50% Oat Bread…

The Hovis Hearty Oats loaf is being touted as the first ever loaf to be made with 50% wholegrain oats and 50% white bread flour. Claiming something as the “first ever” is always reckless and often, as in this instance, totally wrong.

I made my first 50% oats, 50% white bread flour about 5-6 years ago, and I have no doubt others in the home/artisan breadmaking community have done so too. Hovis might be the first main-stream commercial producer to do it, but that’s a long way from first ever.

This, if you’d like to try it, is my recipe, somewhat revised as it was previously made in a bread machine, but now I’ve learned better.

For the bread mix:

275g Porridge oats (I think you get a better texture than you do with oatmeal). Any brand will do. I used Sainsbury’s. You might like to use an organic brand to go with the flour

275g Shipton Mill Organic strong, white bread flour

2 teaspoons fine sea salt

2 teaspoons golden caster sugar

½ teaspoon Fermipan yeast

3 tablespoons e-v olive oil

330ml lukewarm water (60% hydration – use it all)

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For the yeast starter:

1 teaspoon Fermipan yeast

1 scant teaspoon Meridian barley malt extract

1 tablespoon of the bread flour, before adding salt

100ml or so of the water

Note: spoons are measuring spoons, except for the malt extract, which is an actual teaspoon

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Measure the dry ingredients into the mixing bowl, reserving a tablespoon of white flour. Mix well.

In a small mug, dissolve the malt extract in the water. Then add the flour and stir until all lumps are gone. Add the yeast. Stir and leave for 5 minutes while the yeast hydrates. Stir well until the yeast is all dissolved, then leave alone for 20-30 minutes.

Once the yeast/flour mix has created a creamy head, add it to the dry ingredients in the bowl. Rinse out the mug with the remaining water and add that too.

Add the oil and, holding a tablespoon close to its bowl, mix until everything is combined, then leave it alone for half an hour while the oats absorb water.

Turn out onto a lightly floured surface (this is a very sticky dough and oiling your hands won’t work). With a small sieve – I use a tea-strainer – dust the dough with a very little flour, just enough so you can work it. You’ll find using a bench knife in one hand is a good idea, too.

Work the dough until you’re happy you have a homogenous mix, knead it briefly, shape into a ball, sit on a piece of baking parchment, flatten into a disc, cover closely with cling film, and leave to double in size.

Once it has, peel off the film and the parchment, and knock it back, forming a flat-ish rectangle (no need to get too obsessive about the shape). Then, using the bench knife (it’ll stick), roll it tightly into a sausage. Flatten the sausage and roll it up.

Knead it until you feel the gluten tighten up, shape into a ball and press into a flour-dusted brotform, cover with clingfilm, and at that point I invert a clear plastic bowl over it, to keep it free from draughts. The bowl is kept just for that, but if you don’t have one, invert a clean mixing bowl over it (it’s a cold, wet, and windy day, today).

While it’s proving, I cut a sheet of parchment to the same size and shape as my peel. (I use a peel and brotform – if you don’t, modify from here on to suit what you use.)

Once the dough has risen level with the rim of the brotform, lay the sheet of parchment on top, grip the side of the brotform through it, and invert onto the peel. Centre it, remove the brotform, cover again with the bowl. Leave to continue rising.

Preheat the oven at this point – 200C. With a baking sheet on the middle shelf and a baking tin on the oven floor. By the way, you want the oven thoroughly heated, which means a bit longer than it takes for the thermostat to show 200C. That way it’ll lose less heat when you put in the bread.

Once you’re satisfied that it’s as big as it’s going to get – about the size and shape of an inverted brotform if you’re lucky, but this dough is quite  dense** so maybe not that much – slash the top. Nothing fancy, a basic cross is fine, open the oven and slide the loaf gently onto the baking sheet. Throw a cup of hot water into the baking tin on the oven bottom, close the door, set your timer for 35 minutes and go and have a coffee.

**Adding a beaten egg when you add the water will help it rise – remember to allow for it in your total liquid.

Check you loaf at 35 minutes. It should be well-browned. If it’s a bit pale, give it another 5-10 minutes (ovens vary widely, and an oven thermometer is a good buy, to check your thermostat).

By the way, rapping with your knuckles on the bottom of a loaf, to see if it’s cooked, will tell you nothing beyond how sore burned knuckles can be.

Once the loaf is finished, remove to a cooling rack, turn off the oven (I often forget!), and wait until the loaf is pretty much cold before tasting it. I know it’s fun to slather butter on hot bread, but it does benefit from being left to cool undisturbed.

I tend to bag my loaves while they still have some warmth in them, which softens the crust but extends its shelf life. Take a couple of crusty slices first if you wish, but be aware that oats, like wholemeal rye, can give a very robust crust – the sort of crust you can use to smooth wood.

As I’m publishing this, my loaf is about to come out of the oven, and it smells pretty damn good.

Apologies for any typos I’ve missed – it’s a bad day.

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