One of Life’s Most Sensual Pleasures

EpicureanPiranha | August 31st, 2010 - 01:26
Mae's Oatmeal Bread

Gorgeous, tender, healthy and super delicious oatmeal bread, freshly baked ♥

“Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts.” ~ James Beard (1903-1985), Beard on Bread.

This August, my aunt Mae was here visiting from the beautiful part of Québec known as La Gaspésie. As I mentioned in my article on Ox-eye Daisies & Other Gaspésian Treats, it’s always such a pleasure to see her and her husband. But this time was extra special in a way, because she showed me how to make her wonderful oatmeal bread and my paternal Grandmother’s white bread, both of which are so delicious I could easily eat a huge loaf in one sitting! With fresh, cold butter on each thick slice, of course!

Mae's Oatmeal Bread

There’s a wonderful sense of calm that comes from kneading dough with your hands, of shaping it and watching it rise, and from the delicious aromas as you prepare and bake it …

The process of baking bread from scratch is surely one of life’s most sensual pleasures ♥ This ancient art, which at its simplest consists in adding a liquid to finely ground grains so as to moisten and bind the elements, then repeatedly pressing, stretching, and pulling the paste with ones’ hands to develop the gluten and form a dough which is then baked, involves and pleases each and every sense. Though “the development of leavened bread can probably be traced to prehistoric times” (source, it was the advent of commercially available yeast and finer flours in the mid to late 19th century which enabled non-professional cooks to bake good bread in their own homes. A little yeast along with a small amount of sugar can transform what starts off as lumpy liquid into a soft, silky, elastic dough after sufficient kneading. Since then, people in every part of the world have enjoyed creating, baking, and savouring breads of all kinds, and in every shape and size imaginable.

“The smell of good bread baking, like the sound of lightly flowing water, is indescribable in its evocation of innocence and delight…” ~ M. F. K. Fisher (1908-1992), The Art of Eating.

For many, such as myself, not only are all the senses pleasurably awakened and teased with the promise of mouth-watering goodness, but the exquisite aromas awaken childhood memories of days gone by when my grandmother baked huge batches of golden-brown loaves, and of the wonderfully aromatic, rich breads my mother would lovingly prepare for us as special treats. And there’s another bonus! Making your own bread the traditional way is not only enjoyable for the senses of touch, taste, vision, and smell- the creation of something so delicious and satisfying from simple ingredients using one’s own hands, without the need for more than a few measuring cups and spoons, is unbelievably satisfying and therapeutic!

MYTH: “Making Bread the Traditional Way Takes Too Long”

In fact, making bread takes very little actual time on your part – about 15 minutes at the start, to measure, mix, and knead the ingredients is all that’s needed, plus a few minutes time and attention to punch the dough down and knead once or twice between provings, then to place the dough into the greased tins. The dough itself and the oven take care of the rest, leaving you plenty of time to do whatever you wish in between!


Learning to “Feel the Dough”

Bread is one of those things that requires judgement and experience, because depending on a variety of factors such as the flour, humidity in the air, size of your eggs, and precise quantities of flour and water, you may need more or less flour than specified. Recipe books are relatively recent, and it may surprise you to know that just 50 years ago, many people did not own a recipe book. Likewise, our grandmothers never used measuring spoons and cups to bake bread – though they did have the benefit of having learned from watching and helping bake their own family’s bread! Nowaday, though recipes for baking bread are much more accurate, they are to get you started and give you an idea of proportions to use. Different flours, even different flours of the same type, have different absorbtion rates, so despite having a recipe, you have to learn how to go by feel. You will know that sufficient flour has been added when the dough stops sticking to your hands. If all the flour has been used up and the dough is still a little sticky, add a little more flour, kneading it in well after each addition until the dough stops sticking to your hands. If the dough feels a little dry, then add a little water and knead it in well.

Proving the Dough or “Giving the Yeast Time to Work Its Magic”

Mae's Oatmeal Bread s2

Plump dough ready to be baked after the 3rd proving.

“Proving” is the process of allowing the dough to rise.

The actual time needed for dough to rise depends greatly on temperature and humidity, and on the quantity of yeast you use. Many cookbooks tell you to place the dough in a warm place but this is not necessary. Dough needs ample time to develop all the subtleties of flavour that distinguish an exceptional loaf from one that tastes bland. If the room is quite cool, the dough will take longer to rise but will develop great flavour.

