Sense of Home
I worked a forty hour week, then a full weekend, followed by a 12 hour Monday, a 10 hour Tuesday, and then finished off the week with eight hour days. In the middle of all that craziness I went to the nursing home to help my Grandmother with her lunch. I haven't mentioned it before, but my 96 year old Grandmother went into a nursing home this winter. She now cannot eat without help and the wonderful staff at the home help her when my mother or I are not able to come, but usually at noon my mother stops by to help her with lunch and I have taken my turn. I brought a simple sandwich made with this bread and ate my lunch while also helping her to eat hers. This woman who raised 6 children, countless chickens, grew a huge garden and canned it's produce, helped to run a farm, for years used a wringer washer and hung clothes on the line to freeze-dry in winter even though her hands grew so cold they were stiff and hurt, cooked three square meals for her large family and farm-hands, now needs someone else to help her with the very basic of needs. She feels useless, and wishes she could still be active, and yet, even when I am so busy and feel stressed and rushed I find that while I spend time with her I begin to feel myself relax and I always come away feeling very calm, she has more worth than she will ever know.
Baking bread has a similar calming effect, kneading bread dough is therapeutic, working out the stress of a too long week. Yeast is a live, single-celled fungus, most of us are familiar with the beige granules we buy in packets or jars, this organism lies dormant until it comes into contact with warm water, in effect waking up the yeast and turning it into a bubbling brew. Add flour and the yeast begins to feed on the sugars in the flour, releasing carbon dioxide and causing the bread to rise. Yeast adds much to that fresh baked aroma and flavor so many of us love. It takes time, kneading the dough, letting it rise, kneading again, and letting it rise again. I like working with my hands to knead and stretch the dough, working the proteins in the wheat flour, which combined with water form gluten, the hand work allows time for my mind to wander and work out building maintenance issues, work schedules, and brain-storm future programs. I begin to feel myself relax and end the process feeling calmer than when I began, similar to the calm that comes over me while visiting my Grandmother.
Maple-Oatmeal Sandwich Bread
~From the Sense of Home Kitchen, adapted from a February 2008 Bon Appetit recipe~
Makes 1 loaf
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons warm water (105 degrees F. to 115 degrees F.)
1 tablespoon yeast (or 1 packet)
1 large egg
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup pure maple syrup (grade B)
1/2 teaspoon maple extract
2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup old-fashioned oats
1 teaspoon salt
Combine warm water and yeast and let set for 5 minutes to activate the yeast. Place egg, butter, maple syrup, maple extract, and yeast mixture into a heavy-duty mixer. Stir with paddle until combined. In a separate bowl combine the dry ingredients. Attach a dough hook onto the mixer and beat at a low speed while gradually adding dry ingredients, scraping down bowl occasionally. Beat until dough is smooth and pulls cleanly away from bowl, adding more flour by 1/4 cupfuls if dough is very sticky. Scrape dough from hook and turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead dough for 10 to 15 minutes. Place back into bowl and cover bowl with plastic wrap and towel. Let rise in a warm draft-free area until doubled in volume, about 1 1/2 hours.
Butter a 9x5x3-inch metal loaf pan. Butter sheet of plastic wrap. Scrape dough onto a lightly floured surface. Knead until smooth, about 2 minutes. Shape into 8x3-inch log. Place in prepared pan; cover loosely with prepared plastic, buttered side down. Let dough rise in a warm draft-free area until center is 1 1/2 inches higher than pan, about 45 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Gently pull plastic off dough. Place bread in oven; bake until deep golden, about 30 minutes. Cool in pan 15 minutes. Run a knife around the edges of the bread; turn out of pan. Cool completely on a rack.
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