Saturday, January 10, 2009

Resolved: Bread

From the sheer volume of bread-baking articles in this month's cooking magazines, it seems a lot of people desperately want to squish some dough between their fingers and marvel at the miracle of yeast, water, and flour. Or make use of the bread machine that so many folks got a few years ago that are currently filling the shelves at our local Goodwill.

I have no such resolution. Believe me, I'm in no way immune to the wonderfulness of homemade bread. I've just never had much luck or skill with it.

Resolved - I found a better bread recipe. This honey-oat bread is just terrific. Is it cheaper than buying bread? Probably not, or not by much, unless you're buying $6 boutique loaves with organic flours hand-milled by fifth-generation waterstone operators. Actually, that would be a steal for $6.

Making homemade bread is really about the experience and the incomparable bread that results. It's about getting your hands in the dough and literally shaping your daily bread. It's about the warm, yeasty smell that fills the house. And of course it's about a pat of butter and a little jam.

[Oh, and an aside about the daily bread business. Last week I was at the supermarket with the "daily bread" reusable shopping bag our church sent out. Someone in line behind me harrumphed, "A church?? Being environmental?" I didn't ask her what her problem was, but seriously - what is her problem?]

As usual, I took a few necessary liberties with the recipe. It turns out I don't have two loaf pans (me???), so I made one loaf of bread and one pan of rolls. The rolls were finished after about 30 minutes, and I used billiard-ball size pieces of dough.

Also a quick clarification on the oats. "Quick-cooking oats", and nothing else, are what's needed. You will not make the recipe more healthful by using steel-rolled oats; you'll make it gravelly. Using "old-fashioned" oats won't work, either. The quick-cooking oats dissolve into the water and honey like a very thin oatmeal, and it's imperative to use them for the texture of the bread.


Servings: Makes 2 small loaves.

1 3/4 cups warm water (105°F to 110°F) - use a meat thermometer. If the water is too hot to touch, it's too hot
1 tablespoon dry yeast - this is about 1 1/2 packets of yeast
3/4 cup quick-cooking oats
1/3 cup honey - spray the measuring cup with non-stick spray for easier cleanup
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 1/2 teaspoons salt (table salt, not kosher salt)
5 cups (about) all purpose flour

1 large egg, beaten to blend
Additional quick-cooking oats

Stir 1/4 cup warm water and yeast in large bowl. Let stand 10 minutes to dissolve yeast. If you see a few bubbles, it's working.

Stir in remaining 1 1/2 cups water, 3/4 cup oats, honey, oil, and salt. Stir in enough flour to form soft dough. Coat another large bowl with oil. Transfer dough to oiled bowl and turn to coat. A "soft dough" will stick to your hands a little, but it won't stick in globs.

Cover with plastic wrap, then kitchen towel and let rise at room temperature until doubled in volume, about 1 hour. After 20 minutes or so the plastic wrap will look a little foggy - that's totally normal, it's the gases created by the dough rising. Here's what the dough looks like after an hour or so:

Oil two 8 1/2x4 1/2x2 1/2-inch loaf pans [oil them very well - the only problem I had was getting the bread out of the pan, due to too little oil]. Punch down dough; shape into 2 loaves. Place 1 loaf in each pan. Cover and let rise in warm draft-free area until almost doubled in volume, about 20 minutes.

Here are the rolls in their raw state:

Preheat oven to 350°F. Brush tops of loaves with egg; sprinkle with additional oats. Bake until brown on top and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Cool completely. (Can be prepared up to 1 day ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.)

Makes 2 small loaves, or two pans of rolls.

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