Oat Bread—You Asked for It!

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Makes: Two loaves: 10 by 5 by 2-1/2 inches high

Oven Temperature: 400˚F/200˚C

Baking Time: 35 to 45 minutes

 Adapted from Chef Andrew Meltzer, formerly instructor at the CIA, from Modern Baking Magazine 11-2005

 This is deliciously different bread. It is complex and earthy in flavor and texture, with a moist crumb and crunchy crust. It is especially great toasted and spread with unsalted butter. Chef Meltzer writes that due to the Biga (easily made preferment), and the exceptional moistness locked in by the cooked oats, the bread will keep at room temperature for 3 to 4 days.

 This recipe is for the experienced bread baker who doesn’t mind working with extremely sticky dough. After posting the photos of it on line, I got some requests for the recipe so I couldn’t resist offering it here.

It is a recipe that has taken me 13 years to try, mostly because it was written for large quantity production, making it necessary to break down all the components precisely into a more manageable amount of dough. I have adapted the recipe for the home baker but it is a very tricky recipe if one doesn’t use weight, so I am not listing volume except for the small amounts of yeast which are not possible to weigh unless one has a precise scale for small amounts. (The dough has a very low percentage of yeast—0.3% which gives it a long slow rise desirable for flavor and strength. It also has a high percentage of salt—2.6% that balances the oatmeal flavor and also helps to slow down the proofing).

This dough has 35% oats, some of which gets cooked into a porridge consistency and others that get toasted. After the initial mixing the dough will be extremely wet and sticky, especially since the toasted oats take a while to absorb moisture, and it will begin to firm up considerably after proofing. It is important to use high protein bread flour, such as King Arthur, to provide a strong network of gluten to support the oats.

I followed the recipe exactly as it was written including the high baking temperature of 450˚F/230˚C, which I found, was too high for the oats encrusting the loaves, so I’m recommending 400˚F/100˚C.

You will need some special equipment to make this recipe successfully. In addition to a scale, you will need an oven stone, a cast iron pan for ice to create steam for the bread, a baking peel, a sheet of parchment, and a linen proofing cloth in which to set the shaped loaves.

18 to 24 hours ahead, make the Biga

 Biga  177 grams

Bread flour  114 grams

Water  63 grams

Instant yeast  0.2 grams (1/16 teaspoon)

In a small container mix together all the ingredients to form very stiff dough. Coat the top with nonstick cooking spray, cover tightly, and let it sit until ready to mix the dough. It will become very soft but not stick to your fingers.

The oats can be cooked a day ahead, lightly coated with nonstick cooking spray, covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated. Bring it to room temperature before mixing the dough.

Cooked Oats

Water  272 grams
Rolled Oats  72 grams

In a saucepan, bring the water to a boil. Add the rolled oats. Cook on low heat, stirring often, until all the water is absorbed. Spread it on a small sheet pan that has been lightly coated with nonstick cooking spray. Cool completely.

Final Dough

Water  252 grams
Instant yeast  2 grams (2/3 teaspoon)
Honey  60 grams
Biga 175 grams, cut into pieces
Cooked oats
Toasted Oats  108 grams (toast stirring often until lightly browned)
Bread flour  330 grams
Whole wheat flour  60 grams
Salt  18 grams

Total Weight of finished dough: about 1280 grams

 Mix the Dough

In the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with the dough hook, add all the ingredients in the order listed.

Mixed on low speed for 2 minutes or until all the flour is moistened. Raise the speed to medium and knead for 5 minutes. The dough will be exceptionally sticky.

Proof the Dough for 3 Hours

Scrape the dough into a 2 quart rising container, which has been lightly coated with nonstick cooking spray.  Coated the top, covered it tightly, and set it in a warm spot—ideally 80˚F/27˚C.

After 1-1/2 hours scrape the dough onto a lightly floured counter. Fold the dough in thirds and then in half. Round the dough and return it to the container, coating the top again. After another 1-1/2 hours it should have rise to 2 quarts. (This is a little less than double which is desirable so as not to overstretch and compromise the gluten framework of this more fragile dough.)

Shape the Dough

Divide the dough into two pieces, rounded it, and let it sit seam side up on a lightly floured counter for 15 minutes. Then shape it into bâtards (footballs). They will be about 9-1/2 by 3-1/2 inches.

Coat the Loaves with Rolled Oats

Roll each loaf with a damp towel and then roll them on a sheet pan filled with rolled oats.

Final Shaped Proofing

Set each loaf into the folds of an unfloured linen proofing cloth (couche) and use the cloth to lap over and over them. In a 70˚F/21˚C room they will take 2-1/2 hours to rise to 10 by 4 inches.

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Preheat the Oven and Bake the Bread

A minimum of 45 minutes ahead, set the oven stone in the lower part of the oven and a cast iron pan on the floor of the oven, and preheat it to 400˚F/200˚C.

Set a piece of parchment on top of the baking peel and using a bread flipping board or the linen cloth, flip each loaf over onto the parchment, spacing them a little apart.

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Make a long deep slash down the middle of each loaf and spray them with water.

Use the peel to slip the parchment with the loaves onto the baking stone. Immediately toss a handful of ice cubes into the pan and close the oven door.

Bake for 30 minutes. Rotate the loaves and if they are browning too quickly, tent loosely with a sheet of aluminum foil. If the oats on the bottoms of the loaves are browning too much, transfer the loaves to a baking sheet. Continue baking until an instant read thermometer reads  207˚F/ 97˚C.

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