Spent Grain Musings, Again

The second spent-grain experiment is going to take two weekends to accomplish. Many people apparently dry the spent grain and then grind it into flour, so I’m giving that a try. The drying process takes most of a day–you spread the wet grain out on trays and put it into a very low oven (in my case, 170 degrees F is as low as it will go), stirring it around once or twice so it all dries and doesn’t scorch. I froze batches of the wet grain last week, for adding directly into bread recipes, but I still had a big pile left, so I dried two pans yesterday and I’ll do the rest today when I get back from Pilates. Then you’re supposed to grind it in a flour mill, but I do not (yet) have a flour mill, so I’ll try the food processor and/or the coffee grinder and see what they do. For the small amounts I’m grinding, that should be fine.

I can tell that there won’t be much flour out of the whole enterprise, but it’s also true that I wouldn’t want to attempt a bread (or many other things) using only spent grain, at least not if the grain is barley or rye. Barley is most the common grain in standard beer brewing, but it doesn’t have much gluten in it (neither does rye), so you couldn’t do a loaf of bread using only that flour, or you’d have a brick. Oats have no gluten at all, so you also can’t do a 100% oat bread and have it be anything other than a brick, at least not without a lot of eggs or some other leavener. I remember talking to a brewer about wheat beer, and the opposite is true for beer. It turns out that the thing that makes for great bread–the gluten in the wheat–also makes it impossible to do a 100% wheat beer; the gluten clogs up the brewing equipment.

I think I’ll try some spent grain in the Amazing Crackers recipe and maybe in a chocolate recipe of some kind; as we know from malted milk balls (not to mention milk stout), chocolate and malted barley flavors go together nicely. And possibly in some kind of pretzel thing. This means I will continue on my quest to get a steady supply of spent grain–a quest that was inadvertently aided on Friday night in an unexpected way. We stopped in at Temperance, in part to taste the newly released IBA and in part so I could share loaves of the spent grain bread I’d made for them. As I was sitting at the bar, a woman came up to me and asked if I was me–turns out that she had lived in my dorm my first year of college, and we shared a circle of friends. Of course I remembered her, though we haven’t seen each other in at least 30-plus years, and her husband is a brewer as well and offered his spent grain to me.

All of these experiments remind me why I wanted to open a bakery. The work of a bakery is brutally difficult: long hours on your feet, lots of lifting and carrying of heavy things (50-lb sacks of flour; full sheet pans of laminated dough; 125-pound containers of bread dough), and, unless you’re the owner (and possibly even then), low pay. If you’re working with yeast, and I obviously am, that also means you have to obey the demands of the yeast. You can tweak it a bit by tweaking the temperature at which fermentation is taking place, but that requires expensive equipment, and space, to do it well. Because the product you sell is so small, you have to sell a lot–of cupcakes, donuts, loaves of bread, pastries, cookies–and you have to manage the production schedule so you have enough of everything but not so much that things go stale. The production itself requires that you work when others are sleeping; an overnight shift is almost necessary. So, yes, there are a million reasons not to do it.

But I love the experimentation. With the spent grain, I love the idea of taking what is essentially a waste product and finding a way to make it not just useful but a feature of a new product. (Most brewers find a farmer who will take the grain to feed it to cows or, presumably, pigs; a brewery in Alaska uses their spent grain to power the brewery, because shipping the grain is too expensive.) Even last week’s lime and coconut cookie experiment was born of having some ingredients on hand that I hadn’t used before and trying to figure out how to make them work.

In order to make this work in a bakery setting, though, you also have to be able to produce the same product every time. If you develop a line of spent grain baked goods, then you will need to have those goods taste the same every time the customer walks in the door, within a fairly narrow range. You would have to figure out a time when you can use your ovens to dry the grain, except that there’s no time when the ovens aren’t being used–the number and size of the ovens are two of the major rate-limiting factors in a bakery. You’d have to be able to adjust for the different roasts–a dark-roasted grain from a stout is going to give you a different flavor profile than a lighter roast from a pale ale. You have to store the ingredients.  And so on.

All of these are problems that can be solved, of course, but they have to be solved while you also run the business, which is a problem to be solved on an ongoing basis. There’s a part of me that still fantasizes about it, mind you; the complexity of the factors is one of the things that appeals to me, actually. But short of winning the lottery, I don’t see how it happens, and if I win the lottery, I don’t know that starting a business with very low profit margins is the way to go.

On the other hand, running a small bakery next to a brewery, thereby supplying the baked goods for the brewpub and using the spent grain from the brewery, would be an interesting business model . . . if I win the lottery.

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Cleaning Solution

The powers that be closed our workplace today, which is just as well. As promised, the temperature is -9 to -15, and the wind chill is apparently -45. The schools are closed, as are many other workplaces. It’s deceptive, because the sun is shining brightly, and, given all of the new snow all over the place, it’s nearly blinding, so it looks practically cheery. Nevertheless, it is, in fact, stupid cold, and I’m debating whether I’m going to even step outside. (The cat is strongly recommending that I do no such thing.) Then I think about how long it would take to put on all the clothes I’d need to be safe, even for a walk around the block, and my ambition wanes. It’s still going to be stupid cold tomorrow morning, too, so I’ll get the “experience” on my way to work.

