Got an overcast, late winter Sunday? Gray snow humped up on the curbs, ice patches everywhere underfoot? Sound like a perfect day for the comforting task of baking bread.
Oatmeal Wheat Bread was the recipe I selected from Gourmet Today, in large part because I had all the ingredients right in the kitchen (well, mostly--but more on that soon).
The recipe asks you to soak rolled oats in heated whole milk (I used vanilla soy milk), and once that was underway I fished three packs of dry active yeast out of the freezer (fyi I've almost never had bad yeast if I keep it in the freezer, even if it's way past the date). I put that in a mason jar with warm water and a little honey and shook it like the devil, which I find is an excellent way to wake a yeast starter up and get it going. While that was sitting I melted butter in the microwave and let it cool.
Once everything was cool enough to not kill the yeast (killing with heat is possible to do because I've done it), I combined the yeast starter, oat/milk mix and melted butter with more honey. Although the recipe calls for mild honey I used madly perfumed lavender honey (thanks, Tom and Alli!) with no discernable perfumey effect.
All this goes together in a mixer (well, KitchenAide) with a paddle attachment, with a combo of WW flour, white flour and salt. The recipe doesn't mention a mixer--it's a by-hand recipe, but I've been using a dough hook to make bread for years and find that breads made that way are moister (because you're not constantly folding in more flour to keep the dough from sticking).
Once the dough started to come together I switched from paddle attachment to the dough hook, then I set the timer for 10 mins and let it do its thing. It's kind of amazing to see the change in the dough--you can see when it's ready because it becomes smooth and satiny, and stops sticking to the side of the bowl--just sort of wraps around the dough hook instead.
Then, it's just the standard bowl-rise followed by a loaf-pan rise. This recipe makes two loaves.
This bread is lovely! Soft, moist, slightly sweet and slightly chewy. Makes great toast and is perfect for sandwiches.
I used a lot of tips and tricks from (hard-earned) bread-making experience, and I'm going to share them with you here:
1. Start your yeast the way I described above, by putting it in a mason jar with warm water and a little sugar or honey. Shake until the yeast is dissolved. This is the best way to start yeast I've ever found and if you don't know if the yeast is good this will tell you quickly. If you don't have a jar full of bubbles in 5-10 minutes, it's no good.
2. Forget all that baloney about how kneading bread is good for your anger issues. You'll almost invariably add too much flour because you don't want the dough to stick to your hands (which will make it too dry and dense). Use a dough hook and follow the measurements in the recipe.
3. If you don't have a KitchenAide (I'm sorry), lightly oil your hands to knead the dough--that will keep it from sticking as well.
4. Let the dough rest in between these stages, as much as your impatient self can stand. It helps the gluten to relax and fulfill its destiny.
5. If you're in a cold climate during the cold time of the year, pre-warm your rising bowl and later your loaf pans by filling them up with hot water before your dough goes in (obviously you dump the water and dry them before putting the dough in.) This will give your dough an encouraging environment.
6. I don't know about you, but my oven runs a little hot. If yours does too, undershoot either the temp or the timer. In the past I've used a digital remote thermometer to let me know EXACTLY when the bread is done (180-190 for soft breads, 200-210 for crusty breads) but this time I didn't--just relied on my sense of smell and that hollow sound you get when you rap on the bottom of the loaf.
7. Oh, and don't freak out if you don't have exactly the right ingredients. Bread is nothing if not amenable to experimentation.
As for this lingering, snowy, icy winter--keep your chin up! 24 days until spring!