October 17, 2013 by epaduani
I feel that I should start this post with a disclaimer: I don’t eat oatmeal. Considering the title of this recipe, one might think that eating oatmeal would be, if not a requirement, at least something that the baker would be casually aware of. I guess you could say that I am casually aware of oatmeal as all three of my children enjoy it for breakfast now and then, but that would probably be grasping at straws. So what would cause a baker who doesn’t eat oatmeal to make a bread called “Oatmeal Bread”? You guessed it, a commitment to making all of the breads in Beard on Bread. I would imagine that more important endeavors have started with less incentive than that, so I’m okay with this rationale.
Taking into consideration that Beard on Bread was written in the early 1970’s, Jim begins by saying that “there are two or three favorite recipes for oatmeal bread in this country.” For this, I will have to take him at his word. He goes on to say that he “first encountered this one in Nevada, in a restaurant that was made famous by Lucius Beebe, and it was so good that I extracted the recipe from the owner and have been using it for many years.” (According to Wikipedia, Lucius Beebe lived from 1902 – 1963 and was a “noted gourmand” who had his own column in Gourmet.) Jim described the bread as an “interesting, loosely textured bread with an unusual light-brown color and a rich, full flavor.” I have had mixed experience with Jim’s unusually colored breads, so we will see how this one turns out.
Oatmeal Bread with Cooked Oatmeal [2 small loaves]
1 cup coarse rolled oats
1 cup boiling water
2 packages active dry yeast
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/2 cup warm water (100° to 115º, approximately)
1 cup warm milk
1 tablespoon salt
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
4 to 5 cups all-purpose flour, approximately
I started out by bringing 1 cup of water to a boil in a small pot. Once it was boiling I poured in the oats, gave it a stir, and let it cook “until thickened” for about 4 minutes. To date, I have only made microwaved oatmeal for my kids, so my idea of “done” and “thickened” might not earn the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, but it looked thick so I took it off of the burner and poured it into a large mixing bowl to cool to “lukewarm”.
While I was cooking my oatmeal, I mixed the yeast with the warm water and sugar and set it aside to proof. After about 5 minutes it had certainly proofed.
Once my oatmeal was lukewarm, i added the warm milk, salt, brown sugar and the yeast mixture and stirred it up well. I then added the flour 1 cup at a time, stirring well after each addition of flour. By the third cup the dough was pretty stiff so I really had to work to get the last cup of flour into the mix. I had decided that I would take the easy way out and use my stand mixer to do the kneading, so I fitted it with the dough hook and turned it on to it’s lowest setting to start kneading. After about 4 minutes I noticed that the very stiff dough was causing my stand mixer to work really hard, even stalling it for a second or two every now and then as the dough bunched up on the sides of mixing bowl. I added an additional half cup of flour, thinking that might help with the problem, but from the standpoint of improving the kneading speed it did nothing. At this point my mixer was starting to give off that faint “burning” smell so I stopped the mixer before causing any damage to the motor and decided that I would have to finish the kneading by hand. Jim said to knead the dough until it was “smooth, pliable and elastic.” This, he said, “will take about 10 minutes.” After about 12 minutes of total kneading the dough started to get a good feel to it and I could tell that my kneading was complete. I formed the dough into a ball and placed it into my buttered flower bowl. I rolled the dough around to coat it on all sides with the butter, covered it with a towel and set it on top of the stove to rise until “doubled in bulk”, which should take 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
So after about 3 hours (I had to run out to an appointment and I felt that the dough hadn’t risen enough by the 1 hour mark, so it had to wait…), the dough had risen sufficiently. I removed it from the bowl and put it on my lightly floured kitchen counter to knead it again for 2-3 minutes. Then I cut the dough into 2 equal pieces and shaped them into loaves. I placed the loaves into 2 buttered loaf pans and covered them with a towel. I set the tins on top of the stove to allow them to rise a second time until “about even with the top of the tins, or almost doubled in bulk.”
After one hour the loaves had risen to almost the top of the tins so I preheated the oven to 375°. Once the oven had preheated I placed the two tins on the lowest rack of the oven and set the timer for 45 minutes. They would be done when they “sound hollow when tapped on top and bottom.” When the timer went off I checked the loaves and they both looked and sounded done, so I removed them from their tins and placed them directly on the oven racks for another 4 minutes to “acquire a firmer crust.” Once the timer went off I removed them from the oven and placed them on a wire rack to cool.
Jim added a note that said if you “want a very soft top crust, brush the loaves with melted butter when you bring them out of the oven.” Since I had two loaves, I decided to try this with one of them and brushed the top with some melted butter.
Since I have never been a fan of oatmeal, I was a bit skeptical about tasting this bread. However, my fears were completely eliminated when I took my first bite. The crust on the non-buttered loaf was firm but not hard, and the buttered loaf did in fact have a much softer crust, almost like a store bought loaf. I cut a few slices from each loaf and took a bite of the buttered loaf first. The bread had a nice texture, though I wouldn’t necessarily describe it as loose like Jim did. Rather, it was light and held together nicely. The bread smelled very good and I was pleasantly surprised to see that the oatmeal had broken down during the whole process and the loaf was not littered with bits of oats. When I finally took my first bite I was very happy. Considering that I don’t eat oatmeal I can’t tell you how much it tastes like oatmeal, but I can tell you for sure that it was a good loaf of bread. Everyone in the house tried it and they all enjoyed it, so that must be a good sign.
So is there a lesson to be learned here? Absolutely. Just because the title of recipe doesn’t sound like something you might normally enjoy, it just might turn out to be something enjoyable. Will I start eating oatmeal? Let’s not get too crazy.