June 05, 2013

Rolled Oat Bread

I love the smell, taste, and texture of fresh bread. I also love the satisfaction that comes with the dramatic transformation of water, grain, salt, and oil into a glorious new form that somehow connects us back through generations untold. Sure, we have some fancy equipment to make the process easier, now, but if you want, you can still easily do the whole process old-school; the satisfaction is there either way.

This loaf of bread uses wheat flour, but also relies heavily on rolled oats for its mass. This makes for a bread that is a bit lower on the glycemic index than a straight wheat flour bread, if that interests you. It also makes for a heartier, more filling bread, which is excellent either for toasting in the morning (or whenever you toast your bread), or for sandwich making. It's sturdy enough to provide a mighty raft for baked beans or fried eggs, or whatever else you might like to pile on it. It's delicious enough that it can be eaten purely on its own (or, for those inclined, with a skim of butter). The crumb is airy and tender, but with a little chew from the oats. It also has a slightly dark note from the use of walnut oil. You can make it even healthier by using stoneground whole wheat flour in place of the unbleached white.

There is a lot of rising time for this bread, which is part of the reason for the wonderful flavour. So plan to make it on a day when you don't need to be out and about (although you can dash out briefly, if needed, in some of the rising phases). You will note the fairly small amount of yeast required to make two big loaves - this is because "the longer the rise, the less yeast you need". Economical!

Rolled Oat Bread
Adapted from Breadtime Stories by Susan Jane Cheney

Makes 2 Loaves
Time commitment: 6 - 7 hours

3 cups water
1 cup old fashioned rolled oats
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons walnut oil (or toasted sesame oil)
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
5 1/4 cups unbleached wheat flour

Boil 2 cups of water and pour over the oats. Stir in the salt and oil, and let cool to room temperature while you make the sponge.

Heat 1 cup water until lukewarm, and place in a big preheated mixing bowl. Sprinkle with a tablespoon of flour, and mix well. Sprinkle the yeast over the water and wait 15 minutes for the yeast to prove.

If/when the yeast proves, add a cup of the flour and beat the mixture at least a hundred strokes. Set in a draft-free area, covered, and let a sponge develop - about 50 - 60 minutes. I put it inside the oven (with the oven light on, if it's a chilly day).

Combine the oat mixture and the sponge. Add the rest of the flour (or as much of it as needed to make a dough), and knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic. Shape the dough into a large ball, and place in a large oiled bowl to rise for about 2 hours. (this is your one opportunity to run out of the house, should you need to). Press the air out of the dough, and let it rise again, this time for just 1 hour. Press the air out again, shape into loaves, place in oiled bread pans, and let rise until the dough has not-quite doubled (about 45 minutes). Let the bread rise on the countertop, during which time you can pre-heat the oven to 350 F with the rack in the middle. If you like, brush the tops of the loaves with an egg wash, or rub them with a little of olive oil.

Bake the loaves for about 60 minutes, until the loaves are brown, with firm sides, and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. De-pan the bread onto racks and let them cool completely before bagging up to store. Leave the loaves for at least 15 minutes after they come out of the oven before slicing (I'm assuming that you won't be able to resist having some warm, fresh bread, because I never can).

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