The Recipe: A slightly sweet but still savory yeast bread, moist with oats and nutty with ground pecans, barely sweet with molasses and honey. The crust is soft but slightly chewy, the interior crumb is quite soft. This bread makes excellent toast!
The Conversation: Bread is special in my family, it means much more than just the bread itself. Read on.
"This was very good." ~ acr
A week ago today, my friend Tricia lost her Mom.
A week ago tomorrow would have been my Mom's 77th birthday. Even before hearing of Tricia's loss, I planned to pay tribute to Mom, as I do every year, by making bread on her birthday.
When I was growing up, my mother made bread every week. It was therapeutic: a way to feed her family and heal her soul while recovering from a radical mastectomy at only age 35, a way to exercise muscles irrevocably cut and weakened by surgery. She felt satisfaction knowing her labor – her pain – would nourish her family physically and spiritually.
For years, Mom mixed dough in a huge cream-colored ceramic bowl with soft pink and aqua stripes (it's pictured, above). Later she downscaled – her favorite bread bowl became a gallon plastic ice cream bucket! (More about that here, with the recipe for Homemade Yeast Rolls aka My Mom's "Ice Cream Pail" Buns.)
Then many years later, when my mom was sick with lung cancer and my family was caring for her in my home, I too made bread, this bread.
We came to call it Best-Ever Oatmeal Bread, learning that the aroma of baking bread attracts a crowd to the kitchen, eagerly awaiting the moment when the loaves are cool enough to cut into thick slices and slather with fresh butter.
It was Kitchen Parade's second recipe in 2002, fitting, for sure, since my mom first began writing Kitchen Parade when I was a baby and it was only after her death that I decided to follow in her footsteps.
So after hearing Tricia's news, I knew that after mixing and kneading and tending and shaping and baking and tapping and buttering, I would deliver warm bread to a family raw with loss, gathering with memories, communing with tears and laughter, to mourn the loss and celebrate the life of their own mother.
This recipe was first published in print in 2002 and is published online for the first time in 2007 for a blogging event called Cooking to Combat Cancer. Mele Cotte, herself a survivor, is the host and this is my proud entry.
Best-Ever Oatmeal Bread is a forgiving and adaptable recipe. I’ve intentionally (or accidentally) doubled the molasses and honey, omitted the pecan meal or the milk powder, used almond meal instead of pecan meal, substituted all-purpose flour for a portion of the bread flour, added dried cranberries or sunflower seeds, and so on.
So – follow the recipe the first time, then start experimenting.
Like all bread, it's delicious straight from the oven. But a loaf stays fresh for a week – if it lasts that long! It’s luscious toasted for breakfast and for some reason, works particularly well with chicken salad for lunch.
"PUNCH" THE DOUGH DOWN So many recipes use this language but it's just not right. "Punching" the dough is way too dramatic! Instead, just use a clenched fist, knuckles first, to gently deflate the dough, pushing the air out of it. No need to use bread dough like a punching bag, really!
BEST-EVER OATMEAL BREAD
or 1 standard-size loaf and two small rounds or three small rounds, etc.
Hands-on time: 30 minutes
Time to table: about 5 hours
- 1 package yeast (2¼ teaspoons)
- 1 tablespoon molasses (regular or blackstrap)
- 2 tablespoons warm water
- 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick or 112g) cup melted salted butter
- 3 tablespoons (55g) molasses (regular or blackstrap)
- 1/4 cup (90g) honey
- 1/2 cup (60g) dried milk powder
- 1 cup old-fashioned oatmeal
- 2-1/2 teaspoons table salt
- 2½ cups boiling water
- 1 cup (120g) pecan meal (or ground pecans)
- 6 cups bread flour, fluffed to aerate before measuring or 750g
- Additional bread flour, as needed for kneading
- Oil, for bowl
- Butter, for top crust
PROOF THE YEAST Proof the yeast by stirring it in small dish with the tablespoon of molasses and the warm water. It should bubble up in 5 minutes though if the yeast is cold (or old) it will take longer. If the mixture doesn't bubble up, unfortunately the yeast is dead and you'll need to start over the new yeast.
MIX THE DOUGH In a large bowl, combine butter, the 3 tablespoons molasses, honey, milk powder, oatmeal, salt and boiling water. Stir until cool. Add the yeast mixture, pecan meal, 6 cups flour and combine well. Turn dough onto a clean surface dusted with additional flour. It will be quite sticky.
CLEAN THE BOWL Let the bread rest for 5 - 10 minutes. While it rests, wash the bowl, rubs its bottom and sides quite liberally with oil.
KNEAD Knead the dough for 5 – 10 minutes, sprinkling the top and the work surface with flour to avoid sticking, a bench knife or other flat surface really helps. Add as little flour as you can manage, how much will depend on the flour, the humidity in the kitchen, how wet the dough already is. The last time I made it, I used almost another full 1-1/2 cups flour.
FIRST RISE Shape dough into a round and place in the oiled bowl. Turn dough 360 degrees to cover the entire dough surface lightly with oil. Cover bowl with a towel and place in a warm spot to rise. Let rise until doubled, how long will depend on the strength of the yeast, the warmth of your kitchen, etc.
SHAPE & SECOND RISE Use a fist to gently depress the dough. For two 9x5” loaf pans, cut the dough in half and shape into two logs. Spray the loaf pans with cooking spray and place one log in each. Cover with a towel and place in a warm spot to rise. Let rise 1 hour or until the dough is about 1” taller than the sides.
BAKE Set oven to 350F/175C. When hot, bake 30 - 35 minutes or until the internal temperature of the bread has reached 180F/80C (or slightly higher, up to 190F), tenting with foil if the top browns too quickly.
BUTTER & COOL Remove from oven and rub the loaf tops lightly with butter. After 10 minutes, remove loaves from the pans and let cool completely on racks.
TO SERVE If you can, let the bread cool almost entirely before slicing to avoid a rough crumb. Do let the bread cool completely before wrapping.
Just a Touch of Butter
While the bread is still hot from the oven, brush the crust with a little butter. This keeps it soft and just a little bit chewy.
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