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Bread: A Natural Companion to the Brewer’s Art

11/30/-1

There can be more than great beer at the end of a day’s play with agriculture’s primal elements.

by Dr. Adam Rich (Brewing Techniques - Vol. 4, No.6)

Brewers can make bread like only brewers can — unique in their use of grains, liquids, and yeasts.

Specialty bakeries are springing up all over the country to satisfy the growing demand for fresh, satisfying bread. This should come as no surprise to brewers who are well familiar with the revival of microbreweries, which are expanding at an unprecedented rate to meet the growing demand for distinctive beers of quality and character.

Without a doubt, bread and beer are natural companions. In fact, they are more like siblings, sharing common ancestry and make-up (beer is, after all, often referred to as “liquid bread”). The major ingredients are identical — grain, water, and yeast — and their production requires a similar blending of art and science. Even the social aspects are similar — both bread and beer are shared as gestures of friendship and cooperation. Finally, bread is an excellent accompaniment to beer at tasting sessions, for cleansing palates and soaking up enthusiastic sampling!

As with beer, the only way to come by a good loaf of bread is to bake it yourself. You can’t beat the smell of baking bread in the kitchen, the taste of a fresh, warm loaf, or the satisfaction that comes from eating bread prepared by your own hands. For do-it-yourselfers already familiar with the mechanisms of grain, water, and yeast, baking distinctive breads is a natural extension of brewhouse preoccupations.

This article outlines the basics of making and baking bread and includes insight into the effects of various malts and the yeast cake from your fermentor. I also provide several recipes to help you get started.

The Grist Bill

Like the grist in a brewer’s formulation, flour is first on the list of ingredients for bread. Most breads are made from wheat flour. Unlike barley, wheat has no husk. Instead, it has a tough outer layer called the bran. The rest of the kernel is comparable to barley; the endosperm provides starch and protein to nourish the growing plant, and the germ is the sprouting component of the seed.

Wheat flour is generally classified as either soft or hard, depending on its protein content. Hard flour, sometimes called strong flour or bread flour, is made from spring wheat grown in the northern Great Plains. This type of wheat contains a larger proportion of endosperm, and thus more of the protein (gluten) that gives bread its basic structure.

Gluten is essential to most breads because it allows the dough to trap the carbon dioxide that is produced as the yeast metabolizes starch. Kneading bread dough is an essential part of the process because it causes individual gluten molecules to crosslink, resulting in longer protein networks that hold carbon dioxide, support the weight of the risen dough, and give bread its characteristic chewy texture and hard crust. Because gluten is so vital to the structure of bread, additives (adjuncts) such as ground spent grains should be limited to about 20% of the total dry ingredients.

Though any kind of wheat flour will work in bread, I recommend using hard wheat flour, which contains approximately 17% gluten, compared with 10–12% in all-purpose flour. Hard wheat flour can be found in most supermarkets or natural food stores (the amount of gluten can be estimated by comparing the protein contents shown in the nutrition labels). Stone-ground flour is not subjected to high temperatures during milling, and therefore more of the protein structure is preserved. This type of flour, however, is usually coarse and heavy, requiring more time to rise completely.

Although most recipes measure flour by volume, the amounts are really only approximate and can vary dramatically depending on each flour’s characteristics, especially moisture content. Just as many brewers stick with a particular brand of malt to become familiar with its characteristics, I tecommend that you also choose a particular brand of flour and work with it until you can predict its behavior. With practice, you will develop a feel for when the dough is right.

Adjuncts: As with beer, you can use a variety of adjuncts in your bread baking. Various meals, including fresh barley or spent grain, may be used successfully, resulting in different flavors, textures, and crusts. When determining relative proportions of adjuncts, however, it is important to remember the necessity of gluten for effectively trapping the carbon dioxide produced by active yeast. Gluten-free breads tend to be flat and dense. A spent-grain/flour ratio of 1:5 or less seems to be the best proportion to arrive at a pleasingly coarse texture with a decent rise.

An irony for brewers is that malt — prized for its sufficiency in making beer — is merely an adjunct in the bakery. Not only do malted grains fail to deliver the all-important gluten, but the husks in the malt grains contribute a large proportion of indigestible fiber to the dough. I think of the fiber as a thick coat of bran on a kernel of wheat, with the resulting ground malt grain analogous to super-dense whole-wheat flour.

