Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Hats off to Dr. Johnson - English Oatmeal Bread

Long before I became a baker, I studied English Literature. In fact, I even have a Bachelor's degree in the subject. I have never worked in the field, I admit. But to this day I am an avid reader of just about anything I can get my hands on, including great literature. I especially like Dickens and the Shakespearean period. Which brings me to Dr. Johnson, who was mostly a contemporary although he continued after Shakespeare as well. Among his many literary works, Dr. Johnson is known for his dictionary. He was a humorist and quite a snob, and so his definition of 'oats' reads something like this (not an exact quote): "Oats: a grain which in England is fed to cattle but in Scotland feeds the population". Needless to say, in Nova Scotia and in Old Scotland, he is not well liked especially since oats are not only tasty but also nutritious. They are also mostly gluten-free. However, if you use then for gluten-free baking, make sure they are certified. There is always the danger of cross-contamination with wheat and wheat products.

This bread actually comes from England, despite Dr. Johnson, where it is usually served as a tea bread. Covered with butter and/or honey it is delicious and the oats, which are soaked for 2 hours beforehand, disappear in the moist dough.

Here's What You'll Need: (for 2 small loaves, one large loaf, or about 1 dozen rolls)

2 cups oatmeal, plus 2 Tbs. for dusting
2 cups milk
2 1/4 tsp. dry yeast
2 Tbs. butter, softened
2 tsp. salt
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 cups bread flour or AP flour
1 egg, beaten, mixed with 1 Tbs. water

Here's What You'll Need to Do: (in a food processor)

1. Attach the plastic blade to your processor. Add the oatmeal and the water, cover, then let it sit and absorb the water for 2 hours.

2. Pulse to mix the oatmeal, then add the remaining ingredients, holding back about 1/2 cup flour. Add the remaining flour 1/4 cup at a time until you get a soft sticky dough that 'cleans the bowl'. Continue running the processor for about 45 seconds until the dough is well kneaded.

3. Remove the dough from the bowl, then, on a lightly floured surface knead a few times. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, turn to coat, then cover to let it rise until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours.

4. Remove the dough from the bowl, deflate, then form into a loaf, or into rolls. Cover and allow to rise a second time, this time for 45 minutes.

5. About 20 minutes before the end of the rise, preheat the oven to 400 F (190 C)*. Optionally, you can brush the loaf (rolls) with the egg wash and sprinkle with oats. Bake for 30-35 minutes (about 20 for rolls) until golden brown and they sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.

6. Cool on a rack.

* If using 'turbo' function, reduce heat by 50 F (25 C).

Monday, May 20, 2013

Back to Basics - Irish Soda Bread (as scones)

One of the really great features of my home town in Nova Scotia, is its multicultural aspect. You wouldn't normally think that this would be true. I come from a very small town (today maybe 25K residents) in a remote corner of a remote island in Canada. And Nova Scotia means New Scotland! So you wouldn't normally believe that there would be so many people from so many cultural backgrounds. But, with all that, there are people there, with a Scottish background (of course), but also, Italians, Jews, Ukrainians and Poles, Russians and Italians and Irish as well.

 I haven't baked bread while reminiscing in a while. Just the other day I was thinking about 'the old country', and that started me thinking about Irish soda bread. This bread is an iconic Irish food. I have actually thought about baking it for years and never done so. This is because I had some irrational idea that it was long and complicated and, besides, it uses no yeast. What kind of bread uses no yeast? Only recently I read a recipe, saw how easy it is, and decided to go for it. I AM going to bake this bread. So... it is NOT complicated at all. One-half hour from start to finish. And delicious. I have made this bread in the form of scones (triangular wedges). But, unlike scones, this bread is made with low-fat buttermilk (1.5% fat) so there is NO guilt in eating several in one sitting. Which is what you'll do when you make these. Well, maybe just a little, but how can you resist?

 Here's What You'll Need: 
 3 cups flour (you can substitute some whole wheat for the AP flour - I used 1/2 cup ww flour and 2 1/2 cups AP flour)
1 Tbs. sugar 1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 cups cold buttermilk

 Here's What You'll Need To Do: 

 1. Preheat the oven to 450F (about 220C).

 2. Place all the dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix to combine thoroughly.

 3. Make a well in the center, then pour in the buttermilk. Stir to combine and to make a soft, slightly sticky dough. DO NOT OVERMIX. (This develops the gluten in the flour and makes the scones chewy like bread - not crumbly like a good scone).

 4. Remove the dough to a lightly floured surface, and knead only a few times to smooth the dough, then form into a disc about 7in (18cm) in diameter. Cut the disc into 6 or 8 wedges then place them on a parchment covered baking sheet.

 5. Bake for about 20 minutes until lightly browned top and bottom.

6. Cool on a rack.*

 * These scones taste great while still warm and smothered with butter and/or jam.