I took the opportunity of an unexpected day off to do some cleaning–yeah, I know, surprised me, too. In particular, I tackled the kitchen cabinets, which reminded me of office chairs.

There have been times when I’ve been sitting in an office chair and I’ve thought that the designer of the chair never had to actually sit in the chair, which would explain the discomfort of doing said sitting. More broadly, there are some things that are so disfunctional in some way that you realize the designer never had to use the thing. In my case, it’s the kitchen in my unit. Let’s start with the aforementioned cabinets. They have this . . . set of ridges? edges? I’m sure there’s a design name for it but I have no clue, and the ease with which crud can embed itself in these ridges is truly impressive.

The crud accumulation process is assisted by the fact that the cabinets aren’t very high-quality. They’re plain painted wood, so kind of rough-surfaced, and the drawer pulls have this scrollworky thing going on, which also–you guessed it–accumulates crud. In addition, someone thought that bead board would make a fine backsplash for the whole kitchen, including behind the counter. They could not have been more wrong. Even a toothbrush doesn’t get at all of it, not least because there’s a line of caulk at the bottom between the bead board and the quarter-round edging, presumably placed there by the previous owner after he installed the wonderful butcher-block counter that extends nearly the whole length of the kitchen on one side and that I adore.

Clearly, the person or people who designed these various bits either didn’t cook in the kitchen or didn’t have to clean it, or both. Certainly the designer didn’t bake in the kitchen, i.e., throw around large amounts of flour, the remnants of which love to embed themselves in the nooks, crannies, corners, and swirls of the design elements.

I cannot wait to redo the kitchen.

What I’m realizing, though, is that even if I suddenly had a bunch of money to do the kitchen renovations, I don’t know everything that I want yet. More to the point, I don’t know what I want the design of the backsplash to be. I want something colorful, and glass tile and/or fused glass decorative bits, but other than that, I have no clue. I have ideas about the rest of it–cabinets, and the window, and recreating the transom, and the sink, and leaving space for new appliances but not actually buying them until the old ones fail–but the main decorative bit is the one piece I still haven’t sorted, and it doesn’t make sense to me to embark on any of the work without having that part. Ah well; no need to worry about it today–and at least the cabinets are clean.

Today’s cooking is a matter of rummaging in the freezer and pulling out things that are getting a little old and that would work okay together (roasted acorn squash; black beans; spicy tomato sauce) and that will use some of the onions, carrots, and celery that are sitting around. I should throw in some turnips, too, because I have them (of course I have them). The purpose isn’t just dinner, though it is that, it’s also creating some lunches–the basic principle is lunch-sized containers of something that can be eaten with cheese melted on top and a hunk of bread on the side. The type of cheese varies a bit, but it’s basically a good formula.

The wrist is mostly a bit better today, despite the cleaning and scrubbing, though it occasionally twinges, and chopping veggies likely won’t help. I’m joined in my injury, however, by my father, who apparently stepped out of the house yesterday and promptly slid down the driveway, eventually landing on and breaking his wrist. My mother said they were also going to x-ray his hip while they’re at it, so here’s hoping it’s just the wrist.

Limey

The thing about making bread is that, at least in the size batches I make, the mixer and the yeast do most of the work. There’s some kneading by hand–which was an adventure today, because I sprained my right wrist badly two weeks ago, so the kneading had to be done left-handed rather than both-handed–and some shaping and such, but otherwise, it’s not me. Reinhart’s method involves soakers and preferments, which means any given formula is a matter of weighing and mixing the soaker and starter (and mash, in the case of one of the breads) on one day, and mixing those together with a few more things on the second day; even the work that is involved is spread out–a few minutes here, a few there. That said, given that I was making three separate batches, it took me most of the morning. (Of course, if I had a second oven, I would not have had to stagger the rising and baking . . . )

It’s not for people who want instant gratification, though.

Typically, I also interleave a few other chores (peel the beets that I roasted two weeks ago, then froze because I didn’t have time to peel and cut them before we left for the holidays; do two loads of laundry, so all my fleece shirts and warm socks are clean; bake a batch of cookies, to which I’ll return in a minute; move the chicken stock from the kitchen freezer to the chest freezer so it doesn’t all die from freezer burn). It’s theoretically possible to sit down for stretches of time as the yeast does its thing, but I actually prefer the  bread-then-chores-then-bread-then-chores progression. Today is a perfect day for baking, too, as the weather is becoming seriously brutal. It’s been snowing steadily, the wind is blowing hard, and you can almost see the temperature dropping; the latest report shows an expected wind chill tomorrow of -45, which is just stupid cold. I was glad to have a reason to have the oven on for 6 or 7 hours.

