Last week I baked bread at home for the first time since I arrived in Santa Fe - this town that sits at 7000 feet. You see making yeasted doughs at this high altitude is an intimidating task at best, a terror-inducing time-waster at worst. As I mentioned, that ugly and critical Bigfoot told me it was impossible. I think "flat and disgusting" were the exact words. But the aim is to prove the thing wrong. So gathering myself and my ingredients for the classic Oatmeal Bread from More-with-Less, I did just that. This Oatmeal Bread was the first bread I ever baked years ago, and has become my go-to. It is straightforward and genuine, lightly sweetened. Add a few oats on top and the thing is stunning.
On that baking day - Without music. Without a machine. Quietly and meditatively, I measured and stirred and kneaded. Refusing to simply rely on the recipe, I instead channeled the instincts of my grandmother, thought on the words of Willem and the advice of Robert. How should the dough feel? I looked intently, touched, smelled, tasted - I added honey and salt, cut back on flour. It was one visceral motion after another.
A bread dough is a living thing really. You press it with your fingertips and it recedes. You move it and twist it - it gasps, exhales, and lets you in. The seemingly simple ball of water and wheat and honey evolves underneath your touch into a deeply complex flavored prize. It meanwhile feeds our urge to touch something nurturing. The dough tells us the sweet stories about the water and wheat and honey, how much they love each other, and where their fate lies.
I actually became so meditative on that story-telling dough that as I placed it in the oven, the oats looking pleased and poised on top, I realized I was supposed to have “shaped into 2 loaves”. No matter... I had one giant loaf of beautiful, nurturing bread. Perfectly flavored, it was an affectionate silk. The day was a lovely one and the house smelled like home for the moment.
Not a Bigfoot in sight.
Adapted from More-with-Less
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Combine in a large bowl:
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
4 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons honey
2 cups boiling water
Stir boiling water in to combine and melt butter.
1 pkg dry yeast or 2 1/4 teaspoons dry yeast
1/2 cups warm water
When batter is cooled to lukewarm, add yeast.
4 to 5 cups white flour
Note: Stir in flour 1 cup at a time, stopping when the dough can be formed into a ball, and is no longer excessively sticky. It can be slightly sticky as you'll continue adding a bit of flour as you knead. You do NOT want a tight-feeling dough, which too much flour will certainly do.
When the dough can be formed into a ball, but before it feels tight, turn onto a lightly-floured surface and knead 8-10 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, cover and let rise until doubled - about one hour. Punch down and let rise again.
Shape into 1 giant loaf by folding the edges in towards the center to create one seam. Brush the top with water and roll the top surface in a layer of rolled oats. Place in a greased large bread pan and let rise another 15 minutes. You'll know it is ready when you push your finger into the loaf and an indent remains. With a straight razor or knife, cut 3-4 diagonal slits across the top.
Bake at 350 F for 30-40 minutes or until the crust is dark golden brown. (60-70 minutes at 7000 feet). Cool on rack completely before serving. Makes superb toast and will keep for several days.
Enjoy! (and Take That Bigfoot!)