A different kind of beer bread

Here’s the thing.  When I eat something I love, I get the recipe.  Obviously, I don’t do this at restaurants – more like family gatherings (my aunt’s killer potatoes gratin) or a friend’s house or maybe a favorite casual eatery if I get the sense they wouldn’t mind sharing (a stunning red bean preparation from an organic farm cafe in Iowa).

So we attended a home brewing workshop, where we sampled people’s own creations and started a new brew involving meadowsweet, a grassy herb that smells like sweet hay and summer pastures, and I put my recipe- and method-gathering skills to the test.   Aided by the fact that everyone there was very eager to share their own knowledge (this isn’t unusual for a Barnraisers event), I returned with recipes for ginger beer, garlic honey, and a smoked paprika red pepper spread as well as a kombucha starter and a hefty heap of spent malted barley from the brewing process, and the gist of how to incorporate it into bread.

And then I made my new favorite loaf.

I took the basic no-knead recipe and modified it: for a double recipe, I used four cups all-purpose, one cup bread, and one cup rye flour.  Then I added the secret weapons.

In the foreground is my old dough pre-ferment.  Every time I make a loaf of bread, I take a little dough and add it to the jar.  This mix of dough, both yeast-risen and sourdough, multigrain and otherwise, slowly ferments in the fridge.  As you can imagine, the flavor becomes strong and complex.  I can then add some of the pre-ferment to any bread I bake on top of the other ingredients when I want that flavor and character to come through.

In the background is the malted barley.  In the brewing process, the grain is milled and hot water is added to make a mash.  After the water is drained away, the spent malt looks a little like this:

As you can see, it’s a great source of fiber.  The rule of thumb is to use one cup of it per loaf of bread in addition to the usual recipe.  I went slightly under that just in case, but there wasn’t any need to worry – a little more would have been fine.  Probably the best way to get your hands on some of this stuff is to make friends with a home brewer or your local microbrewery.

This recipe makes a really wet dough, to the point where it was too sticky for me to be able to get it to hold its shape or for it not to adhere to a towel while rising.  This might also just be my amateur baker status speaking.  Luckily if you just end up dumping an unsightly mess into your covered baking container, it still ends up looking like this:

The pre-ferment and long initial rise add a great sour complexity, and the texture of the grain is present but not to the point of being obnoxiously crunchy.  And you know how I feel about rye flour.

My next project (besides making ginger beer, garlic honey, and red pepper spread) is trying the malted grain in Tartine bread.  But although that attempt might unseat it, for the time being this is the best bread I’ve ever made.  So don’t be afraid to talk to people about the food they make: you might come away with your new favorite recipe.  And now I’ve shared it with you!  Enjoy.

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