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2018-08-12 - Mike's Going Crackers!

Mike IS going crackers! It began a few years ago when I saw a recipe for Lavash Crackers in Reinhart's "The Breadbaker's Apprentice" and thought it looked pretty neat. Of course, I converted it to sourdough, and it was very popular in our house and bakery. However, it was so labor intensive that it was never going to go into production. And we had no good way to package crackers. Still, every now and then, I made crackers at home. The dough is VERY stiff, and the only way to roll it was to use a pasta machine, sheeter, or some similar sort of device. And even with the pasta maker, it was a rough slog.

And that's where things remained until I heard Mark Dyck's "Rise Up" podcast where he talked to Troy DeRego about Troy's spent grain crackers. Troy sells his crackers by mail order as well as locally.

Spent grain is the grain a brewer has left over after they make beer. The grain has had been cooked to get its sugars out of the grain to make beer, but it is still a great source of fiber and protein. Many brewers sell the grain to hog farmers - hogs love the stuff.

The spent grain idea just revived my fascination for crackers! I talked to Bobby Mullins at Armadillo Ale Works (a great place to get some great beers, have some good coffee, and just hang out - it's a nice bar!) in Denton, Tx and he offered me as much spent grain as I wanted and told me when they were brewing. We picked up about 15 pounds of spent grain from their "Honey Please(tm) Mesquite Bean Blonde Ale".

A few cautionary words

if you decide to follow in Troy and my footsteps, make sure you get the grain the day it is used and immediately dry it. It is still a great food for all sorts of microorganisms. I love sourdough, yeast and many other microorganisms, and flirt with wild fermentations in my sauerkraut, but you really don't want to use spoiled grain, which is the most likely outcome - wet spent grain goes bad very quickly!

Next, you don't need 15 pounds. Yeah, it's cheap, OK free, but since you have to dry it, having 15 pounds and a home oven is a recipe for tedious trouble. Our recipes call for around 50 to 100 grams, so 15 pounds is almost a lifetime supply. We threw away about 12 pounds of the stuff. I should apologize to pigs in Denton!

To dry the spent grain, spread it in about a 1/4 inch thick layer on a sheet pan and put it in a 180F (82 to 85C) oven. Stir it up every half hour or so until it is quite dry. Once dry, you can freeze the excess. We put 100 grams in each of a number of sandwich bags and were delighted to see the grains remained separate even when frozen.

A bit of research suggested that 10% spent grain added to crackers is all most people enjoy in crackers. With that bit of information in hand, we made crackers. I sure wish I'd seen that before I picked up 15 pounds of spent grain!

We REALLY liked the Sourdough Lavash Crackers with Spent Grain. We searched for more recipes and found a promising one at King Arthur Flour's web site. We thought that this recipe could use some spent grain added to it.

And now it's time for another digression. How do you market the crackers? Most people don't know what on earth "spent grain" is, and when you explain what it is, it sounds vaguely distasteful. You mean, I'm eating animal feed or garbage? Well, yeah, but... face it when you have to explain you have lost the marketing battle. Really. Spent grain works for brewing nerds who are glad to see good stuff hasn't been wasted. But for everyone else, it's probably a hard sell. So, we decided to use the term "brewers grains".

The other question is, what does the grain do to the flavor of the crackers? It depends on the grains. With the grain we used, it added a clean grainy barley flavor. Still, the flavors have naming implications. If you use the grain from an India Pale Ale, and put India Pale Ale in the name that sets up an expectation that the crackers will be hoppy. Only, at that stage in the beer making process there are no hops involved. If you use oatmeal stout grains, there will be oatmeal, but the crackers won't taste like oatmeal or stout. So, naming the crackers probably shouldn't be tied to the beer the grain was used to make. "Buttery brewers grain crackers with sesame seeds" might work. If you decide to market these, be ready to do do some market research on the product naming.

The crackers we made used grain from Armadillo's "Honey Please(tm) Mesquite Bean Blonde Ale" which is a light bodied refreshing beer. My advice, is get what you can - as long as its fresh. I think any spent grain should make a good tasting cracker. Ask any friends you know who brew, or hang out at brew pubs and breweries and ask the brewer for some spent grain.

