Great Bread from Spent Grains

Throughout history beer and bread are often mentioned together. In fact it is hard to find a reference to one that does not mention the other. Ancient Egyptian drawings depict the making of beer and bread. In medieval Europe housewives were responsible for making the beer and bread — which one they made depended on what was needed that week. In many parts of the continent, beer is still referred to as “liquid bread.” There are even stories of beer made from fermented bread.

Bread and beer have the same basic ingredients: grain, water, and yeast. Because bread is a fundamental food source and beer a necessary luxury in the life of a homebrewer, why not combine the two? One easy way to incorporate brewing in your baking is to use your spent grains as ingredients in a bread recipe. Better yet, this makes delicious and unique bread.

Bread Fundamentals
Bread has four basic ingredients:  flour, water, yeast, and salt.

Flour: Sources of bread flour include wheat, barley, corn, rice, potatoes, and soybeans. In most cultures wheat flour is the primary ingredient for bread because it contains a form of protein called gluten. When combined with water and developed into a dough, wheat flour provides an elastic quality called “extensibility.” This characteristic allows the dough to expand, just as the surface of a balloon expands when it is blown up, and provides the proper tension to entrap the gases created by the yeast.

American all-purpose flour can be successfully used for bread. Some bakers go out of their way to find high-gluten flour that is used in commercial bakeries. There are companies that specialize in organic flour. (Gusto’s in South San Francisco, Calif., is an excellent source for these types of grains and flour). Nonetheless, the different types of white flour give only slightly different results; use whatever you have — bleached or unbleached, all-purpose or bread flour, organic or not.

Water: Water has been called the primordial ingredient. Water is essential — more essential than either salt or yeast. Water is the catalyst that helps the dough ferment, because it gives life to the sleeping flour.

Yeast: There are two basic kinds of yeast: commercial yeast, which is made in factories and yields predictable results, and natural yeast (sourdough or levain), which is in the air in thousands of forms and is only predictably controlled under the most guarded conditions. Commercial yeast allows us to make breads in a straightforward, three- or four-step process. For new bakers commercial yeast is the best place to start.

Salt: Salt brings out the natural flavors of the wheat and other ingredients in the bread. Its chemical function is to control the fermentation. Salt will actually tighten the gluten so that it will hold onto itself in an elastic network and enable the dough to entrap the carbonic gases that cause bread to rise. Salt has a marked effect on the texture and the color of the crust. Salt also helps in the retention of moisture. Sea salt is preferred because it has trace minerals. In most simple recipes salt should be about 2 percent of the ingredients. This breaks down to one tablespoon of salt to six cups of flour.

Spent Grains: When all-grain brewers or extract brewers who steep specialty malts complete their sparge or rinse, they are left with a pile of cracked, malted grains and husks ready for the trash bin or the compost pile. These spent grains, particularly the wheat and barley, can be added to your bread as adjuncts (everything added to bread beyond its four basic ingredients can be considered an adjunct). While “adjunct” may have a somewhat negative connotation in the homebrewing community, adjuncts are definitely not bad. Maybe “natural improvers” would be a better term for these ingredients, because they add flavor and enhance the texture of any basic bread recipe. The mashing process removes the malted grains’ starches and sugars, but the spent grains still offer nutritious fiber and protein.

Baking Your Bread
It is easy to bake bread using the four ingredients. The recipe for basic French bread is simple. All serious bakers and cooks (and brewers) should have this recipe for regular French bread in their repertoire. By making this bread three or four times, anyone should be able to alter it to produce an individual, subtle version of this classic daily bread.

The French call this recipe Pain Ordinaire, a classic yeasted French bread. It makes two 10-ounce baguettes and one 1.25-pound round loaf.


  • 2 packages active dry yeast
  • 2.5 cups water
  • 6 cups flour (organic or all-purpose)
  • 1 tbsp. salt
  • 1 egg white whisked into 1/2 cup cold water for glaze

Step by Step:

Proof the yeast by stirring it into one cup of warm water (115° F). When the mixture is creamy (about 10 min.), pour it into a large mixing bowl and add 1.5 cups of lukewarm water.

Start adding the flour handful by handful, stirring after each addition, at first gently and then vigorously, with a wooden spoon. As the batter becomes thicker, it will also become more elastic. You are actually trying to create strands of dough much like taffy that extend from the spoon to the dough in the bowl each time it is whipped in wide, slow, sweeping motions.