I have used all of the grains that I use in brewing to make bread, in both original and spent-grain forms. I have had best results using pale ale and crystal malts. Dark roasted malts tend to give the bread an overpowering burnt taste. Fresh grain may also be used, and toasting the grain as you would to make your own amber or brown malt (300–350 °F [150–175 °C] for about 30 minutes) gives the most dramatic malt aroma and flavor. One of my recent creations used freshly toasted (brown) malt and bread flour at a ratio of 1:1 and resulted in a relatively flat, dense loaf with a strong chocolate flavor (see the recipe for black bread). This bread sliced very well and was an excellent companion to cheese, apples, and, of course, beer. It also toasted into fantastic salad croutons.

Jalapeño–Cheddar Quick Bread

This example of a quick bread is leavened with baking soda, baking powder, and fresh beer rather than yeast. If you don’t care for spicy foods, just omit the jalapeños.

Ingredients

2 cups

Bread flour

½ cup

Finely ground toasted pale malt

2 Tbsp

Sugar

1 tsp

Chili powder

1 tsp

Salt

1 tsp

Baking powder

1 tsp

Baking soda

2–3

Fresh jalapeño peppers, finely chopped

1 cup

Grated cheddar cheese

12 oz

Pale ale

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 °F (190 °C) and grease one loaf pan or a 12-muffin tin. Mix all of the dry ingredients and the peppers together in a large bowl. Add the cheese and mix, then add the beer and mix well. The dough should be thick but completely wet. Spoon into the greased loaf pan or muffin tins. Bake at 375 °F for 30 minutes or until crust is browned and a toothpick slides out clean.

Using spent grains, as-is, gives bread an appealing texture — chewy kernels intermixed with chewy-soft dough. If you choose to grind the spent grain, you must first dry it in a low-temperature oven. I use a Corona mill, running the grain through three times, increasing the intensity of the grind with each pass. The final texture is not as fine as flour, but rather more closely resembles a fine meal.

Water, Beer, and Other Liquids

Water (or other liquid) is the second major ingredient in bread making. Unlike the situation most brewers face, water chemistry is not critical for making bread. If it tastes good from the tap, use it.

What about using beer in bread? I performed experiments using liquids from my homebrew sessions. I used raw wort, finished beer, and boiled beer in a parallel set of batches to make a yeast-leavened, whole-grain bread. Each loaf had similar rise times and was indistinguishable in terms of flavor and crust.

I believe that texture and crust were determined by gluten content, and that the flavor was dominated by the other ingredients (honey, whole wheat flour, and oats). Other liquids, however, will alter both flavor and crust. I am partial to a light whole wheat bread made with buttermilk. Quick breads (breads that require no kneading or yeast) are a different story, and finished beer may be used as an effective leavening agent for this type of bread; in some cases, it may make a significant contribution to it.

Yeast Strains

Yeast is truly magical, turning raw wort into wonderful ale or transforming a lump of dough into a light and airy loaf of bread. Bread and beer use the same species of yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, but the bread-making strains are selected for their ability to ferment rapidly, metabolize wheat starch, and leaven dough. The quick-rising yeast now available in stores is an improved strain developed using modern genetic methods. Professional bakers use commercial yeasts that produce a fast and strong rise and a clean taste.

All brewers know that yeast imparts important flavor and character to their beer, and the same is true for bread. In fact, some bakers argue that commercial yeast, or quick-rising yeast for home use, gives less flavor and depth to the finished loaf of bread as compared to the “original” Saccharomyces cerevisiae strain. One example of what yeast can do is the characteristic tang of the famous San Francisco sourdough bread that is attributed to the wild yeast indigenous to that area. Sourdough bakers reserve a portion of the dough each day and replenish it with flour and water for the next batch, thus preserving the culture and its famous characteristics for the next day’s bread.

If the beer benefits so much from a particular yeast, what about using that huge culture sitting at the bottom of your secondary? Though the species of yeast is the same, beer yeasts are chosen for flocculation, attenuation, or diacetyl characteristics; bread yeasts, on the other hand, are selected for their ability to consume wheat starch and release carbon dioxide. Although several methods have been suggested for using ale yeast (1), I have never been able to get ale yeast to work very well. I suspect that the folks who have been able to get it to work actually have wild yeast infection.

To use your leftover yeast cake, you must first make a starter by mixing wheat flour, ale yeast, and water. Leave this starter to sit for 1–2 days in a warm environment, and then add more water and flour. When the culture is obviously active, bubbling happily, a cup or two can be used in the bread recipe in place of dry bread yeast. Some people recommend adding a pinch of normal yeast, but I think this yeast may end up dominating in time, thus defeating the purpose.

It might seem reasonable to add ale yeast to the dry yeast for flavor and nutrition, but in my experience (mainly with darker whole-grain breads) the added yeast does not contribute noticeably to flavor or texture. Perhaps future experiments with something light, like a French bread, would yield different results.

