A Loaf of Bread

Old Fashioned Oatmeal Bread

Sometimes it’s when my pantry is almost empty that the urge to bake is strongest. At the moment, I’m almost completely out of sugar (both brown and white), there are only a few cups of all-purpose flour left in a cut-down 5 kilogram bag, my store of eggs is dwindling, and I’ve just enough butter to grease a pan or two.

So of course, my head is full of cakes and cookies, muffins and breads. I took stock and realized I had plenty of molasses and a brick of shortening. I reached back to memories of childhood baking and one of the first breads I learned how to make.

No knead bread is quite sophisticated these days, based on sourdough artisan loaves, but when I was a kid it was a simple, old fashioned recipe. My go to baking book back then was Betty Crocker’s New Good and Easy Cook Book, which I pulled down when I wanted to make Snickerdoodles, Chocolate Crinkles, Brownies, or Blondies.

But I also ventured into the savoury baked goods section and the “Easy Oatmeal Bread” was a great confidence-builder for a young baker. My mother made wonderful breads and I often helped her with the measuring, mixing, and kneading. It was a while before I had the confidence to make those breads on my own. This no knead bread was easy enough for me to make after school and have ready before supper.

My mother’s copy was a reprint of the 1962 edition. I found two copies of the same edition at a library sale long ago, kept one for myself, and gave the other to my sister. So, when I’m feeling nostalgic, or when my pantry stores are reduced to the levels of a more frugal era, I pull mine off the shelf.

Tonight, I revisited that oatmeal bread, making some substitutions and additions that helped bring it a little closer to the 21st Century. When you make it, feel free to use butter in place of the shortening. But if you find yourself short of butter, as I did tonight, you might be surprised at how much you enjoy this bread with an old school dose of shortening.

Oatmeal bread ready for the oven

Old Fashioned No Knead Oatmeal Bread

  • 3/4 cup boiling water
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 3 tbsp. shortening, softened
  • 1/4 cup fancy molasses
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1 pkg. active dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup warm water (100°C)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • a pinch of nutmeg
  • 2 tbsp. sliced almonds
  • 1 tbsp. flax seeds

Grease a 9″X5″X3″ loaf pan with butter. Set aside.

Put all-purpose flour into a medium-sized bowl. Then, sift whole wheat flour into the bowl, adding any bran that’s left in the sifter afterward. Lightly whisk the flours together. Set aside.

Fit the paddle attachment onto a stand mixer. Add the boiling water, rolled oats, shortening, molasses, and salt to the bowl of the mixer. Stir together on low, then allow to cool until it’s lukewarm.

Meanwhile, cool 1/4 cup of boiled water to 100°C, then add yeast, stirring until dissolved.

Add yeast, egg, and half the flour to the bowl of the stand mixer. Beat for two minutes on medium speed.

Add the rest of the flour, along with a pinch of nutmeg, and stir until almost completely incorporated. Add sliced almonds and flax seed, then stir until all ingredients are incorporated.

Spread the dough into the prepared loaf pan, making sure the top is even and smooth. Allow the loaf to rise in a warm place for about 1 1/2 hours.

Once the dough has risen, preheat the oven to 375°F. Bake 40-50 minutes. The loaf is done when it is well-browned and sounds hollow when knocked. Remove the loaf from the pan, place on a wire rack, and if you like, brush with melted butter. Cool completely.

Adapted from Betty Crocker’s New Good and Easy Cook Book (1962 edition)

Sliced oatmeal bread

The Need to Knead

IMG_5084

I’ve been having a persistent hankering to bake bread lately. I don’t like to do it at home, because it’s not good for the celiac-sufferer of the house. I’m pretty good at avoiding cross-contamination, but I can’t seem to make bread without flour getting into the very air. Can you?

Instead, I went over to my parents’ place and made them a loaf of black bread from Diana Henry’s A Change of Appetite. It’s a beautiful book. I’ve got it out from the library, but I think I might have to own my own copy soon.

This bread is rich, but it’s not heavy. The flavours are enhanced by cocoa powder and instant coffee, blackstrap molasses and shredded carrots. I skipped the caraway, as I’d forgotten to add it to my shopping list, but I didn’t miss it in the loaf.

I haven’t made bread entirely by hand for quite a while and I enjoyed kneading this bread for the ten minutes it required. There’s something quite soothing about kneading bread. Not just the repeated, meditative motions, but also the changes your hands render on the dough. The whole process is soothing, really. Seeing and feeling the dough change from sticky and dull to elastic and shiny, the aroma of yeast and seasonings as it rises, punching it down and shaping it, knowing by its scent when it’s ready to come out of the oven – all these things are part of what makes baking bread so satisfying. I’m glad I made time for it this week.

I took a quarter of the loaf home with me and left the rest for my parents. When I spoke to my Mom today, she said she thought we could mix up the dry ingredients and portion them into containers, so that she’d have a head start on making a loaf. That’s the gold standard of praise for a recipe, right there.

IMG_5129

I used some of my portion to make a grilled cheese and smoked turkey sandwich. It was so good! I only dressed it with scant amounts of mayonnaise and Dijon mustard. There was almost no need for even that – the bread has so much flavour, especially when the molasses caramelizes in the pan.

The smoked turkey was a delicious pairing for the bread. My mother picked it up at the Bob’s Bar ‘n’ Grill deli in Aldergrove. They smoke their meat in house and it’s really good. I’m not sure I needed to know that – I may develop a habit when I go out to visit my parents.

I suspect I might be making this bread regularly when I go out to Aldergrove, but it’s not the only loaf I’ve got on my to do list. And I’d love to hear about the bread you’ve been making, or recipes you recommend for my next flour-raising adventure.

You can find a version of Henry’s Black Bread here.