Likewise, the less yeast you use, the longer your bread will take to rise, up to 24 hrs if you were to halve the amount of yeast in this recipe for example – but it would rise just as well and taste wonderful. For dough to rise well it must be protected from drafts and the atmosphere should not be too dry, which is why it must be loosely but completely covered when proving which protects it and helps keep moisture in.

♥ And Now ~ Happy Baking

The recipe is loosely based on one from well-known Canadian cook, Jean Paré. My aunt’s technique for making it differs considerably, as she lets the dough rise twice before separating it into portions, shaping it and placing it into the greased baking tins for a third proving before baking. As described above, this gives the dough extra time to develop its wonderful flavour and light texture.

So here is the step-by-step recipe for my aunt’s oatmeal bread.

This recipe makes two large loaves, or you can make several smaller loaves if you prefer.

♥ Enjoy!  

Ingredients (2 large loaves)

250 ml (1 c) old-fashioned rolled oats (do not use “quick” oatmeal)
50 ml (3 T) cold butter
60 ml (1/4 c) molasses
500 ml (2 c) boiling water

60 ml (1/4 c) warm water
5 ml (1 tsp) granulated sugar
8 g (1/4 oz) active dry yeast [use traditional - NOT fast acting]

75 ml (1/3 c) brown sugar, packed
10 ml (2 tsp) salt
1.5 l (6 c) all purpose [plain] flour


1 large egg white
15 ml (1 T) water
Rolled oat flakes for sprinkling on loaves prior to baking.

Fig. (a.)

Triptych I - Oatmeal bread abc

Preparing the ingredients and starting to mix them.

  • In a very large bowl, mix the old-fashioned oats, butter, molasses, and boiling water to soften and plump the oats.
  • In a small bowl, combine the warm water and granulated sugar, then add the yeast without stirring. Allow it to get nice and foamy for 10 minutes or so.
  • In a medium-sized bowl, measure the brown sugar, salt, and all-purpose flour. Combine well using a fork.

Fig.’s (b. & c.)

  • Once the oats have plumped up and the yeast has become creamy and very foamy, add the yeast to the oats in the large bowl and combine using a wooden spoon. Note: It’s important to use a spatula to scrape all of the yeast from the small bowl into the oat and molasses mixture, and after combining, from the wooden spoon!
  • Now add a small amount of the dry ingredients to the liquid. Using your hands, start mixing: scoop up some of the mixture in your hands and squeeze it out. The mixture will be very sticky and lumpy!

Fig.’s (d. e. & f.)

Triptych II - Oatmeal bread

Slowly incorporate flour into liquid, mixing well with your hands, until the mixture starts to form a sticky dough. Then gradually knead more flour in until the dough stops sticking to your hands…

  • Continue the process of adding a little more flour, adding it around the outer edge of the bowl and incorporating only a little at a time, mixing it in with your hands as illustrated in (fig. d.) above until the mixture starts to form a sticky dough that is stiff enough to be kneaded. Occasionally sprinkle a small amount of flour in your hands and rub them together to remove all the sticky bits of dough, adding these to the dough in the bowl.
  • Gather the dough and any bits into a ball, sprinkling the flour over it, and knead it. Continue to slowly incorporate the flour and kneading it well into the dough after each addition, as shown above in (fig. e. & f.).

Fig.’s (g. h. & i.)

  • Continue to knead the dough once all the flour has been added, until it becomes quite soft and elastic and a little silky – since this is an oatmeal bread, it won’t be as silky as white bread dough because of the whole grains!
  • Once the dough is well kneaded and smooth, gather and stretch the dough into a ball so that the top is smooth, and temporarily place it on a piece of cling film or baking parchment lightly sprinkled with flour (fig. h.) .
  • Clean the bowl well using soapy water and dry it. Oil or grease the bowl lightly with a little canola oil or vegetable shortening, then lightly oil or grease the ball of dough with your hands – this helps prevents it from drying out – and place it back into the large clean bowl, seam side down (fig. i.).
Triptych III - Oatmeal bread ghi

Knead the dough until it becomes smooth and elastic, then shape it into a ball and oil it it lightly. Clean the bowl well, oil the bowl lightly, and place the ball of dough with the seam side down, into the bowl.