The color of the crackers was, in our case, little impacted by the grain. The grain was mostly light colored. However, it did add some darker flecks to the crackers that made them more visually interesting.

Both of these recipes use sourdough discard. However, it should be a fresh sourdough, not one that has acquired off tastes or has become bitter. While we use sourdough, we use it for flavor, not for rise. So, this is another way to use up discard starter.

All that said, here are two recipes, both of which got rave reviews at our two favorite watering holes. We'll take pictures next time we make them and post these recipes to the Sourdoughhome recipes pages.

Brewers Grain Sourdough Lavash Crackers - inspired by a recipe from Reinhart's "Breadbakers Apprentice". This is a very stiff dough. We're playing with making it wetter, so while it is easier to roll than it was, it was still too stiff for me to roll with a rolling pin. A pasta maker or sheeter is really necessary. This makes about 2 pounds of dough, which is about 7 half sheet pans full of crackers.

Grams Ingredient Baker's Percentage
74 Water 15.3
70 Honey 14.51%
47 Olive Oil 9.67%
330 Sourdough Discard 69.87%
480 Bread flour 100%
48 Spent grains 10%
9.3 Salt 1.93%

 

Method:

  1. Mix dough, allow to rest for an hour or so.
  2. Roll out very, very thin – use sheeter or pasta roller, less than 1/16 of an inch thick, to #5 on the Atlas pasta maker. This takes a number of passes. If the dough tears, fold it in half and pass it through the pasta maker again to further develop the dough.
  3. Put on parchment paper on trays and then cut into strips about 2 inches wide.
  4. Spray with water, dust with herbs and spices as desired - caraway, sesame, rosemary, za'atar, and coarse sea salt are all popular, but the crackers are also great with no topping.
  5. Preheat oven to 375
  6. Bake 10 to 15 minutes, or until crackers are nicely browned.

Serve with hummus and beer. Since these crackers are as long as your sheet pan, the usual way to serve them is to break them.

King Cracker - This is the recipe inspired by the one from the King Arthur Flour web page. Their recipes are usually reliable, so we played with this one without even making it first. This is enough to make 2 pounds of crackers, which was about 4 sheet pans.

Grams Ingredient Baker's Percentage
130 Butter (solid, cut in 1/4 inch cubes) 50%
540 Sourdough discard 208.33%
260 Whole wheat flour (white or regular) 100%
110 Spent grains 41.67(1)
26 Dried herbs (optional) (2) 10%
6.4 Salt 2.5%

Optional - Coarse sea salt as garnish/accent

Notes:

  1. Yes, we said 10% spent grain is all most people like, however, there is more flour in the starter, so it's about 20% of all flour but people really liked it. Internet rules of thumb aren't always accurate. Imagine that!.
  2. Herbs are optional, use as your taste dictates. We used about 4 times the fresh rosemary that the recipe called for to compensate for it being fresh rather than dried.

Method:

    1. Mix together the flour, salt, sourdough starter, butter, and optional herbs to make a smooth (not sticky), cohesive dough.
    2. Divide the dough in quarters, and shape each part into a small rectangular slab. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes, or up to a couple of hours, until the dough is firm.
    3. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
    4. Very lightly flour a piece of parchment, your rolling pin, and the top of the dough.
    5. Working with one piece at a time, roll the dough to about 1/16" thick - this is about as thick as a penny. The dough will have ragged, uneven edges; that's OK. Just try to make it as even as possible.
    6. Transfer the dough and parchment together onto a baking sheet. Lightly brush with oil and then sprinkle the coarse sea salt over the top of the crackers.
    7. Cut the dough into 1 1/4" squares; a rolling pizza wheel works well here.
    8. Use a fork or docking wheel to prick each cracker.
    9. Bake the crackers for 20 to 25 minutes, until the squares are starting to brown around the edges. Midway through the bake, perform a Chinese fire drill with the baking sheet pans - reverse them top to bottom, front to back and left to right to help the crackers brown evenly.
    10. When fully browned, remove the crackers from the oven, and transfer them to a cooling rack. Store airtight at room temperature for up to a week; freeze for longer storage.

Well, that wraps things up for this week. Now you can also go crackers! However, it's only fair to warn you, we could go crackers again!

In closing, may your dough always rise, unless it's crackers!
-Mike

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