I’ve been looking to make homemade spent grain pretzels for a really long time. After doing some initial research, I decided to go out on a whim and try something that honestly felt a little crazy. Pretzel bites made with spent grain, brewers yeast, and of course homebrewed beer. Most recipes call for one of the three beer elements, but I couldn’t find anything that went completely beer haywire and combined all three…until now.
If you’ve found your way here and have no idea what spent grains are, they’re the leftover grains as a result of making beer via the all-grain method. A lot of commercial breweries send their spent grains to farms for cattle to consume, while homebrewers typically just discard them.
I was a little skeptical about how these might turn out but in all honesty, they came out really, really good and tasted a lot like a warm pretzel-inspired dinner roll. The spent grain will give your pretzels a much bolder and delicious whole-grain flavor that just works really well. The inside is super tender and soft while the outside is a little more firm and pretzel-like. These would be a phenomenal addition to any brewery’s kitchen. Beer pretzels are best served warm with a little mustard or melted pretzel cheese on the side.
What Yeast Should I Use?
I honestly wasn’t planning on using brewers yeast for this but I didn’t have any bread yeast so I figured I would give it a shot. I cook and develop my own recipes over at my food blog, kitchenswagger.com, but I’ve never really been much of a baker or bread maker for that matter.
I ended up using SafAle US-05 for this recipe because I had it on hand. Any dry ale yeast should work just fine. Believe it or not, bread yeast and brewers yeast are both saccharomyces cerevisiae. You can absolutely use regular bread yeast but I thought it would be a cool experiment with something a little different.
Getting That Signature Pretzel Taste
There are a few steps involved when it comes to making pretzels but each one is very important. The most important step is the water bath that features boiling your dough in water/baking soda. This is what contributes to the soft chewy inside and that indistinguishable salty pretzel flavor. After the pre-boil, the pretzels are baked to fully cook through.
Most pretzel recipes call for a whisked egg wash prior to baking to give your pretzels a shiny golden exterior. You can skip this step if you want and still get really good results. I opted for no egg wash and ended up brushing each pretzel bite with melted butter and sprinkled with sea salt just before serving.
Does Grist Matter?
Different grains will contribute different tastes and textures. Anything with oats for instance will likely stand out more than a basic grist of 2-row or other base malts. This recipe was made using about 60% 2-row, 30% white wheat, and a little carapils and acid malt. Overall, I really liked the flavor and would recommend you experiment with whatever you or the homebrewer in your life brews.
As an aside, I ended up storing my spent grains in a sealed container in the fridge so they wouldn’t turn for the worse. If I can give you any advice at all it would be to dry/wring out your grains as best you can so you don’t have an overly sticky dough.
While I oped for mini pretzel balls for simplicity, you could of course create a standard pretzel shape if you’re feeling more ambitious. The simplicity of the bites shaves some time off prep and makes for a quicker day in the kitchen.
Spent Grain Pretzel Bites Recipe
This recipe yields about 20-24 pretzel bites. Account for about 15 minutes of prep, 60 minutes for the dough to rise, and 20 minutes to boil/bake the pretzels.
- 12 ounces room temp beer, I used a hazy IPA but any beer you enjoy should work
- 2 1/2 teaspoons dry ale yeast like SafAle US-05 (or bread yeast)
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 cups spent grain (pat dry as possible)
- 7-8 cups water
- 1/3 cup baking soda
- 3-4 tablespoons butter, melted
- course sea salt, kosher salt, or pretzel salt for topping
- mustard or melted cheese for dipping
- Pour beer (room temp) into a large bowl or stand mixer bowl. Add sugar and stir well to combine. Add the yeast and let rest for 10 minutes.
- Add olive oil, salt, flour, and spent grains (it’s really important the grains are on the dryer side or they will make the dough too sticky). Mix (using dough hook attachment) or by hand until a large ball of dough forms. It’s OK if the dough is a little sticky but you don’t want it gooey or sticking to your hands like crazy. Add more flour if dough is too wet. Add water if too dry and won’t stay formed.
- Use your hands to shape the dough into a large ball and place in the center of the bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a clean dish towel. Let rest at room temp for about 1 hour or until the dough roughly doubles in size.
- Meanwhile, preheat oven to 425°F.
- Bring water to a boil in a large pot and add baking soda. Stir to mix. Line a large plate with paper towels and set aside.
- If dough is still too sticky, knead in more flour until it can be easily handled. To make pretzel balls, cut off a small chunk of dough that’s a little larger than a golf ball. Roll into uniform 1 3/4″-2″ balls and set aside.
- Add dough balls to the boiling water a few at a time. Boil for 30-45 seconds and remove with a slotted spoon and place on the paper towel lined plate to dry.
- Arrange dough balls on greased baking sheets and sprinkle with a little sea salt. Bake for about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes before serving.
- Baste each pretzel bite with butter and sprinkle with a little pretzel salt or course salt. Serve warm with melted cheese sauce or your favorite mustard.