This oatmeal bread is a very special bread to me. When we were growing up, it was a favorite among the many delicious baked goods my Dad would frequently make; it would fill the house with its toasty-sweet aroma and our mouths with soft and chewy joy. It’s a great all-around bread, but in some situations it’s also close to a perfect bread: toasted lightly and spread with butter and honey, and laying the foundation for a well-fried, “runny” egg at breakfast. Many a breakfast in my childhood home was brought to this near-perfection-via-home-baking, and it had a lasting impression on my inner baker.
Which means it may not surprise you that my family’s oatmeal bread was also the first loaf of bread I ever baked on my own (probably). In fact, I recommend it as a “beginner bread” for anyone trying to get into baking, because the effort-to-reward ratio is so great. You can learn all the basics of mixing, kneading, rising, shaping and baking without being too worried about the results being less than stellar.
The (metaphorical) icing on the cake for this bread came awhile after we became more entangled in Mennonite culture through our friends and community: I found out the original recipe is from the infamous (well, menno-infamous) More With Less Cookbook. It makes sense; this kind of hearty, warming, welcoming food with a lot of thought behind it is just the kind of thing that tends to grow forth from the heart of that faith tradition.
So, I’m glad to pass it on to you. On to the recipe!
Oatmeal Bread Recipe
1 cup quick oats (rolled oats would work fine as well)
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon salt
2 cups boiling water, plus 1/2 cup water at room temp
2.5 tsp yeast
5 cups unbleached flour
optional: egg white and rolled oats, for topping
Put the oats, whole what flour, sugar, butter, and salt in a large bowl. Pour the boiling (or near boiling) water into the mix and mix thoroughly. Allow to cool. This is the step you’ll mess up, if any, because if you’re impatient and don’t let the mix cool down, you risk killing the yeast (yeast dies around 110-120°F). Don’t continue until the mix feels like warmish tapwater when you stick your finger to the bottom.
Mix the yeast and water together and rest for five minutes, then add to the oats and everything. This is really only a necessary step if you are using Active Dry yeast rather than Instant Dry Yeast, since the first type needs some time to wake up and get going… but it doesn’t hurt anything to do it this way. Feel free to dump it all in at once if that’s your preference.
Add the five cups of flour in batches. Everyone scoops flour differently, so it’s more important to get the dough to the right consistency than to jam in ”exactly five cups of flour”. Add 3 or 4 cups, mix really well, and once it’s too thick to mix with a spoon, dump it onto a floured counter and keep kneading in the rest of the flour until the dough is smooth and pretty sturdy. Even if it’s a little on the sticky side, it’ll be better off than overly dry dough.
Form the dough into a ball and return it to a clean, lightly oiled bowl. Cover loosely with plastic wrap or a towel, and set it aside to rise until it has roughly doubled in volume (this should take around an hour).
Divide the dough in half, and gently press each half into a rectangle. Fold the top third of the rectangle down and the bottom third up and press the seam gently to create a rough cylinder of dough. Roll it under your hands a little to even it out, then place in a greased loaf pan. Cover loosely and allow to rise again.
You’ll know it’s ready to bake when it has again increased in size (although maybe not double), and bounces back very slowly when you poke it lightly with a finger. Preheat your oven to 350 when you think you’re getting close to that point (it might take 20-40 minutes to rise).
Right before baking, tape a very sharp or serrated knife and cut a line right down the middle of the top of each loaf, about 1/2 inch deep. If you like the idea of having some sprinkled oats on top, just beat an egg white with a little water, brush it lightly over the loaves, and sprinkle with whole oats.
Bake for 25-35 minutes, until the crust is deep golden brown or the inside of the loaf registers at least 180°F on an instant-read thermometer. Remove from oven, cool for a few minutes, then remove from pans to finish cooling. Enjoy a slice or two while they’re warm, and store in plastic bags for future delicious meals!
Try it out and let me know what you think!