I’ve now recovered from my two consecutive vacations (a long one to South Florida and a much shorter one to Long Island and New York City), so as promised it’s time to resume my regular posting on this blog — and of course the thing I post about most regularly is food. I don’t make a huge amount of bread at home, not so much because it’s difficult — far from it — but because it’s time-consuming and I’m useless at making even slices. Nonetheless I do occasionally do it anyway, because there’s only so much store-brought bread one can eat — and that goes doubly for good store-bought bread, made in a local bakery, but which usually tends towards the high-calorie side. I usually eat sandwiches for lunch, so I’m always on the lookout for good, flavorful, healthful sandwich bread that isn’t too high-calorie. Commercial bakers have access to equipment and ingredients that we home bakers don’t, and that makes store-bought breads possible that come in under 100 calories a slice; between my slicing difficulties and the nature of the ingredients I would normally use, it’s a challenge for me to do anything under 150 calories per slice, and richer breads may be closer to 180 or 200, which is not far off from some of the fancier store-bought breads (I particularly like Nashoba Slow-Rise, made nearby in Concord, Mass.).
An additional challenge with sandwich breads when you’re watching calories is that you often blow all the calories you’ve saved on bread on increased quantities of fillings, since our normal practice is to cover the entire surface of each slice: A big store-bought bread slice may have 50% higher surface area — and thus 50% more mayonnaise, butter, or jam than a homemade bread baked in a smaller (typically 9×5) loaf pan. (Even non-Pullman-shaped loaves, like boules and ciabatta, often have more surface area — as well as more bread mass — than a typical sandwich bread baked in a loaf pan.)
Today’s bread recipe, “Honey-Oatmeal Sandwich Bread”, comes to us from King Arthur Flour’s Whole Grain Baking (Countryman Press, 2006; p. 197). All of the recipes in this book contain whole grains as featured ingredients, but in this recipe, the regular all-purpose flour exactly balances the whole grains (rolled oats and traditional red whole-wheat flour). It’s made using the straight-dough method, without a pre-ferment, and can be completed in a few hours.
We start as usual with the mise en place. All of the ingredients except the water are shown here; the two flours have already been mixed together. I used King Arthur’s own “Baker’s Special Dry Milk”, which is supposedly formulated specifically for bread baking. Of particular note is the honey — this came from a jar of raw honey (blueberry, if I’m not mistaken) I bought at Whole Foods which I found upon opening had crystallized nearly solid. Thankfully, like all the recipes in this cookbook, the quantities of all major ingredients are given by weight in addition to volume so I could easily measure it out on the scale without having to get the honey into a pourable condition. (It occurred to me the other day that this would make a great confection — take small balls of crystallized raw honey and enrobe them in very dark chocolate. Has anyone tried this before?)
The recipe specifies that finely chopped walnuts or pecans may be added; I used walnuts, and chopped them in the food processor. One downside of using the processor for such a small quantity (two ounces, 56 g) is that it’s very difficult to get all of the nuts to a consistent size — there are always some big chunks and some fine dust. In a commercial process nuts would be crushed and sieved to get a consistent size, but as a home baker I just have to put up with it. Adding chopped or ground nuts to a bread like this enhances the flavor, which is why they are often used in “multigrain” bread. (In fact, if you look at the ingredients list, you’ll often find that many of the things counted as part of the “N grains” are not actually grains at all, but ground nuts and seeds of other non-cereal plants!)
The dry ingredients — the two flours, yeast, and powdered milk — are mixed together in a bowl; since I was going to use my stand mixer to knead the dough, I figured there was no point in dirtying another bowl just to do the mixing, and put everything in the mixer’s work bowl.
All of the liquid in this dough starts out as boiling water, which is used to steep the rolled oats and dissolve the salt; the heat in the water also melts the butter, and in my case dissolves the crystallized honey. The wet ingredients are allowed to sit on the counter until the water temperature drops to a level safe for yeast, 110°–120°F (about 45°C), which also gives the oats enough time to rehydrate, although not enough to cook through. (You might compare this recipe with some other “oatmeal bread” recipes that use fully cooked oatmeal — sometimes even made with steel-cut oats — rather than partially cooked rolled oats. In this recipe, as you’ll see below, the rolled oats retain much of their shape and texture.)
After mixing the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, the dough is kneaded. The recipe instructions say “until you’ve made a soft, smooth dough”, but I’m not sure that ever really happened for me. After kneading, the dough is set in a bowl for primary fermentation, which takes an hour or so — for me, despite my generally warm kitchen, it took about an hour and a quarter.
After the initial rise, the dough is formed into a proto-loaf to fit the pan; the recipe cautions that it will be sticky, as whole-wheat breads often are, and says “oil your hands” when shaping it; I found that oiling my hands didn’t help any, and it was very difficult to shape the loaf, but I did manage to squish it into a vaguely appropriate shape for bench proofing.
The bench-proof is done when the dough crowns the top of the loaf pan by an inch and a half. I gave it more than 90 minutes and it refused to get that high, and decided that rather than waiting any longer I would just bake it off as it was (keeping in mind what I said above about bigger loaves needinging more peanut butter and more jam per sandwich).
After baking for about 40 minutes, my bread hit its target internal temperature of 190°F (90°C), and in fact went over by a few degrees. To prevent excessive browning (which could otherwise happen easily due to the large amount of honey in the dough) the recipe suggests covering the loaf with a tent of aluminum foil.
Some people like soft crusts on their bread, and other people like their crusts hard and crunchy. I can go either way, but I think for a soft sandwich bread like this one, a soft crust is probably a good idea, so I brushed on about a half-tablespoon of melted butter immediately on depanning the loaf.
In this close-up of the crumb after cutting off one crust, you can see the oats (white spots) and some of the larger chunks of walnut which made it into the final product. The crumb texture is fairly dense, as is appropriate for a sandwich bread.
Using my bread knife, I marked the bread for approximately half-inch slices, but I only got 15 as compared to the theoretical total of 18. After eating one slice with butter as a test (and it was both soft and hearty, as I hoped), that leaves me with a whole week’s worth of sandwiches, and hopefully (assuming I don’t mess up the slicing later) no leftovers. That does mean that the calorie toll is a bit disappointing at 145 kcal/slice, nearly double what some thin-sliced supermarket breads come in at, but it tastes a lot better!
My numbers differ from those published in the cookbook, due primarily to the difference in serving size (half-inch vs. 3/5-inch slices). I’m also not sure whether their numbers include the optional nuts (they seem to, but in these quantities it wouldn’t make much difference).
|Serving size: 1 3/5-inch-thick slice|
|Servings per recipe: about 15|
|Amount per serving|
|Calories 145||Calories from fat 45|
|% Daily Value|
|Total Fat 5g||7%|
|Saturated Fat 1g||7%|
|Trans Fat 0g|||
|Total Carbohydrate 22g||7%|
|Dietary fiber 2g||9%|