Things I Learnt This Weekend

I like yeast. I also have a soft spot for Lactobacillus. With this in mind, a few weeks back I decided to make the leap and advance my ridiculously rudimentary baking skills with the preparation of a wild yeast sourdough starter.

I used the amazing tool that is the internet and searched out a bunch of recipes for basic sourdough starters. I then transmogrified said recipes, decided that I knew best and whatever educated decisions I made would be worthwhile, had a great time telling Catherine that with Microbiology and Food Science degrees under my belt this would be a cakewalk (perhaps I punned it up and even said bakewalk) and began.

A blend of whole wheat flour, plain flour and a scattering of millet was hopefully going to provide the wild yeast and bacteria that I was to need for this to work. I threw caution to the wind and added a dash of cider vinegar (oh, how swashbuckler-like I can sometimes be) to slightly lower the pH of the water and grain mixture and then decided that a pinch of mixed Lactobacillus culture from a yoghurt-making sachet I had in the fridge would definitely help with sourdough action. I fed it daily, talked to it on occasion and even jumbled together a few songs on the guitar… Bake Me Up Before You Go Go, All My Oven, Po Atarau (Now Is The Flour)…

At day eight, I had a nice, slightly alcoholic, slightly fruity smelling doughy concoction that I successfully made my first ever Whole Wheat Sourdough Loaf with. I was impressed, patted myself on the back with flour and dough encrusted hands and began to think of all the interesting loaves I could make in the future.

Stop me if you've heard this one... A buckwheat loaf, a whole wheat loaf and a sourdough starter walk into a bar...

This weekend, I decided to make a Buckwheat Loaf with the starter. Buckwheat is interesting in that is free of gluten, meaning that I was likely to end up with a loaf that was more like a rock than anything else. Gluten is important in baking due to its elastic nature. When dough is kneaded, it acts like a big net, trapping the granules of starch and little pockets of carbon dioxide produced by the yeast, giving bread it’s nice soft, chewy texture. I cheated a little and used some whole wheat flour as well. I didn’t want something that could have been used as a projectile by some Middle Ages siege engine to take down castle walls.

This is where I come to the most interesting thing I learnt this weekend. When at Thornbridge, we brewed a beer called Bracia using Chestnut Honey sourced from Italy. Chestnut Honey has a very unique character. It borders on medicinal, is bitter and sweet and wholesome and has a fragrance that I can only really describe as smelling like Chestnut Honey. I’ve had a go before and come up with descriptors like “window putty” (which I found out gets its aroma from linseed oil), woody or musky, but have never been able to hit the nail on the head.

Bracia as it used to look...

Bracia smells like Buckwheat bread! As a brewer and beer judge, I spend a load of time smelling and eating as many random things as I can. It’s a great way to build up a repertoire of descriptors for describing a beer. Bracia had always stumped me, but now I can say it smells like buckwheat, window putty/linseed oil and woody, musky honey.

The snazzy new Bracia label!

That’s what I learnt this weekend! You know you wanted to know that…

10 thoughts on “Things I Learnt This Weekend

  1. Have you ever used spent grains from brewing in a bread dough? I have a friend who brews a lot and recently gave me some spent malted barley to try out in a bread, although I’m not sure what approach to take. I would welcome any suggestions or thoughts!

    • Hi Nina,

      Have tried a few spent grain breads over the years. Generally it comes down to how much husk you want in your bread. The grains themselves are void of any useful carbohydrate or protein, so it’s more of a textural/colour thing really. Maybe you could do a couple of different doughs with varying proportions of spent grains? Anything from 20-50% would probably work. The other option would be to actually dry the spent grains completely, mill then so they are nice and fine and then use them. Let me know how you get on. I suppose I should give it a try as well. What sort of brewer would I call myself if I hadn’t baked bread with the spent malt… 🙂

      • Thanks for the suggestions! Since they are definitely quite toothsome and husky at this point I was thinking that drying and milling might be the best option. I am hoping that there is still some released sugar hiding out in there, so my other thought was that I could boil them down once more and use the liquid as the basis for my bread, leaving the actual grains out of the bread but getting a bit of that malted flavor still. Let me know if you give it a go, and thanks again!


      • You’ll probably find that less than 10% of the total weight of the dried spent grains is actually sugar. Generally a brewhouse will get 85-95% extraction of bioavailable sugars during the mashing and lautering processes in brewing, so it could be better to just use them for their colour/flavour/textural contributions? Definitely curious as to how it goes though… The breads I have tasted in the past were surprisingly tasty and the husks themselves weren’t obtrusive at all… Happy baking!

      • I finally got around to making a loaf with the spent grains–I followed your suggestions on drying and milling and enjoyed the final product…thanks for the help! I stuck a link to your blog in my latest post–hope that’s alright.

  2. I’ve just read this and I was trying to steal the linseed from my dad’s garage the other day and was racking my brains as to what it reminded me of – thank you!!


    • Hi Will,
      There are so many variables that have an effect on beer when it comes to flavour and aroma. Temperature is important and very much dependent on beer style or mode of dispense. Cask ale, for example, should be served at 11-13 degrees and that is how the brewers intend it to be served when they are making the beer. This temperature allows more aroma development as aromas tend to volatilise as the beer temperature increases. Beers such as Fosters or Carling are brewed to be served cold. They don’t have a considerable amount of aroma or flavour, thus this cooler temperature suits the beer style as a thirst quencher more than a flavour-filled beverage.

      The amount of carbonation is also important… too much and the beer can taste more acidic and the mouthfeel is altered by the effect of the bubbles on the tongue and mouth. Too much can also push aromas more quickly from the beer, thus having an effect on perceived flavours.

      Some pubs may have their gas pressures set higher than others, resulting in beer with more fob/gas, though generally this results in increased wastage, so an experienced cellarman/woman will ensure this doesn’t happen. The cleanliness of beer lines is also of major importance. Too much residue in the lines means more nucleation points for the gas. It then “breaks out” in the lines and can cause over-fobbing at dispense as well as a loss of gassiness.

      There are so many other things that have an effect on beer flavour! In fact there have been whole books written on the subject!

      Hope this helps though 🙂


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