As it nears fair season in Maine, I already smell the fried confections and meats-on-a-stick. I’m not terribly fond of the former. Marinated grilled meat, on the other hand, I’m down. But nothing, NOTHING compares to the my favorite fair food, and you can only get the real deal in Alaska: Talkeetna Spent Grain Spinach and Cheese Bread.
While living in Fairbanks, it was a big to-do to attend the Tanana Valley fair this time of year. And no trip to the fair was complete without a stop at an Airstream trailer. Yes, my friends, an Airstream. My first Talkeetna Spinach Bread experience was many years ago. I went to the fair and saw people walking around with cheesy, spinachy, garlicky bread slathered with hot sauce. There were so many people eating it and commenting on how delicious it was, I finally stopped a person mid-bite to ask where I could get some. The kind stranger pointed me in the direction of the Spinach Bread sign around a couple corners. At that moment, I was united with my spirit food.
The bread is made with spent grain and it crisps up perfectly when baked, with the inside staying chewy. The spent-grain base is covered with spinach, a blend of cheeses, and roasted garlic and broiled until the cheese melts and the bread is warmed.
If it came down to a last meal, I’d request this spinach bread. And cold fried chicken. And my mom’s pimento cheese.
If you’re ever in Alaska, I cannot recommend visiting Talkeetna enough. It’s a quirky (it
has had a cat as its mayor!) and picturesque small town (with fewer than 1000 residents) with nice art and beautiful scenery. And it’s about half way between Anchorage and Denali and well worth the visit and stretch break. The Spinach Bread Airstream is reason enough to visit.
Because I’m missing Alaska a little, I’ve revisited this recipe I posted a couple years ago and have been working on perfecting the recipe at home. I think I’m pretty damn close.
Note, I have made some minor modifications since originally posting a couple years ago. For example, this go-round, I used some of the beer grains that have been living in my freezer for months, thanks to my brew-happy hubby, so I added those to my bread for a nice textural boost.
I also used my go-to bread recipe from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. The recipe is simple but the finished bread hardly tastes simple: hardened, crackly outside with an airy, bubbly inside that has a hint of sour notes. No sourdough starter is needed, though. You literally dump everything in a bowl at the same time, mix it all together, and wait.
I made a full recipe and divided it into 3 because I wanted a large, appetizer-sized portion that was a good base for the spinach, garlic, and cheese. It worked beautifully. You can do any size variation you’d like.
The Cast: Spent Grain Bread with Spinach, Garlic, and Cheese
Crunchy, crusty whole grain bread
A hint-of-bitter spinach
Creamy blend of gouda and cheddar cheeses
Pungent roasted garlic
The Recipe: Spent Grain Bread with Spinach and Cheese
- For the Bread
- 3 cups lukewarm water
- 1 tablespoon active dry granulated yeast
- 1 kosher salt
- 4 cups all purpose flour
- 2½ cups whole wheat flour
- 2 cups spent grain, dried (optional)
- 1 head of garlic, cloves peeled and halved (2 cloves set aside)
- 1 cup extra virgin olive oil or neutral oil (I used grapeseed oil)
- 1 9 oz. bag of spinach
- 1 cup gouda (not smoked), shredded
- 1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
- 1 loaf of spent-grain bread (recipe below)
- 2Tbsp. salted butter, divided into 4
- pinch of salt
- Siracha or hot sauce of choice
- To make the bread:
- In the bowl of your stand mixer with the dough hook or a large bowl, dump in the water and add the yeast and salt. All at once, dump in the whole wheat and all purpose flours.
- Mix well at low-medium speed or with a wooden spoon or dough whisk until dough is just incorporated.
- Add dried spent grain, if using, and mix until everything is well incorporated and one solid mass of dough.
- Take half the dough from the bowl of the stand mixer and add to another large bowl. Cover each bowl with a towel and let rise for 2 hours at room temperature.
- Do not punch down the dough after the rise. You'll be tempted because it deflates as soon as you remove the towel. Have no fear.
- You can use the dough right away or store it in fridge for up to 2 weeks. It's advisable to chill it for at least a day, as it's easier to handle and the flavor gets more complex the longer it sits.
- When ready to use. divide the dough from one bowl into 2 separate pieces, dusting with a little flour before your grab it so it doesn't stick to your hands.
- Mold into a ball and place on a flour dusted piece of parchment.
- Let rise for 75 minutes. It's okay if the dough spreads outward and not upward. It will still be tasty and will rise a bit in the oven.
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees with a baking stone on the center rack and a metal cake pan on a rack below, at least 4-5 inches from the stone to prevent it from cracking and to allow steam to rise.
- Slide the loaf into the oven onto the preheated stone and add a cup of water to the metal pan. Close the oven door and allow the bread to cook, undisturbed for 30 minutes.
- Once the crust is browned and hardened, remove from the oven. If using parchment paper and the bottom of the loaf is a little soft after removing from the oven, take away the parchment and cook 5-10 minutes more on the baking stone or until the bottom is crisp.
- Let cool.
- To make garlic oil: Heat oil and garlic halves over medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until cloves just start to brown and are slightly cooked. Remove from heat.
- Roughly chop fresh spinach.
- In a separate pan, add cooked garlic halves (from the oil) and 2 Tbsp. of the garlic oil. Add spinach and cook until just wilted. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- Once spinach, garlic, and garlic oil have cooled, add contents of pan into a bowl. Add cheese s and 1 Tbsp. more of the garlic oil and mix well. Set aside.
- Take a loaf of the spent grain bread (recipe above) and cut it in half lengthwise. Next, cut each piece as if you were cutting a cake to frost between the layers. You should end up having 4 pieces of bread.
- Generously butter the crusty bottom of each slice of bread. Flip the slices over so the crust is on the bottom and the crumb of the bread is facing up.
- Crush two cloves of garlic with the back of a knife and rub a cloves against each slice a bread. Discard.
- Divide spinach-cheese-garlic mixture into four and evenly spread on the tops of the bread slices. Season with salt.
- Bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes or until the crust of the bread crisps.
- After 25 minutes, turn on the broiler and broil until the top is brown and bubbly.
- Cut slices into thirds and serve warm with your favorite hot sauce.
- **Reserve the rest of the garlic oil in a sterilized mason jar or bottle for later use on salad, breads, or pasta.