Who knew a loaf of bread would bring me back to the blog. Whole wheat bread, no less. You’d think after so many months away it would be something amazing like duck confit in puff pastry. Just kidding, yuck. The thing I came back to tell you though is this bread IS amazing. At least if you’re like me it is. So I want to tell you about it. Beacause even though it’s just bread, and even though while the dough was rising it reminded me of my stomach, (if you’ve given birth more than once you’ll know what I mean) I still really, really love it.
But first I want to tell you something a little vulnerable. Something that will be filed away in the “learning experience” category of my life. A few weeks back we bought a bread maker. A huge, white, noisy, and, as it turns out, smoking appliance that sat on our kitchen counter and made a handful of really average loaves of bread and made me feel like a really average person. Our hope was to find a solid whole wheat bread recipe that we could crank out a gazillion times in an effort steer clear of the store bought stuff with the super long ingredient list. Reasonable idea, right? Right.
Wait. No! Not if you’re me. Because I love being in the kitchen. I read cookbooks and food blogs in my free time. I am tempted by and fully appreciate projects like this. And fully appreciate the art of putting different ingredients together to produce something super wonderful and special and homemade. I appreciate the time it takes. The work of it. I drive to the store late at night to get a weird ingredient I forgot. I make things like homemade blood orange/lemon curd. I call my friends in the morning and asked them what they had for dinner the night before and if it wasn’t terrific I troubleshoot it until I figure it out. And even though I am secretly nervous around yeast and can’t quite look it in the eye, I am someone who would be thrilled to be in the kitchen making bread by hand.
So then one day the machine literally started smoking while it was trying to bake us an unimpressive loaf of bread and that was it. It was over. We took it back, got a refund, and I tried to find my soul.
Good thing there are people like Molly from Orangette who have so much soul it actually hurts a little when I read about her life. And I will even admit right here and right now that more than once after reading her blog I have, for a few seconds, entertained the idea of moving my entire family to Seattle and begging her for a job in their restaurant. Oh no, I just pictured it and that’s embarrassing. I could go on and on. But then I would be someone writing a blog about a blog and that’s embarrassing too. I think I’ll just stick to making the whole wheat sandwich bread she found in this book. It’s super easy to make, rises beautifully, has great taste, and isn’t dense like a brick. It really is the perfect sandwich bread. I had egg salad on it today and it was so good I had to come back here and wake up my blog. And later I think I'll tell my husband we need to immediately go out and buy a commercial bread slicing machine, now with the counter space and all.
Oatmeal Sandwich Bread
1 package (2 ¼ tsp.) active dry yeast
3 Tbsp. unsulphured (not blackstrap) molasses
2 ½ cups whole wheat flour
2 cups bread flour
1 cup rolled oats
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 ¼ tsp. table salt, or to taste
Grease a large bowl and a loaf pan with butter or cooking spray.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine 2 cups warm water, the yeast, and molasses. Stir briefly, and then allow the yeast to bloom for about 5 minutes. Add the flours, oats, and butter, and stir to mix. The dough will look rough and shaggy. Cover with a towel, and let stand for 30 minutes. [This rest allows the dry ingredients to absorb the liquids, making for a dough that’s easy to work with and even-crumbed.]
Attach the bowl and the bread hook to the mixer. Add the salt, and mix on medium speed for 6 minutes. The dough should come together around the hook and slap around the sides of the bowl without sticking. If the dough is sticking, add a tablespoon or two of bread flour, sprinkling it down between the dough and the sides of the bowl. [Alternatively, you can knead by hand for about 15 minutes, adding flour as needed.] The dough should be soft and supple and slightly sticky.
For the first rise, scrape the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead it a few times. Put the dough into the greased bowl, cover with a towel, and leave it to rise for about 1 hour, or until it is doubled in size. To see if it’s ready, gently push a floured finger into it. If the dough springs back, it needs more time; if the dimple remains, it’s ready for the next step.
To shape the dough, scrape it onto a floured work surface. Press down on it, working it into a square shape, taking care to depress any bubbles. Fold the dough down from the top to the middle, then up from the bottom to the middle. Next, bring the newly formed top and bottom edges together, pinching the seam to seal. Pinch the sides together, and roll the shaped dough back and forth, plumping it so that it’s evenly formed and about the size of your pan. Place the dough in the pan with the seam side down, and press it gently into the corners of the pan.
For the second rise, cover the dough with a towel, and let it rest in a warm place for about 1 hour, or until the dough rises to half again its size. While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 400°F.
When the dough has finished its second rise, bake for about 40 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through. The loaf is ready when the top crust and bottom crusts are nicely browned. To see if the bread is ready, give the top of the loaf a thump with your hand. If it sounds hollow, it’s ready; if not, give it another few minutes in the oven. Remove the finished loaf from the pan and cool completely on a wire rack. Resist the urge to cut in until it’s fully cooled, so that the crumb has time to set and the flavor can develop.
Yield: 1 loaf