Friday, April 30, 2010

He'd Been Known to Bake Bread: Grandpa Joe (Honey Oat Sandwich Bread)

The last few days have been bittersweet, as a very important member of our family passed away on the 26th. My father-in-law, known to us lovingly as Grandpa Joe, left us quietly on Monday morning. A smart, interesting, funny guy who loved a good laugh, he was also distinctive in appearance--large in frame, with a nice face and a snowy white mustache and beard. Meeting him for the first time 20 years ago, I inevitably thought of Santa Claus. He did a lot of smiling that day, and I recall feeling that he was very warm and welcoming to me.

A long-time high school biology teacher and then a counselor, Grandpa Joe never lost his willingness to share knowledge. Just for fun, he enjoyed posing little trivia questions to family members out of the blue. I remember how he'd focus his gaze on me and say very pointedly, "Jane, this one's for you . . ." then he'd let loose with an arcane query on a topic about which I may or may not have had the slightest inkling. If I managed to respond correctly, he'd acknowledge that with a grin and comment, "Not bad, Jane. Not bad."

Oh sure, he'd had a few grouchy moments over the last couple of years as his energy diminished. But now those moments just seem like isolated stitches in the broad colorful fabric of who he was. This is my favorite line excerpted from his obituary, which was written by my husband:  "He loved singing, a good meal, was known to bake bread, and had a wonderful sense of humor." Yeah, the man even liked baking bread. He greatly appreciated well prepared food, loved watching cooking shows, and he read cookbooks. How many fathers-in-law do those things?

And the guy did love to sing. Last Saturday evening, from his hospice bed, he gifted us in a quavering voice with the melody from a couple of old tunes. When asked about his favorite music, he exclaimed over the obvious pre-eminence of Frank Sinatra. What wasn't to love about a man like that?  J.R.R. Tolkien said, "If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world." Well, the world will be a little less merry now without Grandpa Joe in it and, somehow, we'll have to pick up the slack.

When I made this loaf of fresh bread the other day, I was thinking of him. I believe he would have liked it.

Love you, Grandpa Joe. See you again someday.

About this recipe . . .

Besides honey and oats, this yeast bread also includes whole wheat- and white flour. It's a dense, moist loaf with a slight and pleasant sweetness. Very easy to make, and probably very difficult to screw up, this a good uncomplicated recipe from the excellent book, King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking. I've made at least half a dozen items from this book with fine results each time.

The only change I made to the recipe was to omit nuts from the dough, and I reworded the instructions, throwing in my own two cents here and there. I hope you like this hearty loaf of bread. It's tasty toasted and buttered, but also awfully good untoasted and topped with a little peanut butter. Really satisfying.

Honey Oat Sandwich Bread

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

Lightly grease a standard size loaf pan (9" x 5") and a medium size bowl. 
1 and 1/4 cups boiling water
1 cup old-fashioned oats (I only had quick oats on hand so I used those instead)
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into pieces (okay if it's cold)
1 and 1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup honey (I used clover honey)
1 cup traditional whole wheat flour
1 and 2/3 cups unbleached All-Purpose flour
1/4 cup nonfat dry milk (if yours isn't fine and powdery, crush it before adding it in)
2 tsp. instant yeast

In the bowl of your mixer, stir together the water, oats, salt, butter, and honey. Let this cool.

In an ungreased bowl, whisk together the whole wheat flour, white flour, dry milk, and yeast. Pour this into the mixer bowl with the water-oat-honey mixture.

Put the mixer bowl onto the mixer. Using the dough hook, knead until a smooth dough forms (I mixed mine on the lowest speed for about 4 minutes; you may also choose to do this by hand, if you prefer).

Put the dough into the lightly greased medium-size bowl and cover it (I used a clear plastic food-safe box turned upside down to help create a warm moist environment) for about 1 hour, until doubled in bulk.

Once doubled, oil your hands, and thenn deflate the dough gently. (You won't need to do this on a floured surface, believe it or not.)

Shape it into a 9" log, and nestle it into the greased loaf pan.

Cover it with greased plastic wrap, and put it again in a nice proofing environment--someplace kind of warm and not too dry. Let it rise again for at least an hour or more, until it's crowned about 1.5" above the sides of the pan. About half an hour into the rising time, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Uncover the risen bread carefully, put it in the oven on the middle rack, and bake it for approximately 40 to 45 minutes. Put a foil tent over the loaf about 20 minutes into baking to prevent overbrowning. Test the bread for doneness by poking it with an instant read thermometer; when the middle of the loaf reads 190 degrees, the loaf is done.

Remove the bread from the oven, and take it out of the pan after 1 minute; put it on a rack to cool. If you like, brush melted butter lightly on the top of the loaf when you remove it from the pan; this will help the top crust stay nice and soft. Cool it on the rack completely before trying to slice it.

P.S. Did I forget to mention that Grandpa Joe used to keep honey bees? I would give anything to have a picture of him in his bee-keeper suit.

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