Thursday, October 28, 2010

Oatmeal Sandwich Bread

The first time I remember baking bread from scratch was when I was living in Toulouse. I somehow got my hands on a copy of Jamie Oliver's "Happy Days With the Naked Chef" and found myself drawn again and again to two recipes. One was a to-die-for Steak Marsala that I ended up making quite often, the other was his basic bread recipe.

If you've seen Jamie you know he has a very... how should I say... free spirited approach to cooking. Little of this, little of that... I just picked this from my garden so I'll add that. You get the idea. I saw a photo in 'Happy Days' which showed a giant mound of flour on a table. You make a well in the center and add the wet ingredients. Start stirring with your finger and you'll gradually draw in the flour from the walls of the well. Keep stirring until it seems like a good dough consistency and then kneed.

Now despite the fact that I could literally throw a tennis ball from the balcony of my flat and hit the front door of my Boulangerie, I decided now would be a good time to start baking bread. So I baked ... and it was amazing. I had never realized how great a reward for such little effort that results from baking bread at home. I just don't think I ever thought about it until seeing that pile of flour in Jamie's cookbook.

I've since tried a few different bread recipes with great success. The one kind I was afraid to try was sandwich bread. This may sound weird, but the biggest uncertainty for me was how to slice it. Here you are being a home baker; you create this great loaf of bread and then you must slice it... Doom and gloom spelled all  over it. You need slices that are not too thick to where all you taste is bread and nothing of what is inside, but not too thin so it tears or breaks or gets soggy. You also need an even hand so the slice is uniform from one end to the other. Sounds like a lame fear, I know. I guess it's the perfectionist in me.

So as my husband says, "Ain't nothin' to it but to do it". I took that to heart, channeled Jamie Oliver and decided to just go for it. I make Scott a sandwich every day for lunch, why not make it completely and totally homemade and bake the bread myself too?

This recipe calls for whole wheat flour, bread flour and oats. A little molasses, some butter and salt and you've got a great hearty sandwich bread that has character and depth, but doesn't take anything away from whatever's on the inside.

Let it rise twice, once in an oiled bowl and once more in the loaf pan you'll bake it in. Whatever you do, do not decide during the second rise that you really must go out to dinner (you'll just bake the bread when you get back!) You'll come home to a Stay Puft Marshmallow Man of a loaf growing and overflowing out of the pan and on to your counter. But if you do, not to worry. Punch it down again, let is rise once more and then bake. I don't know this from experience or anything.....

This is so easy I don't know why I let my fear of uneven slices stop me from trying. If you eat sandwiches, I highly recommend making this bread. Even if you eat toast, or bread and butter with your soup, or if you like french toast, or homemade croutons! Whatever! Just try this bread. It's so worth it.

Lay the cooled loaf on its side. Use a serrated knife and slice with long even strokes. Practice makes perfect!
This was breakfast for my husband this morning- a toasted slice of Oatmeal Bread with scrambled egg and cheddar cheese. Move over Wheaties, this is the breakfast of champions!

The recipe I used is based off a recipe in Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce and Amy Scattergood. I found it via Orangette.

Oatmeal Sandwich Bread

1 package active dry yeast
3 Tbsp. unsulphured (not blackstrap) molasses
2 ½ cups whole wheat flour
2 cups bread flour
1 cup rolled oats
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 ½  tsp. table salt

Grease a large bowl and a loaf pan with butter or cooking spray.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine 2 cups warm water, the yeast, and molasses. Stir briefly, and then allow the yeast to bloom for about 5 minutes. Add the flours, oats, and butter, and stir to mix. The dough will look rough and shaggy. Cover with a towel, and let stand in the bowl of the mixer for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, add the salt, and mix on medium speed for 6 minutes. The dough should come together around the hook and slap around the sides of the bowl without sticking. If the dough is sticking, add a tablespoon or two of bread flour, sprinkling it down between the dough and the sides of the bowl. If you don't have a stand mixer, you can knead by hand for about 15 minutes, adding flour as needed. The dough should be soft and supple and slightly sticky.

For the first rise, scrape the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead it a few times. Put the dough into the greased bowl, cover with a towel, and leave it to rise for about 1 hour, or until it is doubled in size. To see if it’s ready, gently push a floured finger into it. If the dough springs back, it needs more time; if the dimple remains, it’s ready for the next step.

To shape the dough, scrape it onto a floured work surface. Press down on it, working it into a square shape, taking care to depress any bubbles. Fold the dough down from the top to the middle, then up from the bottom to the middle. Next, bring the newly formed top and bottom edges together, pinching the seam to seal. Pinch the sides together, and roll the shaped dough back and forth, plumping it so that it’s evenly formed and about the size of your pan. Place the dough in the pan with the seam side down, and press it gently into the corners of the pan.

For the second rise, cover the dough with a towel, and let it rest in a warm place for about 1 hour, or until the dough rises to half again its size. While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 400°F.

When the dough has finished its second rise, bake for about 40 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through. The loaf is ready when the top crust and bottom crusts are nicely browned. To see if the bread is ready, give the top of the loaf a thump with your hand. If it sounds hollow, it’s ready; if not, give it another few minutes in the oven. Remove the finished loaf from the pan and cool completely on a wire rack. Do not cut into it until it is fully cooled.

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