If the idea of using yeast from your fermentor appeals to you, be sure to use a “clean” yeast cake. Even a small amount of hop pellets mixed in will result in the most powerful sensation of bitter hops imaginable (personal experience!).

Sweeteners and Other Additives

Most breads call for a sweetening agent to feed the yeast and to enhance flavor. The action of yeast is highly dependent upon the amount and type of sweetener added, as well as on the amount of salt, which acts as a break on yeast activity. Salt has a significant effect on the bread. Italian bread, for example, has big holes, whereas French bread, which uses more salt, has smaller holes. Salt reduces yeast activity, thus producing less carbon dioxide.

Black Bread

This bread takes some time to rise and turns out quite dense. It has a nice chocolate flavor when freshly toasted malt is used and may be sliced thin as an excellent addition to a platter of meat and cheese.

Ingredients

Makes one heavy loaf.

1¼ cups       Milk

   3 Tbsp      Brown sugar

   2 cups       Freshly toasted pale ale malt, ground fine (brown or amber malt)

    1 pkg       Dry yeast

   ¼ cup      Melted butter (½ stick)

     1 tsp       Salt

   2 cups       Bread flour

Directions

Mix together milk, sugar, ground grain, and yeast in a large bowl. Add the cooled and melted butter and salt and mix well. Add the flour, first 1 cup and then a little at a time until the dough doesn’t stick to the sides of the bowl. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes. This dough will be stiff and difficult to work. Add more flour as necessary to keep the dough from sticking. Let rise in a greased bowl in a warm place, covered with plastic wrap to prevent drying out.

After 2–3 hours the dough will have risen slightly. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for about 5 minutes, shaping the dough to fit into the pan for baking. Place into a greased loaf pan (or a pie plate if you like a round loaf). Let rise for another 2–3 hours. This dough will grow to about 1½ times its original size. Bake in a preheated 350 °F (175 °C) oven (middle rack) for 30–40 minutes. Watch carefully for burning as this dough is relatively sweet. Let cool completely and eat, thinly sliced, with cheese or sweet butter.

 

Basic Spent-Grain Bread

This bread keeps well and makes excellent toast!

Ingredients

¼ cup

Warm water

2 pkgs

Bread yeast

1 Tbsp

Granulated sugar

2 cups

Warm milk (room temperature)

2 Tbsp

Butter or vegetable oil

1 Tbsp

Salt

1–2 cups

Spent grain (dried and finely ground)

6–7 cups

Flour

Directions

Pour water into a large bowl and add yeast and sugar. Stir until dissolved. Wait 5–15 minutes, until mixture is foamy (if bubbles do not form, start over with fresh yeast). Add milk, oil, salt, and grain. Begin to add flour, 1 cup at a time, and mix. When dough is too stiff to mix, lay out on floured surface (a wooden board works best) and knead the dough, adding flour little by little if the dough is sticky. Knead until the dough is satiny smooth, about 8–15 minutes.

Place the dough into a greased bowl, cover with clear plastic wrap, and let rise until it doubles in volume (between 1 and 2 hours). After the dough has risen, punch it down, turn it over, and let it rise again until doubled in volume (about 1 hour). Finally, turn the dough out onto a floured surface and divide into two sections. Knead each piece briefly and shape to fit into the bread pans. Let rise until bread reaches the top of the pans, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Bake bread for 35–45 minutes in oven preheated to 375 °F (190 °C). The bread is done when the top is nicely browned and the loaves sound hollow when gently tapped. Set bread on racks. After cooling 10 minutes, turn bread out from pans. Let cool before slicing, if you have the will power!

For a single batch of bread, using approximately 8 cups of flour to make three loaves, just 2 or 3 tablespoons of table sugar imparts a sort of neutral sweetness. Honey gives a nice flavor to lighter wheat and white breads. For dark, mixed-grain bread, ½ cup of molasses results in a wonderful flavor. Malt extract may also be used for this purpose, but I found it did not impart the malt flavor I expected.

A small amount of oil can be used to give texture to the crust and to lengthen the shelf life of the bread. Use shortening or lard for a harder, crisp crust, olive oil or vegetable oil for a softer crust, or butter for its luxurious flavor.

Brewer, Baker…

Like brewers, serious bakers are constantly on the lookout for special flours and additives to make that unique, satisfying loaf. As in brewing, the possibilities seem endless. Unlike brewing, however, each “experiment” is performed, start to finish, in a day.

The accompanying boxes provide several recipes to start you on your way. If you enjoy brewing your own beer, it’s entirely possible that baking bread may become another kitchen-intensive pastime for you. There’s nothing like sitting down at the end of a day with a glass of your own fresh ale and a platter of fresh homemade bread. The only thing to add might be homemade cheese or sausage!

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