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Ad Lib Whole-grain Oat Bread

Lately I’ve taken to buying bread at Costco, because it’s as good as what I can make and a lot more convenient than baking bread. But the other day the whole-grain loaves ran out. Not about to make a special trip to that zoo for two loaves of bread, I decided to try to make my own whole-grain bread.

Except…oh yes. I was out of whole-wheat flour. Come to think if it, I was out of most goodies. So I improvised, using whatever was in the house. And the result was surprisingly delicious. Check this out:

You need

2 cups water
About 3½ or 4 cups unbleached white flour
About 1 or 1½ cups rolled oats
1 tablespoon yeast
1 tablespoon salt
a fistful or two of chopped walnuts or pecans
cornmeal (optional)
butter for the pan

This loaf is based on a recipe that calls for two cups water to 5 cups flour, so the proportion of water to the flour/oats combo should be about 2:5. Obviously, you can add other stuff if you have it around—sunflower seeds would probably be good, wheat bran, whatever. Raisins or other bits of dried fruit could be nice. If you have whole-wheat flour, by all means use it.

I use a bread machine to knead my dough. Simply put in all the ingredients except the nuts and turn the machine to “dough” (which is usually setting 9); let the machine mix and knead the flour, and leave the dough in it for the first rising. A bread machine will pulverize the nuts, so to mix those into the dough, try this:

Sprinkle some flour on a cutting board. Spread a handful of nuts on top of the flour. Turn the risen dough out of the bread machine on top of the nuts. With floured hands, spread out the dough to flatten it a bit, and then sprinkle a few more nuts across the top of the dough. Knead to distribute the nuts through the dough. Add more nuts as you’re going, as desired.

If you’re  not using a bread machine, then you can add the nuts when you knead the dough before the first rise, or, if you prefer, take a little extra time to knead them in before the second rising.

To make free-form loaves, divide the dough in half. Then just flatten each piece into a rectangular shape and then fold the edges over envelope-style to form a long artisan-style loaf. Butter a flat cookie sheet and sprinkle some cornmeal over the buttered surface. Set the loaves on top of the cornmeal; cover with a clean kitchen towel and allow to rise a second time, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Bake about 40 or 45 minutes, until the loaves sound kind of hollow when you pick one up and rap it with your knuckles.

Few things are more economical than home-made bread, and none are more gratifying. I used walnuts, and it made an awesome loaf of bread. It’s especially delicious when toasted.