and chewy. On the other hand, that’s really easy to make. Here’s the deal (all these photos are clickable, if you want a closer look):

3 1/2 cups of flour
1/4 to 1/2 cup of spent grain
1/4 tsp of kosher salt
1 tbsp bread yeast

Put all that in a bowl.

Ingredients

Add 1 1/4 cups of lukewarm water. Mix it. There. Bread dough. That wasn’t so hard, was it?

You know all that stuff that your grandmother does with putting yeast in a cup and letting it soak to make sure it’s going before adding it to the bread? Yes, she’s making a starter. Never thought about it that way, did you? Well don’t worry about that. Bread yeast science has gone through just as many leaps and jumps forward as beer yeast science has. Unless you’re using yeast that’s as old as your grandmother, just stick it in the bowl and mix the whole thing together. I have a Kitchen Aid mixer with a dough hook and it is my friend. If you don’t have one, switch arms so you don’t look like Popeye from one side.

The dough - pre-rise.

It makes a pretty wet dough, but not so wet as to be soupy. It needs to be firm enough that you can shape it later, but not too firm or it’ll be a rock later. It’s not going to be a pretty ball of dough that you can knead. It’s a sticky mess. That’s okay. You also don’t have to knead dough to make awesome bread. Now that you’ve got that sticky lump in the bottom of your bowl, just cover it up with something breathable like a kitchen towel and leave it for a few hours.

Letting the dough rise.

I find that the top of my kegerator works quite well because in the meantime I also get to have a beer. You want to let the dough rise for at least 2 hours, until it’s flat on top.

The dough: risen.

That is dough that is ready for action. If, at this point, you’re having a busy day and you have something else to do, this is a good stopping point. Just throw the dough into some tupperware and throw it in the fridge. It’ll keep in there for up to a week. If you do end up refrigerating it, just take some extra time on the next step.

Preheat your oven to 425F. If you can, use a pizza stone. If you don’t have one, a cookie sheet will do, but you may want to lightly grease it and dust it with flour. If you have a broiling pan, put it in on a rack below your pizza stone (or below where you’ll put the cookie sheet). We’re going to actually steam-cook the loaf.

You want to take that sticky mess of a dough (throw some extra flour on it so it’s not as sticky) in your hands and shape it into a loaf. Keep on adding flour to the outside of it as you form it in your hands to keep it from sticking to you. You can make a big round boule, if you want. This time, I went for the oblong loaf. Go ahead and place it on a pizza peel that’s been dusted with corn meal. If you’re using a cookie sheet, throw a little corn meal on there, too, and go ahead and stick the dough on it.

The dusted loaf (great name for an artisanal bakery)

You want to let the loaf rise at least as long as it takes for the oven to heat up. 20 – 30 minutes. Longer, if you’re working with cold dough. After it’s risen, use a serrated knife to cut a few slashes in the top of the loaf or maybe a scallop or an X or whatever you want and then slide it carefully into the oven onto your hot pizza stone (totally not a euphemism).

Pour about a cup of regular tap water into the broiling pan. The water will evaporate during cooking and help caramelize the outside surface of the bread. It’s the secret to a nice chewy, flavorful crust.

In the oven

Let it bake for 35 – 45 minutes. The top should be golden-to-dark brown, and if you tap the loaf it should sound hollow.

Fresh out of the oven

Remove the bread from the oven when you deem that it is finished, but allow it to cool before cutting into it for best results. In the first few minutes after you take the bread from the oven you should be able to hear it cracking as the caramelized crust contracts. That’s how you know you’ve got the dial set to awesome.

Full admission – my sister-in-law got me a really misleadingly named book about making bread a few years ago, and I’ve been a full convert ever since – this recipe is not from there, but I made it following the theories and basic recipes from this book. It is Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day and I still use it pretty much constantly.

If you try this recipe out, let me know how you like it.

