Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Rise and fall of the Whole Wheat Oatmeal Loaf

You are the bread baker in the family and that is both fact and metaphor. I've generally been daunted by bread. I was told early on that bread is sort of like the kitchen's mood ring. If you approach it with any negative emotion, even if that emotion isn't about the bread, you're just feeling cranky, discouraged or dysthymic, the bread will sense this and turn dark gray. No it won't, but it won't rise. And if the negative emotion is about the bread, then like a dog, the bread can sense your fear and it will bite you, by not rising. And after a failure or two, a few loaves that could be used as weapons and then to weight the body down after you have bludgeoned it to death, well, who isn't afraid of bread?
The first bread we made was Mother Sawyer's Oatmeal loaf from Mrs. Bently. This was a loaf to soothe all fears. No kneading, and yummy every time, if a bit holey and homely. I think it won a prize at the Grant County Fair. Our award winning bread.
The first time I made that bread for someone else was at that camp in Canada where I was junior counselor. There was a woman there who helped me with the cooking. As junior counselor I was put in charge of all the cooking. She introduced me to beans and miso and cold drip coffee enemas. (The cold drip coffee enemas she only told me about, I didn't actually experience them. She felt bad about this but she had only brought so much cold drip coffee with her and to my staggering relief, didn't have enough for me.) I had made the bread dough and left it for it's first rise when she discovered it. She assumed it was a sponge, or maybe she just thought I was as hopeless with bread as I was with tempeh, and she wanted to help. She added loads more flour and kneaded away and it made a beautiful round tight loaf. Nothing like our award winning bread but still good. I should have taken comfort in that experience, seen how forgiving bread dough can be, more of this, less of that, it all still ends up as bread. But instead, I just decided that despite the awards, I knew nothing about bread and I stayed away for years.
But it's February and I want to bake and I'm trying to limit the amount of white sugar I inhale every day so I thought a week away from cake baking would be a useful exercise. Instead, I could bake bread. I found a whole wheat oatmeal loaf recipe. It is actually partial wheat, about half white flour, but that seemed safer so I went for it. The recipe warns against adding too much flour, advises 10 minutes of kneading and admits that the dough may be sticky. Well, I added nearly an extra cup of flour and only kneaded for 8 minutes and the dough was too sticky to knead any more.
I have an electric oven and a kitchen that stays about 65 degrees, so in order to have a warm place for the bread to rise, I heated the oven briefly and then put the bread in there. This worked well for the first rising, but for the second, I left it too long and it rose and then collapsed.

I baked it anyway and it probably could have taken more flour. It was good, but very soft and holey. I might gird my loins and try again. Maybe if I have a specialty cocktail before I start, I could mask my feelings and the bread wouldn't know.
Or the next time you visit we could do it together.
Love, M

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