Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Our Daily Bread


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“Nothing in the whole range of domestic life more affects the health and happiness of the family than the quality of its daily bread.”
(Mrs. Lincoln’s Boston Cook Book, 1884)

Last week K asked me to bake some of our favorite family bread. I did, and here’s how I did it. It doesn’t have a name.

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Have 1 package (or 1 tablespoon) active dry yeast and 2 eggs at room temperature. Oil a large ceramic bowl and set it aside.

Combine in large mixing bowl 1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats (not “quick” oats), 2 tablespoons corn oil (or other mild-tasting oil, or melted butter), 1/3 cup molasses, 2 teaspoons salt, and 2 cups boiling water. Let this mixture stand until it has cooled to “yeast temperature” (105-115˚F), about twenty minutes.


In a separate small cup or bowl, dissolve 1 package (or 1 tablespoon) active dry yeast in 2-3 tablespoons warm water (105-115˚F). (I use a little stainless steel measuring cup from which the handle broke years ago – it’s perfect for this purpose, and I’m rather fond of it.)



When the yeast has dissolved, mix it in to the oatmeal mixture:


Using a wire whisk, beat in the 2 eggs:


Switch to a sturdy wooden spoon. Stir in 2 cups King Arthur whole wheat flour one cup at a time, and combine thoroughly.


Add 2 cups King Arthur bread flour one cup at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition, and scraping all the dough from the sides of the bowl.

 Add 1-2 cups King Arthur All-Purpose unbleached flour, a half-cup at a time, mixing thoroughly, until the dough starts to come together and pull away from the sides of the bowl.


The amount may vary depending on the moisture of the flour and the ambient humidity, so add it gradually.


Turn the out dough onto a lightly floured surface.


Working gently from the bottom, gather the dough into a ball, taking care to create and maintain a smooth surface on the ball of dough as you work. Knead for 5 minutes or more, until the dough becomes elastic and springy, always taking care to keep the smooth surface of the dough intact. Add more flour as needed, but just a bit at a time, so as not to get too much flour into the dough, and so as not to end up with wasted flour on the counter.


When you finish, the flour should be almost all gone.


Put the smooth, springy ball of kneaded bread in the oiled bowl, turning the dough once or twice to coat with oil.


Leave the bowl it in a warm place (a slightly warmed oven or a sunny counter) to rise for an hour or so, until nearly doubled. Do not let it over-rise.


Oil two bread pans (8x4 in.). Preheat the oven to 350˚F.

Always keeping its smooth surface intact, gently deflate the dough (no “punching down” needed), gather it up, and turn it out onto a very lightly-floured surface to knead again for a few minutes.

 
Cut the dough it into two equal parts and knead each piece for a few minutes, again keeping the surfaces smooth.


Shape each piece into an oblong, pressing out any air bubbles. Ease the dough into the pans, seam side down and smooth side up.


Let it rise only a short while, until it is about 1/3 bigger, no more.


After it has risen about a third, gently press the dough down into the corners of the pan, shaking the pan gently to settle the dough into the corners.


Using a sharp knife or clean kitchen scissors, make a straight cut from one end of the loaf to the other, about a half-inch deep. Let the dough rest for about five more minutes.


Bake the loaves in the center of the 350˚F oven for 45-47 minutes. Remove the loaves from the pans immediately and cool them on their sides on a wire rack.  (I turned them right side up for this photo).


Let the bread cool completely before wrapping and storing.


If you can’t resist and must have a slice of warm bread right away, give it five minutes to cool down from hot to warm. Use a large serrated knife and cut very gently, using a light touch to cut through the crust. Butter.

 
NOTES ABOUT…

… Rising
• Once the dough is in the rising bowl, you may cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate it to let it rise slowly overnight or through the day. Let it warm up before proceeding.
• Once the dough is in the baking pans, you may cover the pans with plastic wrap and refrigerate them for a few hours for later baking. Let them warm up just a bit before baking.
• Do not let the dough rise to double size in the pans, as most recipes instruct; the crumb gets too big and dry. Let it rise till it’s only about one third bigger than its original size. If you let the loaves rise too much in the pans, just tip the dough out, knead briefly just to deflate, reshape, and let them rise again very briefly. This is very resilient dough.
• Be sure to cut the slash on the top of each loaf before baking. This prevents the crust from baking into a hard shell over the top, which will prevent the loaf from rising evenly.

…Storage
• Let the loaves cool completely before wrapping and storing. Store in plastic bags; if the crust has pointy exuberances, use double bags or heavy-gauge plastic.
• Keep the bread on the kitchen counter if you expect to eat it all within a day or two. Otherwise, keep in the refrigerator, but expect it to dry out a little as the days go by.
• Tightly wrapped, this bread freezes beautifully and keeps in the freezer for two months.

...Best Uses
• Best for sandwiches and other “fresh” use within 3 days of baking.
• Once it is a few days old and begins to dry out, this bread makes superb bread pudding, French toast, and crumbles easily to make bread crumbs for use in other recipes.

…Variations
Oatmeal White Bread — Use honey instead of molasses and substitute 2 cups of all-purpose flour for the whole wheat flour.
Cinnamon Raisin Bread — Make Oatmeal White Bread. Include in the oatmeal mixture 2-3 tablespoons cinnamon and 2-3 cups of raisins. This bread stays moist for days and makes the very best breakfast toast.

2 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing this recipe. I bake bread, and one of the first types I did was oatmeal - my grandfather who worked on the railroad baked bread and that inspired me to start as a kid. Anyway, I've never used eggs in my dough and use milk instead of water, but otherwise my recipe is nearly the same. I'm going to have to try yours.

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  2. Hi Dennis,

    Thanks for your comment! It's funny that since I posted this recipe, I've left off adding eggs. When I baked some bread for visitors who follow a vegan diet, I left out the eggs and the bread came out just fine! Since then, I don't use eggs.

    I've made the recipe with milk, too, and that adds a nice tender quality to the crumb. An envelope of dried nonfat milk powder works fine.

    I have tons more recipies to post, if I can only find time!

    Thanks for writing. It's nice to know that people are reading!

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