02 November 2010

Slightly Easier: Oatmeal Whole-Wheat Bread


Or something. I'm as likely to post every day for 30 days as I am to become a GoGo dancer, but the improbable is not the impossible (and besides, impossible things are happening every day.)

What I am likely to do is change my mind about stuff, even/especially stuff that I have written authoritatively about in the past. So when I talk about having to knead bread dough for 20 minutes just after the sponge stage and again after the first rising, you can hold out hope that I'll offer up an easier alternative sometime in the future.

Like now, for instance.

Using the recommended procedure in The Tassajara Bread Book (which I commend to you) you can cut out the second kneading and replace it with another rise which does increase the time a bit, but it's inactive time, so that's not so bad. Tassajara also gets you out of washing to bowl after the sponge, so it's environmentally friendly, too!

Give it a try with this Oatmeal bread recipe. It's moist and flavorful and toasts up beautifully. It is too dense to be a good sandwich bread, but it is an excellent delivery vehicle for your favorite jam, and it uses up any leftover cooked oatmeal you might have.

Oatmeal bread
with honey

Oatmeal Whole Wheat Bread

For the sponge:
3 cups lukewarm water
1 ½ Tablespoons yeast (2 packets)
¼ cup honey (or brown sugar if you want it to be vegan)
4 cups whole wheat flour

For the dough:
up to 1 ½ cups cooked oatmeal
4 teaspoons salt
1/3 cup oil (or butter)
up to 4 cups whole wheat flour

Combine water, yeast, flour and honey your largest mixing bowl. Stir to combine, then beat 100 times. Cover with a clean, damp kitchen towel and allow to rise about 45 minutes.

When the sponge has risen, fold in the oatmeal, salt, and oil. Fold in the remaining flour 1 cup at a time until the dough becomes too stiff to knead. Flour your scrupulously clean counter liberally and dump the dough onto the flour. Begin to knead, adding small amount of flour as necessary to prevent sticking. Knead for 15-20 minutes. Because of the oatmeal, this dough will be stickier than a straight-up wheat dough. If the dough is still unreasonably sticky after you've added in 4 cups of flour, oil your hands to continue kneading until the dough is smooth and supple, if still a bit wet. Form the dough into a ball.

Oil your mixing bowl. (Just grease right over whatever was left from the sponge. It will be fine.) Place the dough ball in the bowl and turn it once so that the top is oiled. Cover with a clean damp kitchen towel and allow to rise until nearly doubled in size, 50-60 minutes. It is ready when you can leave an imprint in the top of the dough when you lightly press it with two fingers. If the dough springs back, it needs to rise a bit longer. If it sighs and deflates a bit, it has risen too long. It will still taste great, but keep a close eye on it during the next rise.

Fully risen

Punch down the dough gently but firmly, flattening it out as much as possible inside the bowl. Form it into a ball again and flip it once. Cover with the towel and allow to rise again. This rise will take less time than the first, so check it after 40 minutes (or sooner if the room is very warm or the dough over-rose last time.)

Punch down again and return the dough to your cleaned, lightly floured counter. Divide the dough in two roughly equal pieces. Allow pieces to rest while you oil two loaf pans.

To shape loaves, knead one piece of dough 5 times, then flatten into a rectangle with the short end about as long as the length of the loaf pan. Roll the dough into a tight cylinder and pinch the long seam. Then pinch the side seams. Place the loaf into the pan with the seam side down and press lightly to form the bottom of the loaf to the pan. Repeat with the second ball of dough.

Preheat the oven to 350 Fahrenheit

Cover the loaves and allow to rise for 20-25 minutes depending on how warm the room is. With a sharp knife, cut a ½” slit along the top of the loaf.

Bake for 45-50 minutes. Remove from pans to cool, and allow to cool at least 10 minutes before slicing. Once the loaves have cooled completely, they will keep well wrapped tightly in plastic in the refrigerator. I generally keep the loaf we're eating wrapped in a kitchen towel on the counter and the second loaf in a freezer bag in the refrigerator until needed. These also make excellent gifts for your toast loving friends.

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