Honey Oatmeal Whole Wheat Bread

Anyone who knows me can tell you that I  bread.  I am a bread fanatic.  Making bread is therapeutic, too.  All that kneading can really work out some tension!  I am always looking for new and interesting bread recipes, particularly ones that employ some kind of odd ingredient or technique.  I am also always looking for healthier types of bread, since we all know how bad refined flours are for our bodies.

I found this recipe at Healthy Green Kitchen, and it seemed to hit all the marks!  Healthy, with odd ingredients, and employing a technique involving the word “ferment.”  Fermenty breads are the most fun to make, in my humble opinion.  They take me right back to 4th grade science class when bubbly, stinky, gooey things were fascinating to our little minds.  Another thing I like about this bread recipe is that it is adaptable.  You can use cooked brown rice or quinoa or any number of other cooked grains you might have on hand.  Once I try my hand at quinoa, I plan to make another batch of this bread using leftover quinoa in place of the oatmeal, just to see how it turns out.

A little heads-up: this is a time-consuming recipe.  Not in terms of time you actually spend doing stuff to the dough, but in terms of the time  you need to plan ahead in order to complete the recipe properly.  The starter needs to ferment (yay!) for 12 to 24 hours.  The good news is that making the starter takes all of  10 minutes, so you could put that together on a Friday morning, set it aside in a corner somewhere (covered, especially if you have cats who like to investigate bubbly things!), and make the bread Saturday morning.  The actual demands on your time or ability are small…this bread is surprisingly easy and, dare I say, foolproof.

It is also delicious.  I wasn’t sure how I felt about letting milk and butter ferment over night, but I figured that if our ancestors could do this for hundreds of years, so could I.  And, probiotics are all the rage now, so…yeah.  This morning when I tiptoed upstairs at 7am to finish the recipe, I was pleasantly surprised to note that the starter didn’t smell very funky at all.  It has a slightly “sour” smell, kindof like sourdough though nowhere near as strong.  With my nose reassured, I proceeded with the recipe and waited painstakingly through the cooling-down period (essential!) before cutting the first slice.

I used honey and a combination of all-purpose and whole wheat flours.  The texture of the bread is surprisingly really soft.  I expected the whole wheat flour to make it a bit tough, but happily that was not the case at all.  The crust is thin (good for those crust-haters out there), and the loaf itself has a nice high rise for uniformly tall slices.  I can taste the hint of honey in the bread, with a pleasant nuttiness from the oats and the whole wheat.  The bread is not too dark or dense, yet it is substantial and study enough to hold up to sandwich toppings or the toaster.

I’m really, really impressed with this recipe.  It was easy and it made me feel closer to my food because I know everything that went into it from start(er) to finish.  My dough gave me enough for three 8×4-inch loaves, which is more than enough to last hubby and I through this week.  I plan to make this bread 2-3 times per month, and hopefully never have to buy icky commercial bread again.  For next time, I hope to try a cinnamon swirl version, and maybe an herb version for serving with stew or spaghetti.

If you are a bread-lover like me, you need to try this recipe.  If you haven’t made bread before, I don’t think you could find an easier recipe.  You just mix a bunch of stuff together, leave it to ferment, add flour and voila!  You have dough, ready to be kneaded and baked in whatever shape you so desire. 

Honey Oatmeal Whole Wheat Bread
Adapted from Healthy Green Kitchen
Yield: Makes about 3 8×4-inch loaves, but you can make two larger or 4 smaller loaves, or freeform the dough in any shape you like.

Ingredients for the oatmeal starter:
2 cups cooked oatmeal (or brown rice, or quinoa, or millet, or…)
1 cup water
1 cup milk
1/4 cup softened butter
1 tablespoon fine sea salt
1 tablespoon regular dry yeast
1/2 cup all-purpose unbleached flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour

Directions for the starter:
Mix oatmeal, water, milk, butter, salt, and yeast in a large bowl.   Add flours and mix well: it should resemble a thick, chunky gruel.  Break up large clumps of flour or butter as best you can, but don’t worry too much over it. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave for 12-24 hours at room temperature to ferment.

Ingredients for the bread:
1/2 cup honey or pure maple syrup
6-7 cups all-purpose unbleached flour or whole wheat flour or a blend  (I used about half all-purpose and half whole wheat)

Directions for the bread:

1. After the starter has fermented for 12-24 hours, stir the honey or maple syrup into the starter mixture. Stir in 2 cups flour (all white, all whole wheat, or a blend).
2. Using an electric stand mixer or your hands, mix in the remaining 4-5 cups of flour.  Stop adding flour when the dough is no longer tacky (i.e. when you can touch it without gobs of it sticking to your fingers).  I needed about 4 1/2 cups of flour at this step.
3. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface.  Knead for about 10 minutes, adding a bit more flour if needed to prevent sticking. Grease a large bowl.  Place dough into the bowl, turn to coat, cover and let rise till doubled in a warm place, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
4. Gently deflate dough.  Remove dough from the bowl and divide the dough into equal portions for as many loaves as you’d like to make.  I divided mine into three balls.  Shape loaves and place into loaf pans. Or, for a rustic round loaf, shape as you like and place on lightly greased cookie sheet.
5. Cover pans or cookie sheet and let dough rise to nearly double. about 45 minutes.
6. While dough is rising, preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
7.  Once dough is doubles, slash the top of each loaf 3-4 times with a serrated knife.  Bake 25-50 minutes, depending on the size and shape of your loaves. The bread is done when golden brown and a tap on the bottom of each loaf makes a hollow noise.  My 3 8×4-inch loaves took about 30 minutes to bake.
8. Cool bread in pans or on cookie sheet for 5 minutes.  Remove from pans or sheet and place on rack to cool completely before slicing.

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