Monday, September 10, 2007

Honey Oatmeal Wheat Bread

Back in the day, before I spent my time sorting through endless piles of laundry, cooking for the masses, and changing diapers (my current lot in life), I was the Publications Coordinator at a non-profit Christian ministry, serving as an editor, writer, and eventually, graphic designer. As a 9-to-5 kind of gal, my yen for cooking was shelved; I was positively too tired after a long day to do any real cooking, so dinner usually consisted of a bag of microwave popcorn or a bowl of instant stuffing. Fancy!

But working at a small Christian ministry has its perks--namely, potlucks. (It ain't the benefits, that's for sure.) Sweet, wonderful potlucks. Those magical days when everyone brings their best thing in, and you stuff yourself until there is just no more room, and then you hit the dessert table. Middle-American gluttony at its down-home finest. The brilliant part was that the men on staff didn't cook at all, so their wives would send something yummy in with them, and that's how I came to enjoy a variation of this tasty bread.

J.J., our IT guy, brought these "Heavenly Honey Oatmeal" rolls in to share. After one bite, I was hooked. With a delicate, tender crumb, just the right amount of chewiness, and a perfect hint of sweetness from the honey, this is the sort of bread you just keep going back for. His wife Christie was kind enough to share the recipe with me.

But I was still a Career Girl with no real time or energy to cook, so this recipe sat in my recipe file, dormant, for years. Years. Then I got married, left my job, settled in as a homemaker, and acquired a bread machine. Mostly, I made the loaves featured in the recipe booklet that came with the appliance, so this recipe still sat unused. But gradually, as I became more and more enamored of cooking and comfortable with basic techniques, I wanted to stretch my culinary legs a bit more, making more from scratch. Homemade bread seemed like a logical next step, so I retired the bread machine and started kneading.

Out came Heavenly Honey Oatmeal bread, which I turned into loaves, instead of rolls. And since I had become a bit more concerned with making food as healthy as we could palate (which is to say, just a tiny bit), I replaced some of the all-purpose flour in this recipe with whole wheat flour. Luckily, I think the wheat flour actually enhanced the already "heavenly" flavor of this bread, which, when toasted and spread with butter, tastes a whole lot like an Auntie Anne's pretzel. Swear. But if you don't have whole wheat flour on hand, you could use all all-purpose flour, and it will still be downright delicious.

It makes two loaves, so like the Brothers' Bread, it is perfect to make on a day when you can share the second loaf with someone. Or, you know, you could just tell everyone that it just makes one loaf and eat the other one in the front closet by yourself.

(But that's up to you.)

Honey Oatmeal Wheat Bread

1 c. quick-cooking oats
2 c. boiling water
1 package (or 2 1/4 tsp.) active dry yeast
1/4 c. warm water (110-115 degrees F)
1/3 c. honey
1 Tbsp. butter
2 tsp. salt
2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. milk
2 Tbsp. oats

Mix oats and boiling water. Let stand 15 min., or until the mixture has become lukewarm.

Sprinkle yeast over the warm water, and let sit 5 minutes, or until it has become foamy.

Add proofed yeast, honey, butter, and salt to the oatmeal mixture, and mix well.

Stir in the wheat flour, and then as much of the all-purpose flour as you can. (I use a Kitchen Aid mixer, which makes this oh-so-easy, but you can do it by hand, too. Especially if your name is Beth Culp.) Remove from mixing bowl and knead for 2 minutes. cover, let rest 10 minutes. Then knead again, adding flour as needed to combat stickiness, 12-15 times.

Transfer dough to a greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm, draft-free place for 1 hour. Punch down, and transfer to a lightly floured surface. Divide in half, then shape each half into a loaf, placing each loaf into a greased loaf pan. Cover again with plastic wrap (this time, loosely), and let rise until doubled.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Brush each loaf with milk and sprinkle with oats. Bake for 45 minutes in preheated oven. Turn out onto wire rack to cool. Enjoy!

Yield: Two loaves, many happy tummies.

P.S. Beth, people will always need bread. We Be Bakin'.

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