Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Hearty Oatmeal Bread . . . with Walnuts & Sweet Dried Cherries

I bake really often, which I'm sure comes as no surprise. But the fact is, I only blog about a fraction of the stuff I bake. That's because not everything I bake at home is a brand new recipe for me (there are always the old favorites that my family requests over and over), and not every new recipe I try turns out to be pleasing enough to even bother sharing. On top of that, I do a lot of fiddling around and experimenting with recipes--often to their advantage and sometimes to their detriment--so what emerges from my oven can be unpredictable. I'm always happy as a clam when something turns out surprisingly well, and I'm positively on cloud nine if anyone expresses unbridled enthusiasm for what I've come up with.

It's not hard to please people with a gorgeous cake or a gooey cookie, but it's always a surprise to me when a wholesome loaf of bread elicits that same ardent fervor from my taste-testers. That's what happened with this yeast bread. Highlighting oats, a little flax meal, walnuts, and sweet dried cherries (from the orchards of northern Michigan, of course), this loaf has a buttery warmth that's hard to resist. This past weekend, the hubby actually said to me, "You have GOT to make this bread again. I love it." Those were pretty strong words, coming from him. He's always open to trying any new food but, ultimately, he's a man of fairly discriminating taste. Only time will tell, but I suspect I'll eventually be adding this recipe to our growing list of favorites. I think it's a keeper!

About this recipe . . . 

Adapted from a King Arthur Flour oatmeal bread recipe, I tweaked this loaf to include a small amount of chopped dried cherries, chopped walnuts, and flax, and I made a few measurement alterations to some of the other ingredients while customizing some of the steps. Both walnuts and cherries, if you ask me, are among the most flavorful ingredients you can add into yeast bread; walnuts lend that buttery aspect, while cherries pack a tangy gusto that other dried fruits just can't muster. It's a great combo.

This recipe is very simple, and not too time consuming. The bread is delicious even eaten plain, but it's at its absolute best when toasted and buttered. I hope you like it as much as we did.

Hearty Oatmeal Bread with Walnuts and Sweet Dried Cherries
(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

Makes one standard size loaf (about 9"x5").

3 and 3/4 cups unbleached bread flour (divided use)
1 cup old fashioned oats, pulsed (on and off) in a food processor for 30 seconds
2 Tbsp. flax meal (Easy to find in health food stores, and some grocery stores. If you don't have it, or prefer not to buy it, I think you could substitute an equal amount of whole wheat flour, ground oats, or bread flour.)
3 Tbsp. light brown sugar, lightly packed
1 and 1/4 tsp. coarse kosher salt
2 and 1/4 tsp. instant yeast (I use SAF brand instant yeast; they sell it in health food stores, from King Arthur Flour, and I've seen it at Whole Foods. You don't have to proof instant yeast and it's very reliable.) 
3/4 cup warm milk
1/2 cup warm water

3 Tbsp. soft unsalted butter
1/2 cup well-chopped walnuts
1/2 cup well-chopped dried cherries, loosely packed

1/4 cup melted unsalted butter, to brush on the top of the unbaked and just-baked loaf

In a large mixer bowl, by hand, whisk together 3 cups of the flour (reserving 3/4 cup), the ground oats, flax meal, sugar, salt, yeast, nuts, and cherries. Put the bowl on the mixer and, using the flat beater on the lowest speed, add in the milk, water, and butter. Mix for a minute or two to combine, until the dough looks shaggy.   

Turn the mixer off, clean the dough off of the flat beater, and switch to the dough hook. Mix on the lowest speed using the hook for 2 minutes. 

Dump the shaggy dough onto a well-floured surface (use your leftover 3/4 cup flour). It should be pretty moist; if it's not very moist, use less flour on your work surface. 

Knead the dough by hand for about 4 minutes, until it feels relatively smooth and elastic. 

Put the dough into a greased (or sprayed with vegetable spray) bowl. 

Cover it with a greased/sprayed piece of plastic wrap, then cover the top of that with a dish towel. Place the bowl in a warm spot and let it rise until almost doubled (as in the photo below); this may take about 60 to 75 minutes.

Meanwhile, grease one 9"x5" standard-size loaf pan. Take the risen dough from its bowl, and deflate it on your work surface by pressing on it with your palms/knuckles. Use as little flour as you can get away with at this point (just enough to keep it from sticking; excess flour added at this point does more harm than good). Pick the dough up and gently round it, tugging downward on the sides; you want to create a bit of tension on its surface. Cover the dough again with the greased plastic wrap, and let it rest for 10 to 15 minutes. 

Uncover it and form it into a loaf shape, being very careful to tightly pinch any seams closed. 

Put it in the greased pan, seam side down. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Cover the pan with the greased plastic again, then cover that with the dishtowel, and let the dough proof (have its final rise) in a warm spot for about 45-60 minutes. The proofed dough should have risen above the sides of the pan, as in the photo below. 

Shallowly slash/score the top of the loaf with a baker's lame, a sharp razor blade, or an extremely sharp knife; don't slash deeply (doing this helps the loaf to expand neatly without bursting haphazardly in the oven). Brush the top of the loaf liberally with half of melted unsalted butter, and reserve the rest.

Just before you put the bread in the hot oven, spritz water into the middle of the  oven from a spray-mist bottle (a few good squirts), and/or while the oven is warming up put a shallow pan of very hot water on the bottom shelf of the oven (bread likes to bake in a slightly steamy atmosphere).

Bake the bread for about 30-35 minutes, or until its interior registers 190-195 degrees on an instant-read thermometer (if you want to test it, tip the baked loaf out of the pan and insert the thermometer into the bottom). Don't peek in the oven until the bread's been baking for at least 15-20 minutes. If the bread seems to be browning too fast, cover it loosely with foil. When the bread is done, remove it from the pan to a cooling rack. Brush the top once more, while the bread is still hot, with the remaining melted butter.

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