Now We Are Four
Cooking for Hugo: Avocado Cucumber Salad

Fannie Farmer's Oatmeal Bread


Dear reader, it has been a long week. I know it's only Wednesday. And Monday was a holiday here. Yes, somehow, I have been bested by a Tuesday and half a Wednesday. I am counting the minutes until the weekend.

Hugo is home with pink eye and a runny nose. The mucus, it is oppressive. The whining even more so. Bruno has decided that daytime napping will be done only while being bounced in a bouncy chair, or wrapped in a baby sling, or pushed in a stroller. None of these will allow me to distance myself from him by more than 10 inches. I am still wearing the workout clothes I donned this morning. Nota bene: I have not worked out. I have not showered. Both of my shoulders are damp with regurgitated breast milk. Last night, I slept a cumulative total of three hours. Things are not pretty.

But let's talk about more pleasant things. Bread. Homemade bread. It happened because I recently accidentally bought "instant" oats. I do not like "instant" oats. Somehow I was not paying attention in the grocery store (I blame the baby and his nighttime shenanigans) and I grabbed the wrong bag. At home, whilst decanting the oats into their glass container, I realized my mistake. My disappointment was disproportionate, but what can I say? Sleep deprivation and the perpetual scent of sour milk on one's person will mess with your sense of perspective. Then, last weekend, while paging to the only recipe in the Fannie Farmer cookbook that I use (the pancake recipe), I came across a recipe for something called "Oatmeal Bread" that uses, wait for it, instant oats. A whole cup of them.

And there it was, a long-missed sense of triumph, albeit tiny. A solution to my oat problem. It may be pathetic, what passes for triumph in these trying days. But I will take any victory, no matter how small. And it was a victory indeed, this bread discovery.

The recipe produces a nice, sturdy loaf of sandwich bread that is agreeably chewy and has a nice, even crumb. It doesn't taste like oatmeal, really, but it has a damp wholesomeness that is just lovely. And did I mention how nicely chewy it is? I like it a lot. It toasts well, stands up well to a variety of toppings, both sweet and savory, makes a very good grilled cheese, and is as comforting to make as it is to eat. The right recipe for me, right now. 


Now, the recipe is simple as can be, and yet I managed to simplify it further. As you may know, if you have read Classic German Baking, I loathe active dry yeast and its finicky nature. Moreover, you can't buy it here in Germany. So I use instant yeast instead, which means you can also skip the irritating "proofing" step when making yeasted dough and just mix all the ingredients together at once. I urge you to do the same. (I used 1/2 tablespoon of instant yeast for 5 1/2 cups of flour - next time, I will try the recipe with 1 teaspoon of instant yeast to see just how little yeast I can get away with.) The recipe calls for 1/2 cup of molasses, but I didn't want a sweet loaf, so I reduced the molasses to 1 tablespoon. You can use honey instead of molasses if you prefer, but at just a single tablespoon, the molasses flavor is nonexistent. It is just the right amount of sweetener for a loaf that is meant to be eaten with lots of different things. I won't make it any other way. But you should of course do as you see fit.

The recipe makes two loaves. I have one in our bread box that we are working through right now; the other one I have sliced evenly and put into the freezer. Having sliced bread in the freezer for bleary-eyed mornings makes them slightly more bearable. Slightly. Working through that jar of instant oats will take some time, but pulling gorgeous loaves out of the oven on a regular basis is hardly a hardship. One takes what one can get.

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Fannie Farmer's Oatmeal Bread
Adapted from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook
Makes 2 loaves

1 cup instant oats
1 tablespoon molasses or honey
2 teaspoons salt
5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
1/2 tablespoon instant yeast
1 tablespoon butter or oil, plus more for the pan

1. Place the oats in a large bowl. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil and pour over the oats. Let stand for 5 to 10 minutes. Stir in the sweetener, salt, flour, yeast and butter. Stir until a shaggy dough comes together, then pull out onto a floured work surface and knead, adding more flour as needed, until the dough is no longer sticky and relatively smooth (the oats won't make it completely smooth). about 7 minutes.

2. Shape the dough into a ball, place back in the mixing bowl, cover with a dish cloth and place in a warm, draft-free spot (like a turned-off oven) to double in bulk (about an hour).

3. Butter two standard loaf pans. When the dough has doubled in bulk, gently pull it out of the bowl onto the work surface, knead it a couple times, then divide it in half and shape into loaves the length of the loaf pans. Place each piece of dough into a pan, cover anew with the dish cloth and let rise until doubled in bulk (about an hour).

4. Remove from the oven, if that is where you were letting the loaves rise, and preheat to 375 F/190 C. Remove the dish cloth and place the pans in the oven. Bake for 45 minutes, until the loaves sound hollow when tapped. Remove the pans from the oven and let cool on a rack for 10 minutes before turning the bread out of the pans and letting them cool completely. The sides of the bread will seem a little flabby at first, but firm up as they cool. The bread will keep in a bread box for 4 to 5 days or can be frozen in plastic freezer bags.