Post 117 – The Perfect Bread – Oatmeal Cranberry Walnut

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One of my first jobs out of college was at a small bakery in Dayton, Ohio. I had to be there at 5 AM, which meant getting up at 4, in the dark, hating the world, and driving on mostly empty, quiet roads. When I got there our bread baker was usually wrapping up his overnight shift while listening to talk radio. The first few hours of my days were always hard – not only had the day just begun, but it was really really early. The kind of early where you get up and wonder what the heck you are doing with yourself. Once the sun came up, it was always like seeing the light at the end of the tunnel – there was hope the day would get better. Sunrise meant the bakery would open soon, which meant customers would come trickling in and the quiet dark of the morning’s preparations would be replaced by the happy din of caffeinated and well-fed people.

IMG_1478While working at this bakery I acquired some helpful techniques while I learned to make croissants, scones, cookies, brownies, and danish all from scratch. Though I never made bread while I worked there I often took home a loaf during the week. My mom’s favorite was their Oatmeal bread. It had a soft, comforting texture and mild oat-y flavor. It went well on its own toasted with butter or topped with turkey or ham for a simple sandwich. My favorite sandwich that they made was the turkey sandwich on Cranberry Orange bread with pesto mayo. It might sound like an unusual combination, but the flavors married well together – the cranberry-turkey combination reminiscent of Thanksgiving, with the pesto and orange playing off the sweet, tangy, savory, and salty mix.

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Now that I live in Boston I no longer have access to these delicious baked goods, though there are more than enough delicious bakeries in Boston. Sam and I have frequented a few and in particular are big fans of Flour bakery, not to be confused with Clear Flour, which we also love, and finally Tatte. While these bakeries all produce delicious breads and pastries, sometimes the extra trip (and extra cash) to buy these treats seems a little inconvenient. I decided to try and recreate a mash-up of some of my favorite breads to have on hand for tasty sandwiches or morning toast. This bread is a mash-up between the two breads from my Dayton bakery: oatmeal bread and cranberry orange bread, and the cranberry pecan bread made by Iggy’s in Cambridge. It is simple, comforting, and versatile and will probably save you some money if you usually buy a nice loaf at the local bakery. I even made myself a turkey sandwich reminiscent of my days in that Dayton bakery. For the pesto mayo I mixed equal parts homemade pesto sauce with mayonnaise.

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Forgive me, I realize my Ohio-shaped cutting board is backwards.

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Oatmeal Cranberry Walnut Bread

Though I already checked off a recipe from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, this one is totally worth sharing and making again and again. Like all homemade breads, it does take time, though most of it is hands-off time so don’t let that stop you. And don’t be intimidated! There are really no tricky techniques involved so go make it yourself!

Adapted from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day

7/8 cup lukewarm water

1/2 cup milk

1/4 cup pure maple syrup

2 1/4 tsp. active dry yeast (1 packet)

1 1/2 tsp. Kosher salt (or 1 tsp. table salt)

2 T. canola oil or other neutral tasting oil

1/4 cup + 2 T. oat bran

3/4 cup rolled oats

1/4 cup whole wheat flour

2 cups + 2 T. all-purpose flour

3/4 cup dried cranberries (or substitute raisins)

1/2 cup chopped walnuts (or substitute pecans)

Mix water, milk, syrup, yeast and salt in a large bowl (make sure there is room for the bread to rise a bit). Add oil, oat bran, oats, wheat flour, and flour in that order and stir in to incorporate. Don’t knead. The great thing about this book is that you don’t have to spend any time kneading your bread! Cover with a lid (not airtight) and let rise at room temperature for 2 hours or until doubled in size. We usually use a plastic bowl with clasps on all sides and we leave one clasp undone.

When risen you can use it right away or refrigerate it.* When ready to bake, grease a loaf pan and roll out the dough into a rectangle about a half inch thick. Sprinkle cranberries and walnuts all over it and gently press them into the dough. Roll up the dough to encase them like you would a cinnamon roll dough. Shape into a loaf by folding it over again and adjusting as needed to fit the pan. Put in loaf pan and let rise again for 1 hour and 40 minutes. Twenty minutes before baking time, start the oven preheating at 350.

If you want to make it extra-fancy-pretty you can brush it with egg wash (a beaten egg with a splash of water) and sprinkle with a few more rolled oats. I skipped this step.

When the oven has preheated, put the loaf in the oven and bake for 45 minutes or until golden brown and firm. If you are unsure whether it is done, it is better to bake it a little more. You can also take the internal temperature, which should be about 200 F. Let cool completely for easier slicing.

A few tips:

Yeast is alive and is activated and fed by a few different foods including salt and sugar. The water temperature is also really important. If the water is too hot, it can kill the yeast which means your bread won’t rise. If the water is too cold, it will just take a little longer for the dough to rise. If possible aim for body temperature or no higher than about 110 degrees F.

*It is much easier to use when the dough is refrigerated for a bit and can be a great way to prep ahead of time. The dough can sit in the fridge for a few days before you have to worry about baking it.

This bread is best when it is fresh and is excellent toasted. To help make it last longer, after it has cooled completely, slice it, wrap in plastic, and put in a freezer bag. You can freeze it and easily take out one slice at a time to toast or thaw on its own.

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Bon appetit!

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6 thoughts on “Post 117 – The Perfect Bread – Oatmeal Cranberry Walnut

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