It’s one thing to start your day with a breakfast-flavored beer like coffee porter or oatmeal stout. It’s another thing to use that beer as an ingredient in your waffle batter or biscuit gravy. But it’s a whole other, next-level thing to actually brew your morning meal. For the past few years, Jensen Cummings, founder of Denver-based company Brewed Food, has been exploring how to do just that. As a chef and certified cicerone, Cummings has lofty objectives for bringing a brewer’s ingredients and techniques into the kitchen. He wants to push the relationship between cooking and brewing past its presumed boundaries, to redefine the concept of food-and-beer pairing and, ultimately, to assemble a whole new culinary toolkit, in the mode of modernist cuisine.
For a home cook, there might be motivation enough in the fact that fermentation has health benefits or that there’s ecological value in reclaiming brewing’s byproducts. But let’s be honest: the best reason to try your hand at “brewed food” is that it provides a socially acceptable way to sneak beer into every meal—even (or especially) breakfast.
Cummings explains, “We could start by milling some spent grains to make a simple buttermilk waffle. Then we could take it to the next level and use some of the lactobacillus cultures that brewers use in the fermentation process to make the buttermilk. Then we can go even further and make a sourdough starter for the waffle, using brewing grains we inoculate with lactobacillus.”
Not geeky enough for you? Cummings dives deeper. “And then we can teach you to turn wort into syrup. And the bacon you serve with the waffles could be malt-glazed. There are a lot of layers to that onion.”
Let’s take a closer look at each one.
Now that “everyone’s two or three connections away from a brewer,” as Cummings says, spent grains are not only easy to access but worthwhile for the enhanced richness, nuttiness, and sweetness they bring to batters and doughs. Granted, all grains are not created equal, so your first order of business is to categorize your recipes according to beer style: light, medium, or dark. If you’re making buttermilk waffles, look for the spent grains from a pilsner. For denser waffles made, say, with hominy and lard, think amber ale. Buckwheat waffles might call for imperial stout.
Note that spent grains obtained from a brewery are likely to be “complete mush,” Cummings admits, so you’ll have to dry them out in the oven before grinding them into flour for use. Too much work? No sweat—your local brewing-supply shop will have “bins and bins of different grains” for you to purchase raw.
Try: Make breakfast pizza even cooler by replacing 1/10th of the flour in your crust recipe with spent-grain flour.
Wort and Malt Extract
Wort is the sugary, fermentable liquid created by mashing barley malt, and it, too, should be available at your friendly neighborhood brewery. If not, the malt extract sold at home-brew shops makes for a fine substitute. Cummings uses both products in place of honey—though neither has the proper syrupy consistency as is; you’ll have to thicken the wort or thin the extract before using it to sweeten brines, cures, glazes, and syrups.
Try: To make syrup, place 1 quart of wort in a saucepan over medium heat and reduce, whisking periodically, by about half, or whisk together 1 cup malt extract and ¼ cup hot water. Drizzle liberally over raw sliced bacon, season with pepper, and oven-bake to your desired crispness.
“I’ve heard brewers say that hops are the salt of beer,” Cummings says. As with salt, you must use them sparingly or you could “wreck your palate,” he warns, but a small amount can add “amazing piney, citrus and tropical aromas” to brines and syrups as well as to seasonings or tinctures that finish a dish. He said to look for varieties with clean, bright flavors, and low alpha acids.
Try: Make dry-hopped Hollandaise for eggs Benedict: in a food processor, grind 1 teaspoon leaf hops with ½ cup salt and season your sauce to taste.
Bacteria and Yeasts
Simply put, if you can ferment a food, you can ferment it with the bacteria and active yeasts that brewers favor. Take Lactobacillus delbrueckii. Commonly found in soured and spontaneous brews as well as acidophilus-dominant dairy products, it’s a good choice for engineering your own dairy products, such as yogurt, to possess even more biting acidity than they typically have, along with savory notes. As for yeast, Cummings might add, say, liquid Belgian ale yeast purchased at a home-brew store to some berries steeped in water, where, “It’ll go nuts. You end up with this jam that has some funk to it along with plenty of sweetness.” Add that in turn to your yogurt along, perhaps, with some streusel made with spent-grain flour, and you’ve got a parfait worth spooning from your best beer goblets.
Try: Add 1 teaspoon liquid yeast and ½ cup water to 2 cups honey. Whisk together well. Place in a large (at least 6-cup) plastic container with a lid, cover and ferment at room temperature for 1 week. According to Cummings, the honey will have developed a “pastry crust-like sweetness” to bring a new depth to whatever it’s drizzled on.
Jensen Cummings’ Spent Grain Pancakes with Fermented Blueberries and Wort-Maple Glaze
- Yields: Serves 6-8
- Cook Time: 20 minutes
- Hands-On Time: 20 minutes
- Total Time: 1 week 7 days 1 hour
For the blueberries
For the batter
For the glaze
To ferment the blueberries, add yeast with ½ cup water to blueberries and mix together well. Place in a large (at least 6-cup) plastic container, press plastic wrap directly on top of the fruit, then cover with a lid and ferment in the refrigerator for 1 week.
Steep spent grains in buttermilk at room temperature for 1 hour.
Meanwhile, place fermented blueberries in sauce pot over low heat for 4-5 minutes. Add pectin powder and whisk thoroughly, crushing berries to desired level of chunkiness, then remove from heat. Add sugar or rice-wine vinegar to taste and set aside.
To make syrup, place wort in a large sauce pot over medium heat and reduce to about ½ cup. Add maple syrup and cook for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.
Once grains are steeped, strain through a sieve. Mix eggs, oil and malt extract together in a bowl, then mix in ½ cup strained grains (you can discard the remainder).
Combine all dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Add wet ingredients and whisk together thoroughly.
Preheat griddle or large frying pan over medium heat and add butter. When it has melted, add batter in good-sized scoops (Cummings recommends about 4 ounces each).
Cook pancakes (in batches as necessary) for 2 minutes, then flip and cook for another 2 minutes. Transfer to serving plates. Garnish pancakes with about an ounce of wort-maple syrup and a spoonful of blueberries each.
Jensen Cummings' Hop-Cured Egg Yolks
These “look like dried apricots and shave like Parmesan,” Cummings explains. “Microplane them over quiche or egg scrambles.” They're good on breakfast pizza, too.
- Yields: 6 yolks
- Hands-On Time: 10 minutes
- Total Time: 3 weeks 21 days
Combine dry ingredients and spread a thin layer of the mixture, about ¼ inch, into a shallow container big enough to hold the yolks without crowding them. Using the back of a spoon, press a small nest for each yolk.
Carefully separate the yolks from the eggs (you can discard the whites) and, being careful not to break them, place them in the nests. Cover gently with the remaining curing mixture so they are completely submerged and place in the refrigerator for 48 hours.