So where do you stand on bread making? I’m very anti-machine for the whole process. Bread machines make tasty bread for sure, but for me, they just take away the whole point of making bread. I am just not excited about dumping a bunch of ingredients into a machine and letting it do all the fun parts. Some days I appreciate how much less clean-up there would be if I could do it that way, but generally if there’s a day I want freshly baked bread and don’t feel like doing it myself, I cough up $5 and buy a loaf at a bakery.
I am less anti- dough hooks on a mixer, mostly because I’ve never seen one in action in real life and I’m confused how it possibly works. I’ve been told it does. I still doubt I would ever do that, because I actually like getting a little messy and kneading by hand.
Below is my recipe for oatmeal bread, no machines (except the oven, obv). It came from my dad but he has no idea where he found it – might be an old family recipe, or it might have just come from some book he found. Regardless, it’s now a family recipe. I’m going to try explaining things so that someone who’s never made bread before can figure it out, but if you know what you’re doing, you can probably just go from the recipe card in the photo below.
First, a couple tips I have been told quite.sternly are important:
never use a plastic or metal bowl for mixing dough (you should have seen the identical look of horror on my mom and sister’s faces when they saw the plastic bowl I said I’d made bread in before. My mom practically fell over herself handing over a nice big ceramic bowl to replace it)
don’t jump around or make any kind of ruckus while the dough is rising (I’m still not sure if this truly messes up the rising, or if it was just a really good excuse for my mom to get some peace and quiet when we were kids. I have to say, when you feel compelled to walk softly, you tend to speak softly as well, and the resulting hush is pretty nice)
Things you need:
- Big ceramic or glass bowl
- Enough counter space for kneading and rolling out (I make do with about a square foot of empty counter in my tiny kitchen, I recommend having much more room than that)
- Tea towel
- Two loaf pans
- Rolling pin (optional)
Ingredients, in order of appearance:
- 1 1/2 c. boiling water
- 1 c. quick oats (I’ve used old fashioned rolled oats, non-quick, and they work fine too)
- 1/2 c. molasses
- 1/3 c. shortening (gasp. I know. you could probably use butter, but I don’t! trans fat! aah!)
- 1 Tbls salt
- 2 packets active dry yeast
- 1/2 c. warm water (100 degrees I guess? if you want to get technical)
- 2 eggs at room temperature
- 5 1/2 c. flour (I usually use a combo of white and white whole wheat. this last time, I subbed out 1/2 c. flour for 1/2 c. of a wheat germ and flax seed meal mixture – totally optional)
First, take those eggs out of the fridge! I always forget they should be at room temperature for any kind of baking recipe. If you forget, you can let them sit in hot water for 5 minutes. I don’t know how big of a difference it makes, I almost never remember and use cold eggs and it’s not ruined..
Bring the 1 1/2 c. water to a boil, then turn it off and add oats, molasses, shortening and salt. Stir till it’s all combined and the shortening is melted and well combined. Set aside to cool.
Hopefully your timing works out that the yeast is proofed just as the oatmeal molasses mixture is cooled to luke warm, but not cold. I never use a thermometer or anything, usually if I can stick my finger in and it doesn’t bite me, it’s a good temperature. Too hot and it will kill the yeast! But too cold is bad also. I mean you know what “luke warm” is right? ANYway, stir the oatmeal mixture into the yeast until combined.
Beat the eggs and mix them in.
Best not to try putting all 5.5 cups in while it’s still in the bowl. What I do is put in enough to form a cohesive enough ball, and then dump it out onto a floured counter or whatever surface you’re using to knead. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and get as much of the goo as you can into the pile of dough (throw more flour into the bowl to make the bits less sticky, they’ll scrape out easier), and then knead 10 minutes or so, adding flour when it gets too sticky. Every once in a while you can rub your hands together and work all the bits stuck to your hands back into the dough.
Kneading is pretty tough to explain in words, so here’s a picture, from “Real Bread; a fearless guide to making it,” by Maggie Baylis & Coralie Castle (1980). I found this book in a used bookstore in Portland, Oregon a couple years ago (Powell’s FTW). It’s actually got some really helpful info on all kinds of things about bread making (it’s also where I adapted my pizza dough recipe from, which I still need to share on here). Let me know if you want to borrow it.
