Spent grain: the malted barley, wheat & other grains left over after brewing a beer. The amount of grain depends on the type/strength of beer you brew and the system you brew on, but can be considerable – I used 13 pounds of grain for the last Belgian Tripel I made. I’m lucky to have a backyard and usually compost my spent grain (there are compost programs in every borough if you’d like to take a workshop and/or your purchase your own composting bin at a reduced cost). You can also bring your spent grain to the Union Square Green Market or the Lower East Side Ecology Center – the collection schedule is here. But maybe you don’t have a backyard and you don’t really savor biking, training or bussing your grains to the collection spots. There are alternatives – animal feed is one of the most common uses for commercially-produced spent grain. I participated in a Kegs and Kluckers event at the Brooklyn Brewery a few weeks ago and gave the 13 pounds of grain from the Tripel to a local Brooklyn chicken farmer. If you’re in NYC, you can find a local chicken farmer through Just Food’s City Chicken Project. Chris O’Brien has a list of spent grain uses over at his Beer Activist blog but my current favorite way to use spent grain is by baking with it. I’ve got a lot to learn as there are several approaches to take but here’s what I started with:
Spent Grain Chocolate Chunk Cookies
(adapted from Alton Brown’s The Chewy)
- 2 sticks unsalted butter
- 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup spent grain flour (see below for more info)
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 1/4 cups brown sugar
- 1 egg + 1 egg yolk
- 2 Tbsp milk
- 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
- 2 cups dark or semisweet chocolate chunks*
*I was gifted a bag of the Origine 75% Dark Chocolate from Grand-Place which was absolutely wonderful in these cookies. That’s gone and an accessible, affordable alternative is the 72% Pound Plus bar from Trader Joe’s. I always keep a bar or two around for baking. I prefer to purchase a bar and chop it up into chunks – it’s more labor intensive and messy (finger-licking opportunities after!) but I really like results you get with chunks over chips.
- Melt butter in saucepan over low heat. Sift the flour, salt & baking soda together & set aside.
- Cream together the melted butter and sugars (I use a stand mixer but this is easily done with a hand mixer). Add the egg & yolk, milk and vanilla extract and mix until combined. Add the flour mixture in small batches and mix. Stir in the chocolate chunks.
- Chill the dough in the refrigerator (overnight is optimal but you can make the dough a few days ahead or even pop it in the freezer for a bit if you’re in a hurry. If you use the freezer, it’s best to spread it out in a 9×13″ casserole dish – the more surface area the better).
- Once you’re ready to bake, heat your oven to 375° F. Scoop the cookie dough (Alton uses an ice cream scooper, I use a spoon and my hands) and place on baking sheets (I use parchment paper with mine as it makes for easier cookie removal & clean-up). Bake for 12-16 minutes (the oven in my apartment is super sketchy so my baking times variy a lot – check them after 10 minutes and go from there).
I dried my spent grain in the sun and the oven. If you use the oven, set it on the lowest setting and spread your grains out on cookie sheets. Turn them every so often until they’re nice and dry. This is not very efficient if you have a lot of grain unfortunately. I spread mine on a plastic sheet on a table in my backyard and also on a plastic sheet on my fire escape. Again, I turned them every few hours until they were completely dry. Next, I grind them in an old coffee grinder (this kind). Again, labor intensive, but I get excellent results – a pretty fine powder as you can see below.
I then sift this (saving the larger material for composting) and store it in the refrigerator. It is not necessary to process the flour this fine but it makes it very convenient to substitute in recipes. I have plans to experiment with different ratios of spent grain flour to regular flour and will report back when I have some results. There are also a lot of other recipes I want to try.
- Brooklyn Brew Shop has some great spent grain recipes on their The Mash blog
- A spent grain bread from Colloquial Cooking based on a Peter Reinhardt recipe
- Cathy Erway’s Sourdough & Spent Grain Bread and Spent Grain Pizza Crust
- Five spent grain recipes at Seven Bridges Cooperative
Have fun exploring the world of spent grain baking and I would love to hear your experiences and suggestions!