Cocoa-Cranberry Spent Grain Beer Bread



I wouldn't describe the pandemic as having any "upsides," although it undoubtedly  allowed many of us to spend time doing things we'd either never have considered or had thought about as an activity we could pursue "if there was time."  Time suddenly stood still, or at least slowed down, even if were working full time from the dining room table. 

And this brings me to my deciding to learn about how to incorporate spent grains into my bread baking. Spent grains are the by-product of beer brewing. I'd heard about using them to bake, but I'm not a beer drinker and never thought about taking the time (time!) to source the grains. Enter the Covid-19 Pandemic of 2020-21 and driving past a charming beer garden about 20 minutes from where we live.  

Whether or not you consider a liquor store, brewery or distillery an "essential" business, in New Jersey these types of businesses are open, operating more or less on a take-out basis. The opportunity to try baking with spent grains was only a telephone call away and unlike the early days of the pandemic, where it was hard to source any flour or yeast, I now had plenty of both and of course, had the time. Besides, the idea of re-purposing material and being more environmentally sensitive has also become more front and center while many of us have been in full or semi- lock down. 

Spent grains can be composted (watch out for too much nitrogen in your compost), used as a supplement in animal feed or repurposed as an ingredient added to bread dough (sour dough or commercial yeast breads). The grains are stripped of much of their flavor, but remain a source of protein, fiber and anti-oxidants. They add a chewey texture to your bread and there is no alcohol content. 

We're lucky to have a brewery nearby that was all to happy to indulge my request to pick up some of their spent grains. 

This recipe is modified from , who generously shared their Brewer's Spent Grain Beer Bread recipe with me. 

If you scroll down you'll see that the fully baked bread will look somewhat like a dark baked sour dough loaf; however, this particular bread is made with commercial yeast and is relatively fast to make from start to finish. It was baked in a covered enameled cast iron baker, at a high temperature, mimicking the  way you'd make a crusty sour dough bread. 

  1. Weigh and measure out ingredients. Wet and dry ingredients are mixed separately
  2. Combine the two sets of ingredients, knead and let proof in a greased bowl, in a warm place for 45 minutes
  3. Preheat the oven and covered baking pan (I used a Staub 4 qt coquette, but any cast iron, enameled cast iron or ceramic covered baking pan will do. The 4 quart round pan requires the dough to be divided and yields two 3/4 lb loaves. A larger covered baker can be used to produce one larger loaf. 
  4. While preheating the oven and pan, divide the dough, knead a bit on a floured surface and shape 
  5. Proof for 15-20 minutes, score and bake 
  • scale, measuring spoons, cups 
  • large mixing bowl
  • covered baking pan or Dutch oven or cast iron covered combi-pan 
  • stand mixer (optional, but handy) 
  • baking parchment or silicone baking sheet 
  • 10 oz (283 g) warm water
  • 2 oz  (57g) beer (I used chocolate/coffee porter style)
  • 2 T active dry yeast 
  • 12 oz (340 g) bread flour 
  • 4  oz (113 g) whole wheat flour (I used whole wheat from River Valley Community Grains, an organic/heritage grain source in NW New Jersey)
  • 2 oz (57g) barley flour 
  • 3.5 oz  (99.2 g) spent grains * see note  
  • 1 tsp kosher salt (Diamond Crystal)- you may find, after baking this once, that you'd like a bit more salt
  • 2 T good quality unsweetened cocoa
  • 3 T granulated sugar
  • 5 oz ( 142 g) dried cranberries 
  • 2 T neutral oil for greasing the proofing bowl 


*Spent grains: Source these from a local brewery. If they are very wet,  press out as much liquid as you can prior to weighing. They must be dried or frozen within 24 hours. If you are using frozen spent grains then you must defrost and bring them to room temperature prior to mixing into the bread dough. 

  • Mix the water, yeast and beer in a large mixing bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer. Let stand for 5-10 minutes until bubbly 
  • While waiting for the yeast to get bubbly, combine the flours, salt, cocoa and sugar. 
  • Mix about half of the spent grains into the liquid, followed by the dry ingredient mixture. Mix at low speed or by hand. Add the remaining spent grains and mix well until a wet dough has formed
  • Add the cranberries 
  • Mix/knead until the dough starts to show itself as stretching (about 5-8 minutes in a Kitchenaid at speed 2) . The dough is soft. 

  • Using a flexible dough scraper, scoop up the dough, add 2 T of oil and move dough around so that it is greased all around the surface or alternately, add 2 T oil into a large mixing bowl and add the kneaded dough, swirling it around so that the surface is greased. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a wet dish cloth.  Allow to rise for 45 minutes in a warm place (if your oven has a proofing cycle, this is the time to use it!) 

  • Allow to rise for 45 minutes in a warm place (if your oven has a proofing cycle, this is the time to use it!) The dough should be about doubled in bulk.  

  • Preheat the oven and baking pan (cover off) in the oven- 480 degrees 
  • When the dough has just about doubled, degas the dough by pressing down on it, remove it from the bowl and give it a few quick folds. 
  • Divide in half and shape into a ball.  The dough does not need to proof in a basket, but if you like using a proofing basket go ahead. Let rest about 20 minutes and then GENTLY, without kneading, roll the dough in some flour , tighten up the shape and place one loaf on a piece of parchment. 
  • Score lightly, this bread is not as firm as sourdough and the crust will not become as brittle. The fully baked bread may show cracks in places other than where you scored it.  
  • Using a large metal spatula, slide the dough onto a piece of parchment and then into the pan. Carefully cover the pan and lower the heat to 450 degrees. Bake covered for 20 minutes. 

  • Uncover the bread, leave the pan lid in the oven (you want it to stay hot for the next loaf), lower the heat to 425 and bake for approximately 20 more minutes. The crust will be hard, the internal temperature of the bread should be approximately 200 degrees 
  • Repeat for the 2nd loaf, making sure you bring the temperature of the oven back to 480 degrees 
  • Cool before slicing 

The crust will be crackly, the crumb is on the soft side. 
The bread slices beautifully when cool and makes great sandwiches. 


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