Editor’s note: This week’s Garden Spot is written by Jay Cooper’s wife, Maggie Cooper.
When our kids were little and I was a stay-at-home mom, I used to try to make homemade bread from time to time. Sometimes it would turn out great and other times it was awful. In any regard, it was a lot of work.
When I went back to a full time career, my bread making days ended. Fast forward to Christmas 2015. Our son and his wife gave me a wonderful gift that I would have never even considered buying for myself — a KitchenAid mixer. I am not a spender. As a matter of fact, I’m cheap and most of the pots and pans and other kitchen tools I have were either given to me as gifts (by my mother-in-law who was a kitchen gadget person) or are hand-me-downs.
I have a Master’s Degree in Guilt and if I buy something nice that I want, but isn’t a necessity, I torture myself for days thinking of all the practical ways that money could have been better spent. So, when I tore the wrapping paper off that big box under the tree and saw what it was, I was flabbergasted. Guilt instantly kicked in and I haven’t bought bread at the store since!
If you don’t have a KitchenAid mixer, don’t lose heart. This recipe can be made with or without a mixer, so read on. But if you do have one, this is your lucky day. Once you master it, you’ll never go back.
With the right tools and a bit of repetition, any task can become fast and simple to do. I can get bread from raw ingredients to rising stage in about 20 minutes. It will take slightly longer if you knead it by hand but maybe only 10 minutes more. And the results are definitely worth it.
Here are the ingredients to make two loaves of Honey Oat bread. They are divided into two categories — dry and wet.
Honey Oat Bread
6 cups of unbleached flour
1-1/2 cups of Old Fashioned oats
4-1/2 tsp. of Instant Yeast (it has to be instant yeast, not regular yeast)
4 tablespoons of unsalted butter (half a stick)
2 cups of milk
3 tsp. of salt
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup water
You will need a large bowl, sturdy large spoon for mixing (or KitchenAid bowl and dough hook), sauce pan, measuring cups, measuring spoons and candy thermometer that you can clip to the side of a sauce pan. The whole process, including both rising times, will take about 3-1/2 to 4 hours.
Measure out your dry ingredients. Put them in the mixer bowl or another large bowl. Toss to mix ingredients and set aside.
In a saucepan, melt the unsalted butter over medium heat. Cut it into pieces to help it melt faster. Slightly heat the milk in the microwave so it won’t make the melted butter coagulate again when cold milk is poured into the pan. Once the butter melts, add the warm milk. Clip the candy thermometer to the side of the pan so just the tip is under the surface of the liquid. Aim to get the wet ingredients to between 105 and 110 degrees before they are added to the dry ingredients. If it’s cooler than that, it won’t activate the yeast. If it’s hotter, it will kill the yeast.
Next add the salt, honey and water. One trick I use is to measure and add the water first and then measure the honey in the same measuring cup. The damp measuring cup will keep the honey from sticking to the sides of the cup and scraping the honey out with a spatula becomes very clean. Another trick is to check the temperature of the wet ingredients before adding the water and if it is too cool, add warm water or if it is too warm, add cold water. It can be frustrating to get the wet ingredients too hot — then you have to wait until it cools to at least 110 degrees before you can add it to the dry ingredients. I’m impatient and waiting is not one of my strengths.
Once you have the wet ingredients to the right temperature, add them all at once to the dry ingredients. If using a mixer with a dough hook, turn it on to speed 4, or slightly lower than medium speed, and mix until the dough comes together. If mixing by hand, begin to gently toss the ingredients with a sturdy spoon (a heavy wooden spoon works well) and continue to mix until the dough comes together. Once the dough comes together, continue to knead, by hand or with the mixer, for 10 more minutes. If kneading by hand, turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead by folding the dough onto itself and pressing down with your flour covered fist or palm of your hand. Continue this motion, turning the dough slightly each time to fold a different spot. Add small amounts of flour, as needed, to keep the dough from sticking to the surface or your hands.
Sometimes the mixture will need a little extra help to come together prior to kneading. If your measurements are even slightly off, the dough can be too wet or too dry to come together. If too wet, add extra flour, a teaspoon at a time, until it comes together. If too dry, add water a teaspoon at a time. If you add larger amounts of water or flour, you will end up getting wet dough, too dry, or vice versa and just chase the problem.
Prepare a large metal or glass bowl by lightly greasing the bottom and sides with shortening. You’ll need a clean towel or cloth to cover the dough while rising. Turn your oven to 225 degrees. When the kneading is complete, the dough should be smooth, elastic and just slightly sticky. Take the dough out of the mixing bowl with clean hands and fold the edges under to make a large ball with a smooth top surface.
Place the dough in the greased bowl and cover with the cloth. Put the bowl on top of the stove so the slight heat from the oven below will help it rise. Let it rise for one hour. While you are waiting, prepare two metal or glass loaf pans by generously greasing the bottom and sides with shortening.
When your timer goes off, divide the dough into two equal halves and, again, fold the edges under to form a loaf shape. Put dough into the pans and place them on top of the stove again. Cover with the cloth. Let it rise again for an hour.
When you have about 10 minutes left on the timer, raise the oven temperature to 350 degrees and remove the pans from the stove top to finish rising. Put another small pan of water onto the bottom rack of the oven. The bread will bake better with the moisture from the pan of water. Once the timer goes off, and the oven temperature has reached 350, put your bread pans in the oven on the top rack. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes.
When your timer goes off, remove the bread and immediately turn the loaves out of the pans and place on a cooling rack. Brush the tops and sides with butter. Although you will want to cut and eat a piece of bread immediately, because the smell is unbelievable, let it cool for at least 15 minutes before cutting. The loaf can crush down if you cut it while it’s too hot. I recommend using a serrated knife to cut the bread and be sure to use a sawing motion instead of pressing down hard with the knife.
Once the bread is completely cooled, store it in bread bags that are closed with twist ties. If you have a small family and think it will take you several days to eat the first loaf of bread, put the second loaf in the freezer. It will thaw in about 10 hours so remove from the freezer in time to have it ready for use when you need it. The bread freezes very well without getting dry or losing flavor.
With our bed and breakfast guests, our homemade bread, along with butter and home grown and processed fruit jams, is always a big hit and mentioned in our guest reviews. So why not give it a try? I’ll bet your family and friends will give you equally great reviews!
Jay Cooper can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can visit his channel at youtube.com/dirtfarmerjay for videos on the hands-on life of gardening, shop and home skills, culinary arts and landscaping.