I’ve been making all our bread by hand for the past two years. I don’t have a bread machine or even a mixer, which makes the task a bit more time-consuming, but I suppose the end result is all the more satisfying! My mother often made bread when I was a child, but I always thought of those breads as something for special occasions – sticky buns for a gift, rolls for a dinner party, a loaf when we desperately needed bread for sandwiches the next day.
Deciding to make all my family’s bread was a daunting prospect. Initially it grew out of boredom, I’m sorry to admit, from staying at home all day with a very fussy new baby! I was 22 years old, attending university classes part-time, struggling to study when the baby occasionally napped, and counting the long weekdays till my partner arrived each Friday night (he worked far away). Bread making was a baby-friendly activity! He bounced around in the sling while I mixed the dough and was usually happy in the bouncy seat for the 5-10 minutes of kneading. That was his time limit. As he screamed, I’d grease the bowl, toss in the dough, and let it rise. Seeing the baked loaves on the counter later on was satisfying tangible evidence that I’d actually done something with my day!
Those days have since passed and now I have more to do at home than I know how to manage! Somehow, though, bread making must fit in. It’s a necessity because grocery store bread doesn’t compare (we’ve become bread snobs!), and it’s a ritual that simply belongs in our home. If I have 15 minutes to spare, I can get the bread mixed, kneaded, and rising. The toddler pinches the dough and eats it, sometimes kneading his own mini piece. The much-more-peaceful baby #2 is content to watch the whole procedure from his seat. Within three hours, there is fresh bread and the house smells divine.
This is my all-time favourite basic recipe. It’s the one my mom recommended right off the bat when I first started, and I haven’t stopped making it, though I’ve added many other wonderful recipes to my repertoire. It freezes well, makes awesome toast, is delicious plain with butter or nutella, and has never once turned out badly. If you give it a shot, I bet you’ll never turn back from making all your own bread, too!
Oatmeal Bread (adapted from the “More-with-Less” cookbook by Doris Janzen Longacre)
Combine in large bowl: 1 cup large-flake or quick oats, 1/2 cup whole wheat flour, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1 tbsp salt, 2 tbsp butter
Pour over: 2 cups boiling water. Stir in to combine.
Dissolve: 1 pkg (1 tbsp) dry yeast in 1/2 cup warm water. When batter is cooled to lukewarm, add yeast.
Stir in: 2 cups whole wheat flour, 3 cups approx. white flour (or less whole wheat with more white – it’s flexible!) Add flour gradually, since you might not need all of it.
When dough is stiff enough to handle, turn onto floured counter and knead 5-10 minutes. Place in greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise until doubled. Punch down and shape into 2 loaves. Place in greased bread pans and let rise again, about 40 minutes. Bake in preheated 350 F oven for 40-45 minutes. Cool on rack, brushing loaves with melted butter for a soft crust, if desired.