After all but one cup of flour has been added (this will take about 10 minutes), turn the dough out onto a work table, sprinkle the salt over the dough, and knead it for about five minutes while adding the rest of the flour.

Because the dough has been whipped up vigorously in the batter stage, it will not have to be kneaded as much in the dough stage. The dough should be moist and satiny. Place the dough in a bowl large enough to accommodate its doubling in volume. The bowl can be greased or ungreased as you prefer.

Cover the bowl with a moistened dish towel and let the dough rise in a warm spot, out of the way of drafts, for 1.5 to two hours or until it has doubled in volume. Punch the dough and let it rise again for another 30 to 45 minutes.

Divide the dough into two pieces, then divide one of the pieces in half again. Round the three pieces of dough into tight balls. Cover the dough pieces with a cloth so the outside does not crust over, and allow them to rest on the table for 15 minutes.

Shape the two small pieces of dough into baguettes by flattening each piece into a rectangular shape that measures approximately six by three inches. With the six-inch side toward you, fold a third of the dough over (down from the top) and then seal the edge with the heel of your hand. Do this two or three times until the piece is in the shape of a log of about eight inches long. Stretch each loaf out by rolling it on the table under the palms of your hands until it is between 12 and 14 inches long. Place each on a baking sheet that is greased or lined with a parchment paper.

Shape the larger piece into a tight, round loaf by first flattening it and then folding the outer edges over into the middle. Seal each fold by pressing the dough with the heel of your hand. Repeat the process of folding the dough four or five times. With the folds underneath, drag the round ball of dough across the work table with some pressure on top, forming a tight loaf without any air bubbles. Place it on a baking tray lined with parchment paper.

Let the loaves rise, covered, for 45 minutes to an hour, until they have doubled in volume. With a razor blade slash each loaf four or five times, and then glaze with the egg-white mixture. Bake the baguettes for 20 to 25 minutes and the round loaf for about 40 to 45 minutes. When they are done, the loaves will look golden brown in color and sound hollow if they are thumped on the bottom.

Place loaves on a wire rack to cool.

Adding Your Grains
Reusing your spent grains is a simple process. Spent grains can be used in any bread recipe and can amount to 10 percent of the weight (or volume, depending on the measure you’re using) of the flour without encountering problems. It’s possible to use a portion of spent grains amounting to as much as 20 percent of the portion of flour, but that’s the maximum that can be reasonably used.

Spent grains can be used the day that they are removed from the mash or up to four days after the mash if they are refrigerated. You can also dry them to store them longer.

If you are using the spent grains fresh from the mash, be sure to compensate for the water content in the grains. You can figure 75 percent of the weight (or volume) of the fresh grains is water. Reduce the amount of water or liquid in the recipe by that amount.

The texture the spent grains add to the bread will depend on how finely you grind the grains. Because a lot of the flavors and body of the grain has been taken in the wort, combinations of grain can be used interchangeably with only slight differences in flavor. There are extreme exceptions to this, though. The darker roasts and chocolate malts will dominate and give off a burnt taste that may or may not be acceptable in some bread recipes. Look for these characteristics in grains:

Pale malt: Two- and six-row malts give the unique spent grain taste to any bread formula.

Vienna: This grain will add a slight amber color and a malty flavor to the bread.

Munich: This malt gives a slight nutty flavor and some aromatic notes to the bread.

Chocolate: This spent grain will give the bread a pungent, roasted taste and a dark color.

Crystal: In the spent form this grain will add a slight nutty flavor and a little color to the bread.

Cara-pils: This malt will add a slight nutty flavor to the bread but will not affect the color.

Pain Ordinaire With Spent Grain:


  • 2 packages yeast
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup fresh spent grains (wet)
  • 6 cups flour
  • 1 tbsp. salt
  • 1 egg white whisked into 1/2 cup of cold water for glaze.

Note: If you are using dried spent grains, use 3/4 cup of grains and increase the water to 2.5 cups.

Step by Step:
Use the same step-by-step instructions for the regular Pain Ordinaire, adding the spent grains with the water.

Use this recipe as a starting point for further experimentation.

Issue: April 1997