My miserable attempt at describing kneading in words: flour your hands, and press the heals of both hands into the center of the dough and push down and forward, cup your fingers around the edge and pull it back over the center while giving the dough about a quarter turn, press heals of hands into dough and push down and forward, pull it back over and repeat repeat repeat. Did that make any sense? There must be a YouTube video about this, I would link to one but I’m too lazy to search it out! :)
Knowing exactly when to stop kneading is something I’m still getting the hang of. There’s all kinds of signs you look for, which I will describe, but know that for the very first bread I baked by myself, when I only had this vague idea of mixing, kneading, rising, punching, dividing, rising, baking – I screwed up many times. I way underkneaded, set it to rise then 10 mins later realized I hadn’ t kneaded it long enough and brought it back out to knead some more. Still probably didn’t knead it enough. I didn’t roll it out properly, I did so many things wrong – and it still turned out really. delicious. So don’t worry too much!
Here are some tips for kneading and knowing when to stop:
– don’t worry about getting exactly 5.5 cups of flour into it. the amount needed will vary a lot with humidity and whatnot, so get it to a point where it resembles dough, turn it out onto the board, and knead flour into it as needed. As needed means until it stops being really sticky; you don’t want Too much flour. If it gets to a point where you are having a hard time folding it over itself to knead, that’s too much flour. Real Bread book says at that point, mist some warm water over it to soften it back up. Just uhh, try not to get to that point. :)
– it’s ok to take a short break. if you get tired or get called away for a few minutes, letting the dough rest isn’t going to hurt it. just cover it with the bowl till you come back.
– the dough is ready for the next stage when it gets smooth and soft. it should bounce back when you press into it, and shouldn’t be sticky.
So when it’s done being kneaded (or whenever you’re sorta-kinda-maybe sure it’s done), form it into a ball and place it back into your bread bowl, which has now magically been cleaned and oiled (maybe you leave the dough resting on the counter while you clean and oil your bowl; maybe you have a second big bowl you pre-oiled because you’re awesome; or maybe you get someone else to do this for you while you’re kneading (my preferred option)). Roll the dough around in the bowl to coat all sides, then cover with a damp tea towel and leave to rise in a warm place for 1.5 hours, or until doubled in size. I usually turn the oven on to warm for a minute or so, then turn it off (don’t forget to turn it off!) and then put the covered bowl in there to rise.
After 1.5 hours or so, it should be ready to come out. If you press two fingers gently into it and your finger marks don’t go away, it’s good to go. Now’s the fun part, what I would always fight my sisters for a chance at doing when my mom made bread: punching it down.
You don’t need to put all your might into it, but a good strong punch is good. If you go too easy, give it another punch or two. Pull the dough from the bowl by working it away from the edges and folding it over itself, and then fold it over into one hand and place it on a lightly floured surface. Divide it into two mounds with a floured knife (or if you’re fancy, a pastry scraper/knife thing). My bread book says to cover with a bowl or tea towel and let rest 10 minutes. I did not know that part and have never done it.. but I trust this book! so maybe do that. Gives you the chance to oil your loaf pans (another thing I (a bit frantically) called zach in to do for me since I had gone ahead and formed my loaves before remembering to oil the pans).
Forming Loaves. Once you’ve divided the dough roughly in half (I never get them perfectly even, always end up with one bigger loaf), set one half back in the bowl for a moment and cover with tea towel. Take the other half and spread out on a lightly floured surface. You can spread it out with your hands or use a rolling pin – you’re trying to form a roughly rectangular shape. Roll it up tightly like a jelly roll, and then fold under the ends; ideally the loaf you’ve formed is long enough to just touch the ends of the loaf pan, and fill the pan about 2/3 full. Repeat with the second half of dough.
Let the dough rise again in the loaf pans, about 45 minutes or until approximately doubled in size.
My recipe says to bake at 375 for 35 mins. I have never needed it to go the full 35 minutes – I would set it for 20 – 25 minutes and keep an eye on it. It should be a nice rich brown without looking like a dark burnt brown..
When you tap on the top of the loaf, it should sound hollow. Remove the loaf from the pan (you may need to use a spatula to loosen the bread around the edges), by turning over the loaf into your hand (with an oven mit on!) and pulling the pan off. Tap the bottom of the loaf, and if it sounds nice and hollow, it’s done. If it doesn’t, put it back in the oven without the pan for a few more minutes.
If you like a soft crust, you can coat the top of the bread with a little butter at this point, while it’s still hot. You can see in the below picture that I did it sort of willy nilly, and didn’t coat the whole crust. This was the first time I’d tried the butter coating and wasn’t sure if I even wanted to do it, but I went for it on one loaf. I think I liked the result, the other unbuttered loaf did flake more in the crust, but that might be just because we cut into it a week later and it had dried out a little.
I should probably mention that I am still actually a novice bread baker. All of the above should be read knowing there is probably more to it, there are probably ways to make even better bread, and reading up on it from other sources is a really good idea! But this is how I do it and it comes out pretty well. Have fun and let me know if you make this bread! :)