Kneading Dough:

To knead the dough, there are several techniques. Here are two of them – use one that suits you:

1. Use the heel of your hand to push the dough away from you, then fold it over and give it a quarter turn. Start again and continue until the flour is absorbed before sprinkling on a little more. Repeat until all the flour is absorbed.


2. My preferred method (refer to fig. g. above): Using both of your hands, shape them into fists, and using your knuckles, squish them into the dough while turning them a little, doing this 2 – 3 times down the centre of the dough before folding it over and giving it a quarter turn. Start again and continue until the flour is absorbed before sprinkling on a little more. Repeat until all the flour is absorbed.

It’s important not to rush these steps! Take your time mixing the flour with the liquid, and then kneading the dough, as this is essential for developing the gluten. This, and the process of proving the dough, are what will make your bread tender as opposed to dense and stodgy!

Fig.’s (j. k. & l.)

Triptych IV - Oatmeal bread jkl

Now cover the dough loosely and allow it to rise. It will more than double after the first rising…

  • Cover completely but loosely with cling film or a thin cotton tablecloth, and place it in a draft-free place to rise for one to one and a quarter hours (fig. j.). It will more than double, which is why you need to allow sufficient space for the dough to rise when you cover it (fig. k.)!
  • Once the dough has risen, punch it down (fig. l.) and knead it just a few times, then once again gather it into a ball and cover it for the 2nd proving. Allow the dough to rise in a draft-free place to rise for another one to one and a quarter hours.

Shaping, Glazing, Rising (yes! a 3rd time) & Baking

Fig.’s (m. n. & o.) 

Triptych V - Oatmeal bread mno

Shaping risen dough to place it into the baking tins for the 3rd and final proving.

  • Grease your tins, preferably with vegetable shortening, using a piece of waxed paper or baking parchment. This bread looks really nice when baked in round springform pans – I used several different sizes here – but you can use standard 22 x 12 x 7 cm (9 x 5 x 3 in.) bread tins or other types of tins if you prefer.
  • Once it has risen a second time, (fig. m.), punch the dough down and knead lightly only once or twice. Now cut a piece off using a sharp knife or kitchen shears (fig. n.), shape it into a ball as in (fig. o.) above, and place seam-side-down into a greased tin as in (fig. p.) below.  Make sure the dough has sufficient room to rise in the tins.

Note: This process takes a litte time and experience to get right. But fear not! Unlike cakes and pastry, bread baking is much more forgiving – even if your loaves vary somewhat in shape and size, you can still bake them at the same time and for the same duration unless there is a major difference in size, such as a large loaf and mini loaves.

Fig.’s (p. q. & r.)

Triptych VI - Oatmeal bread pqr

Glazing, sprinkling with grains or seeds, and allowing the dough to rise a 3rd time before baking.

  • Lightly beat the egg white with the water using a fork or small wisk. Then using a silicon or other baker’s brush, gently paint the tops of your freshly shaped loaves with a little egg-wash (fig. p.). Glazing the tops will give the baked loaves a lovely, shiny golden-brown top, and will also help hold the oatmeal flakes (or other grains or seeds).
  • Sprinkle some oatmeal flakes over the freshly painted tops of the loaves (fig. q.).
  • Cover them loosely but completely with a large, clean, thin tablecloth or cling film, and allow them to rise once more for one to one and a quarter hours in a warm, draft-free place. They will almost double in size, fill the tins, and be well-rounded when ready to bake (fig. r.).

Baking the Loaves:

Mae's Oatmeal Bread 11 04

Lovely, golden brown tops of oatmeal breads that have just come out from the oven.

  • Preheat the oven to 175C (350F).
  • Bake the loaves for 40 to 50 minutes, depending on the size of your tins. They are baked when the tops are a nice golden brown as shown in my photo above.
  • Allow to cool on baking racks for a few minutes before removing from the tins, then allow to cool completely (if you can wait that long before cutting a thick slice and eating it with lots of cold butter!).

4 Responses to “One of Life’s Most Sensual Pleasures”

  1. Syros says:

    Excellent article, thank you for the tips!

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