Baking For Bliss & Comfort

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Foods That Nourish And Nurture

As my mother’s life drains away, I find myself doing more and more baking. Somehow, filling the house with the fragrance of bread is especially comforting to all of us, lifting sagging spirits with the promise of comfort and nourishment. Everyone’s favorite bread right now is a double oat bread that requires little or no actual kneading. It has a tender crumb, a warm, satisfying flavor and  a lovely amber color, thanks to a little molasses. It slices well and makes marvelous sandwiches and outstanding toast. It’s also wonderful in bread pudding or French toast. I especially appreciate this bread because it is such an undemanding, forgiving recipe that no matter how distracted I get or what crisis arises at a usually crucial point in its development, the result is not just edible but truly delicious.

When a recent rush of visitors arrived and the bread over-rose and partially collapsed in the oven, I was sure it would be soggy and nasty. Instead, it tasted wonderful and the texture remained pleasant despite having an ominous looking dip instead of a handsome bulge on top. Another time, it had to be gently punched down twice instead of shaped and baked off and the result was a very pleasing sour-dough-ish bread that didn’t ever get stale. Now that is a splendid recipe for tough times, delivering comfort no matter what happens.

Ready, Steady, Go!

These directions may look daunting, but they are very explicit so you can avoid common problems (including mess). The entire process is extremely simple, quick, and uncomplicated and well worth the very minor effort.

Total time: 3 hours
Action time: 8-10 minutes

Amazing Kneadless Oat Bread

1 cup old fashioned rolled oats
1 cup steel cut oats
2 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons sea salt
few drops oil
1/3 cup molasses
2 cups boiling water
2-1/4 teaspoons baking yeast
4 cups bread flour, plus a bit for shaping

In a large bowl, combine all oats with butter and salt. Rub a measuring cup with a bit of oil and measure out the molasses, then pour it over the oats and rinse it clean with the boiling water, which also goes into the oat mixture. Cover bowl and let it stand for about an hour. Combine yeast with 1/2 cup lukewarm water, swish it to wet it down. Let stand until it blooms (10-15 minutes), then stir it into the oat mixture, along with 4 cups bread flour, then cover the bowl with a plate. If you don’t have a warm place for bread to rise, put on the oven light and preheat the oven for 1 minute, then turn it off. This will give you a very cozy spot for your bread, which will double in 40-50 minutes.

Butter a couple of bread pans and scatter a little flour on a plate. Divide bread in half and put one half on the floured plate. Gently knead the other half in the floury bowl, just enough to shape it, adding a bit more flour as needed. Plop it in a bread pan and repeat with the other half (shape it in the bowl to keep the mess in one place). Return the loaves to the barely warm oven (light still on) and let rise until almost doubled in bulk (30-40 minutes). Gently remove risen bread from oven, preheat to 350 degrees F., gently put the bread back in and bake until golden and set (internal temperature of 180 degrees F, about 40-50 minutes). Cool loaves on their sides for 5 minutes so they steam out easily, then remove from the pans and cool. For best texture, cool another 10-20 minutes before slicing. Makes 2 loaves.

Bread Pudding Muffins

Leave out the cherries and nuts, add or substitute chocolate chips, or try any dried fruit and nut combination you prefer. These will be delicious no matter what.

Bread Pudding Muffins With Walnuts & Cherries

6 cups stale bread, in 1-inch cubes
6 eggs, well beaten
3/4 cups cane sugar
3 cups whole milk
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup dried tart cherries
1 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup powdered XXX sugar

In a large bowl, combine everything but the walnuts and powdered sugar. Cover dish and refrigerate for 4-24 hours (I usually do this overnight). Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. and line a muffin tin with paper cups. Stir in walnuts, then divide mixture between the paper cups and bake at 350 F until set and golden (45-50 minutes), rotating pan halfway through baking. Cool slightly, then sift on some powdered sugar. Makes 12.

An Old Stand-By

Though Mom can barely swallow anymore, she still loves a few bites of cinnamon toast.

Perfect Cinnamon Toast

2 teaspoons cane sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 slices homemade (or any) bread
1 tablespoon butter

Mix sugar and cinnamon well, set aside. Toast bread, spread with butter and sprinkle evenly with cinnamon sugar. Put in a toaster oven and bake for 2-3 minutes or until butter is bubbly. Serves 2.

Comforting Custard

Mom’s other favorite meal is about a tablespoon of baked custard, tender and gently sweet.

Baked Custard

4 large eggs, well beaten
2 teaspoons Tahitian vanilla extract
1/2 cup cane sugar
3 cups whole milk
few grinds or gratings nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Whisk first four ingredients together and pour into a glass 8 x 8 inch baking dish. Grind or grate on a little nutmeg and bake at 350 F until fully set (50-60 minutes). Serves 4.

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3 Responses to Baking For Bliss & Comfort

  1. Deirdre says:

    A very difficult time for you and the family, but the comfort of home baking is a truly a solace.

  2. Cassandra says:

    My heart goes out to you and your mother.
    I’ve been entertained and educated by your gardening articles for many years. I was so happy to “find” you online, and appreciate your delicious vegan recipes. Thank you.

  3. Wendy says:

    So sorry to hear about your mother, Ann. I wish you and your family strength for the days ahead.

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