My Daily Bread
When times are tough, I bake bread. When grief and sorrow keep me awake, I get up and make bread. When outrage and fury send my blood pressure skywards, I make bread. Oh, and knit. But really, the act of making and baking bread, this most basic and noble of foods, is comforting both in the process and in the finished products. It’s also joyful, so when wonderful things are happening, bread is very apt to happen as well. The ancient mystery of water and flour, yeast domestic or wild, never fails to enchant us with its compelling fragrance and its deeply satisfying flavors.
Foolproof and delicious, this sturdy bread I offer below has evolved over the years and is now a family staple. I bake several times a week, keeping my extended family in sandwich loaves and cinnamon or savory rolls. Fresh, it makes great sandwiches and toast as well as French toast; stale, it’s wonderful in bread pudding and savory stuffings. It’s a very easy recipe and never fails as long as you use a timer for each step.
Playful and Imaginative
My grandkids love to play with the dough, forming dragon bread, bread people, cats, spooky ghosts and unicorns. I set them up with a rimmed baking sheet filled with heaps of flour, add blobs of dough and let them do whatever they like. The sensory play with dough and flour keeps them calm and happy for a surprisingly long time and though the dough needs very little working, it withstands an amazing amount of playful manipulation without getting tough. Like a wholesome, edible form of play dough, bread can be made into almost anything, nourishing both body and spirit. This always feels like natural magic at its best.
Daily Oatmeal Bread
Makes 2 loaves
Timing is important for consistency so I use a timer for each step. This all-purpose bread is excellent toasted and makes wonderful French toast as well as sandwiches, bread pudding, stuffing, etc.
1 cup old fashioned rolled oats (not quick-cooking)
2 tablespoons butter or avocado oil
2-3 tablespoons molasses
2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt
2-1/4 teaspoons or 1 packet dry yeast
5-6 cups bread flour (more or less)
2 oiled or buttered bread pans
In a large bowl, combine oats, butter, molasses and salt with 2-1/2 cups boiling water. Cover bowl with a plate and let stand for 30 minutes. (If house is cool, place in oven with oven light on.) Stir well, sprinkle yeast on top and let stand for 15 minutes in warm place. Stir in 3-4 cups flour to make a soft dough, cover bowl and let rise in a warm place for 30 minutes. Divide dough in half and knead each piece, adding flour as needed to make a smooth ball (though it rises well even if you only knead for a minute, I usually knead 100 “turns” per loaf, taking about 2-3 minutes). Place in prepared loaf pans, slash tops 3 times and let rise in a warm place for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F, put loaves in and bake for 40 minutes. Internal temperature should be 180 degrees F or greater. Cool on a rack for 10-15 minutes before removing loaves from pans. Makes 2 loaves.
Tart Cherry Cinnamon Rolls
1 tablespoon avocado or vegetable oil
1 cup unbleached flour
1/2 batch oatmeal bread (see above)
2-3 tablespoons cinnamon sugar *
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
2/3 cup dried tart cherries (or raisons, currants, etc)
1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)
Lightly oil an 8-9 inch square glass baking pan, set aside. Sprinkle some flour on a rimmed baking sheet and pat out dough into a long snake, adding flour as needed to keep it from sticking. Flatten the snake into a 3-4 inch wide strip and rub with remaining oil, leaving bottom half-inch un-oiled. Sprinkle on cinnamon sugar and brown sugar and rub lightly to incorporate oil. Dot on dried fruit and nuts if using and roll up, pressing gently to seal un-oiled section of dough to the top of the roll. Slice into 1-1/2 or 2-inch section and place, cut side down, in the oiled baking pan. Let rise for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and bake for 20-25 minutes (less if you like soft, puffy rolls, longer if you like them firmer). Makes 12-16 rolls. Freeze extras for up to three months and reheat before serving.
* Cinnamon Sugar
For plain cinnamon sugar, eliminate the other spices or add favorites of your own to taste.
Cinnamon Spice Sugar
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon coriander (optional)
1/4 teaspoon cardamom (optional)
Combine in a jar, cover and shake well to blend. Store in a tightly sealed jar (I use little spice bottles with shaker-top inserts).
Garlic Butter & Cheese Rolls
There are many ways to make savory versions but this is one of our favorites. Vary by flavoring with a little smoked paprika, chili powder, an Italian herb blend, or minced fresh herbs. You can change up the garlic butter as well (see below) by adding fresh herbs, snipped chives, or minced sweet onions.
Savory Dinner Rolls
1 teaspoon avocado or vegetable oil
1 cup unbleached flour
1/2 batch oatmeal bread (see above)
3-4 tablespoons Garlic Butter **
1 cup grated hard cheese (Romano or Pecorino)
Lightly oil an 8-9 inch square glass baking pan, set aside. Sprinkle some flour on a rimmed baking sheet and pat out dough into a long snake, adding flour as needed to keep it from sticking. Flatten the snake into a 3-4 inch wide strip and spread with softened garlic butter, leaving bottom half-inch un-buttered. Sprinkle on grated cheese and roll up dough, pressing gently to seal un-buttered section of dough to the top of the roll. Slice into 1-1/2 or 2-inch section and place, cut side down, in the oiled baking pan. Let rise for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and bake for 20-25 minutes (less if you like soft, puffy rolls, longer if you like them firmer). Makes 12-16 rolls. Freeze extras for up to three months and reheat before serving.
** Garlic Butter
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tablespoon fresh minced garlic
1/8 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
In a shallow bowl, mash butter with a fork, then blend in garlic and salt. Store covered in the refrigerator for up to three days.
Best Ever Bread Pudding
This is a family favorite breakfast, warm and fragrant with spiced sugar. We like to add a few chocolate chips but it’s also great with a bottom layer of raspberry jam.
4-6 cups stale oatmeal bread in 1/2 inch cubes
1/4 cup tiny chocolate chips (optional)
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
5-6 cups whole milk
1-2 teaspoons spiced sugar (see above)
Place cubed bread in an 8-9 inch square glass baking pan, sprinkle with chips if using, set aside. In a bowl, beat eggs until foamy. Add sugar and vanilla and stir until sugar is dissolved. Stir in milk and pour over bread cubes, pushing gently to coat them with the milk. Cover pan and refrigerate overnight. Bake at 350 degrees F for an hour or until well puffed and golden. Makes 6-8 servings.