What about the cookies? Well, another of my interleaved chores was grating the peel and squeezing the juice from seven limes. (Quick quiz: name a use for pith other than for helmets.) I rummaged around but couldn’t find a recipe that included the main things I wanted to include, namely, honey, lime, coconut (including coconut flour), and ginger. My final formula was:

  • a stick of butter
  • 120 g. honey (about a half a cup)
  • 50 g. sugar (about a quarter cup), plus more for rolling
  • 1 big tblsp. lime peel
  • 2-3 tsp. grated fresh ginger (dried or candied would work, and possibly work better)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 78 g. coconut flour (about 6 tblsp.)
  • 100 g. whole wheat flour
  • 100 g. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 25 g. dried coconut chips (not flaked coconut)
  • 1 egg
  • about 3 tblsp. lime juice

I creamed the butter, sugar, and honey, then added the flavorings, then the egg (at which point it looked kind of curdled), then the dries, which I added slowly, adding lime juice if it looked like it was getting too dry. I added the coconut flakes at the end. I wrapped it up and let it sit in the fridge for a bit, and would even be willing to let it sit for a day in the fridge. I rolled it into small balls, which I then rolled in more sugar and pressed flat-ish on the sheet pan, and baked for about 14-15 minutes.

I got five dozen cookies out of it, and the taste is nice. The texture is . . . pretty okay. A bit crumbly, probably from the coconut flour; another egg might have been the right thing to add. The honey does not come through, but both the lime and coconut do. If I do another iteration (and, with all that lime peel, there’s a good chance), I’ll add the egg, maybe reduce the lime juice, and replace the rest of the sugar with honey. And probably use some of the candied ginger in the fridge. All in all, not a bad experimental result.

Spent Grain Experiment Number 1.0

There’s a new brewery in Evanston. This is notable for a number of reasons, one of which is that, in part because Evanston was the center of the temperance movement in this country, this is the first craft brewery in Evanston. They named their brewery “Temperance,” too, which is amusing in its own way. On New Year’s Eve afternoon, two friends dragged me and Friend out to drink beer with them at Temperance and we sampled the six beers they currently have on tap. They were ALL good, which is not always my reaction, especially when fruit is involved. (One is a wheat ale with blueberries and another is an ESB with Balaton cherries.)

Anyway, not surprisingly, we started chatting with the bartender, who also turned out to be one of the owners, and I asked him what I always ask brewers: what do you do with your spent grains? Turns out that they still haven’t found a way to get rid of them, which means I had no trouble talking them into saving some for me the next time they planned on brewing. The brewer came out and talked to us, too, and she was more than happy to save some grain. Thus, despite the huge piles of snow that remained on the streets yesterday, I shlepped to the brewery (about 3 miles round trip to/from the nearest el station) to pick up the promised booty–a gallon bag crammed full of spent grain from a batch of pale ale, maybe. I’m going to take them some of the finished product; they’re releasing a new beer on Friday, which will be a perfect excuse.

I currently have three breads in various stages of construction, and at least two of them will utilize some spent grains. One is the straight-up spent grain recipe from Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads. I’ve made that one before, though most recently with dark-roasted grains that were used in a porter, maybe?, so it makes sense to just use the new ones in the same way, i.e., with a formula that I know works, and see what happens.

I recently started experimenting with breads that start with a mash (in this case, raisins, flaxseeds, and water, which soak for a day and then go in with the other ingredients in the soaker), so I did the same thing except added some spent grains to the mash. No idea what will happen, but how bad can it be? Because I’m going to have a whole lot of starter (biga), I’m also going to do what Reinhart calls his “broom” bread (because it acts like a broom to your insides), and I may add some spent grain to that, too. Eventually I’m also going to dry some of the spent grain and turn it into flour.

In short, tomorrow is going to include three batches of bread, and, as long as the oven is going to be on anyway, I’m going to use up some of the limes that have been languishing in the fridge and make some cookies. That’s going to be even more of an experiment: what I have in mind is coconut lime cookies, but the recipes I’ve been able to find don’t do it for me. I also have some coconut flour, which I’ve never used before, but I don’t want to use only coconut flour. Apparently it’s used in some gluten-free baking, so a lot of the recipes using coconut flour don’t have any wheat flour in them. My current vague plan is to use a basic sugar cookie recipe, or the ginger-lemon cookies recipe that’s on the back of my most recent Baking Sheet from KAF, and adapt it: replace some of the regular flour with coconut flour, use grated lime peel instead of lemon, and add the extra liquid the coconut flour apparently requires in the form of some lime juice, or maybe some reduced lime juice. I’ll also add shredded coconut in there somewhere, preferably in a manner that allows it to get nice and toasted; toasted coconut is one of life’s awesome pleasures. And I might keep the ginger in the recipe, because I like ginger with lime and coconut. I’ll let you know whether they’re edible . . .