Bake It All Away: Honey Wheat Oatmeal Bread

5 Sep

Have you ever had one of those days when you’re just mad at the world?

I had such a day earlier this week. In this case, it was over a situation which has left me feeling small, sad, and powerless. I can only stand by and watch things unfold. There is almost nothing I can do to improve or fix any of it.

And so I found myself riding my bike along the Potomac River , barely paying much attention to anything except the occasional mile marker. When I finally stopped at Theodore Roosevelt Island, I paused just for a minute. My mind started to wander and I immediately began pedaling again. The last thing I wanted to do was think.

The trails between my house and Roosevelt Island aren’t particularly difficult. There are a few grades that challenge the relatively small tires on my fold-up commuter bike, but I didn’t huff and puff the way I used to and was finally at the point where I felt mostly balanced and less terrified. But riding still required a bizarre kind of blank focus. I didn’t think about anything else, and was just aware of the road hazards, people, and sounds around me. It was only once my bike was back in the trunk of my car that I thought “Okay, time to pick up groceries and get a latte for Joe.” For those fifteen miles though, I felt a kind of ignorant freedom.

It was what I needed. I’m not saying that trumpets sounded and I was walking around with my chest puffed up and head held high, but I felt determined rather than just mad, and decided that I could do something both distracting and productive. I’d do what I almost always do when confronted with extreme stress:

Bake bread.

My father-in-law was diagnosed with diabetes not too long ago and has been trying to improve his (already very healthy) diet. He’s cut most refined carbohydrates out and has replaced his regular dark chocolate bars with ones sweetened with stevia. So I thought it would be nice to bring him a fresh baked loaf of something hearty and soft, equally delicious for both sandwiches and toast. This recipe makes just that. Low in fat and sugar (1.5 g of each per slice), but rich in fiber and protein, it’s a pretty darn good loaf of bread. It’s also a good way to start your kids on wheat bread, because the honey gives it just enough sweetness to be enticing.

You might be able to make this using only whole wheat flour, but you’d probably need to use some whole wheat pastry flour so it’s light enough to get a proper rise. I’d also recommend buckwheat honey; you can even replace a few tablespoons of it with blackstrap molasses for extra iron.

Honey Wheat Oatmeal Bread

  • 3 1/2 cups whole wheat flour, plus extra for flouring kneading surfaces and hands
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup multi-grain hot cereal (I used Bob’s Red Mill wheat-free)
  • 1 tbsp. salt
  • 2 tbsp. active dry yeast
  • 2 cups water, divided
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1/3 cup raw, dark honey
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted and cooled to room temperature

Heat the milk and 1 1/2 cups of the water in a large saucepan until steaming, but not boiling. Remove from the heat and stir in the oatmeal. Let cool, stirring occasionally, until just warm to the touch. The oats will soak up a lot of the milk, but the mixture will still be fairly loose.

Heat the remaining 1/2 cup of water to 100-110 degrees F. In large bowl, combine the yeast, 1 tsp. of honey, and the warm water. Set aside until very foamy.

In another bowl, stir together the flours, hot cereal, and salt.

Add the yeast mixture, butter, and remaining honey to the oatmeal mixture and stir to combine.

Add the oatmeal mixture and stir until a soft dough forms. It will be very sticky. If it’s too loose to knead, add up to ¾ cup of flour a few tablespoons at a time.

Turn the dough out on to a floured board. Flour your hands and knead for 10 minutes or until smooth and elastic. The dough will be slightly sticky.

Oil a large bowl, roll the dough into a ball and put it in the bowl. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and allow it to rise in a warm place until doubled in size (about 1 1/2 hours).
Punch down the dough and divide it in half. Roll each portion out into a 8 x 13 in. rectangle.

Roll the dough up jelly-roll style and tuck the edges under to shape the loaf. Place each in a greased 8 1/2 x 4 in. loaf pan. Cover the pans with a tea towel and allow the dough to rise again for 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Brush the tops of the loaves with an egg wash and sprinkle on extra rolled oats.

Bake the bread for 35-40 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 190 degrees.

Remove loaves from pans and cool completely on a wire rack.

Yield: 2 loaves (Sixteen 1.5 oz. slices per loaf)

A doctor I knew once told me that while when we can’t change the situation, we must learn to change how we react and relate to it. Rather than lash out at those around me, growl at the guy that cut me off in traffic, eat an entire pan of crispy rice squares, or glare at the woman taking her sweet time at the grocery store checkout, I did something kind for myself and my family.  I gave myself and my father-in-law something healthy to nourish us physically, and simultaneously soothed myself emotionally.

Should you ever wake up one day angry and frustrated by the world around you, admit to yourself, “Yep, this sucks.” If there’s nothing you can do to change the situation and you feel completely stuck, remember what you learned in preschool and share something good with another person (or people). Helping someone else might be just what makes you remember that the world can be nice.

So go bake some bread, and give a gift to yourself and a friend. I pinky-swear promise that you’ll be glad you did.

Ciao for now,

Neen

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