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Categories: homebrew
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 01 Feb 2010 @ 09 46 AM

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Storytime. Flashback to my anniversary. My wife and I went out to dinner at our favorite local fancy-pants restaurant (fancy-pants because it’s fancy enough for me to feel like I should wear pants). It’s wonderful. Fantastic food, local ingredients, menu changes daily based on what’s available. It’s downright brilliant food.
A totally stolen picture of beer and food.
I knew ahead of time that they didn’t serve beer there (though they also do not sell local wine – only fancy French wine listed by vineyard), so it wasn’t a surprise to not see any on the menu, and while I enjoyed whatever syrah it was that the server told me would go excellently with the dishes that were served to me, I couldn’t help but pair each course with a beer in my head. It was easy, and it would have far outshone the wine in a couple of cases. It’s French food, it’s all heavy, creamy, fatty, brilliant dishes that would have balanced wonderfully with a number of excellent beers. For the most part, I even could pair every dish with a locally-made beer. It would have been a great addition to the menu.

But if you’re a fancy French restaurant, and it’s your M.O. to serve only French wines, I can’t argue… much… while I’m physically in the restaurant.

Would a Biere de Garde or Saison hurt, though? They’re in your oeuvre, and everything.

Flashback even further, in-laws are visiting. (They’re pretty much strictly wine people, but nobody’s perfect.) We are at a fancy-pants french restaurant in another part of town. They’ve got a wine list as long as my arm. And for beer?

Bud, Bud Light, Miller, Miller Light, Blue Moon, and an IPA. I forget which one. It’s not the point. I’ll come back to this.

Flashback to when I’m age 15. I used to be waitstaff at a crappy roadside restaurant in Northern Maine. At dinner, we had a wine list on the table. 6 or 8 whites and 6 or 8 reds, and then a handful of roses: the pink wine. We sold wine by the glass no matter what.

In the walk-in-freezer, we had two boxes of wine. A white and a red. They were some hopelessly generic wine. If somebody ordered a white – no matter which one – it came from the white box. If somebody ordered a red, it came from the red box. If somebody ordered a rose – I wish I was making this up – we put in 3/4 white wine and then filled the glass with red. Bam. Rose. It always amazed me how people would take a sip of their wine and say things like, “Oh, I love this one. We have it at home, it’s our favorite.” When nothing that was on the wine list was what we were advertising it was.

The beer selection at that place? Bud, Bud Light, Miller, Miller Light, PBR.

You see, that’s the kind of place that serves macrobrew. The owners are not discerning and clearly don’t care how the beverages that they’re selling compare with the food that they’re selling (which also wasn’t very great – mmm.. deep fried everything), and the patrons don’t care either. They’re looking for a cheap beer (it has its place), not for a dining experience.

If you’re an upscale restaurant, and you’ve put care into your wine list and your food selection and preparation, you should be embarrassed to be selling anything less than excellent beer.

Dear Fancy Restaurant That I Am Paying Through the Nose to Eat At,

I do not see Boon’s Farm, Night Train, Mad Dog or any Bartles and James on your drinks list. However, I do see beers that I would consider comparable. I presume that this is because of one of two reasons:

1) You don’t know better. But that’s kind of embarrassing. Presumably, you have a sommelier or somebody with enough wine knowledge to be able to pick out a decent enough wine list to serve with your food. In a pinch, that person should be skilled enough with flavors to be able to pick out comparable beers. If they really don’t, why not take the time to find somebody who does know? It shouldn’t be that hard to find somebody in your area to make recommendations. I might suggest starting with the roster of Certified Cicerones, but even a good chunk of the Certified Beer Servers out there would probably be able to help you.

2) You don’t care. But that’s beyond embarrassing. You care about your food, you care about your wine, you care about your dining atmosphere and your waitstaff, but you don’t care about the beer? You treat it like it’s some concession that you’re making rather than part of your experience. “Oh.. we have it because inevitably someone will ask for beer, but we don’t want to carry those pedestrian beverages.” It’s an insult. An insult to your customer base and even an insult to your own establishment that you can’t be bothered to care consistently about your image across everything that you serve.

Please follow through on the commitment that you’re making to the rest of your restaurant and serve excellent beer to go with your excellent food and excellent wine. It only makes sense.

Cheers,
Erik

This article is written with all due respect to my buddy Brian who brought this topic up to me earlier in the week. I haven’t been able to get it out of my head. So here it is, sir, my complete and utter commiseration and compassion for your business-travel-plight.

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Categories: beer-food pairing, marketing, media
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 20 Nov 2009 @ 03 09 PM

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