I found the original recipe for this loaf in a book called ‘Good to the Grain’, by Kim Boyce, where it’s called Oatmeal Sandwich Bread, which I thought undersold it a bit. The name is not misleading – it does make very good sandwiches – partly because it has a nice, soft texture that is yielding, but, crucially, not crumbly, and partly because it mushrooms up over the sides of the loaf tin like no bread I’ve ever made, so you can get a decent doorstep. I make a lot of sandwiches in my day job, and have come to appreciate the value of an even shaped, sturdy loaf like never before (public service announcement: Waitrose granary is a particular disintegration culprit). However, this bread also makes great toast, which is almost more important to me (in my day job, I eat a lot of toast). The accompanying photo of a thick slice spread generously with butter and a smear of some sort of delicious homemade jam has an unquestionable rightness about it. Should you need further convincing, I can tell you also that this bread has a particularly lovely crust, thick and dark. The crust has always been my favourite bit (why I have curly hair, of course).
The recipe involves a technique I’d never heard of before, called autolysis, which entails mixing all of the ingredients bar the salt together and leaving for 30 minutes. I’m not sure what this does, but whatever it is, it works. The recipe assumes you’ll be using a mixer, whereas I assume you won’t, because I didn’t. Firstly, I don’t have one, and secondly, I find kneading therapeutic. The only downside is you’ll have to add more flour, so just keep flouring your kneading surface as you go until you reach the right consistency – stretchy and supple, not too sticky.
Wholemeal oat loaf
1 packet active dry yeast
3 tbsp molasses (the recipe specifies not blackstrap, but that’s what I used with no apparent ill effects)
300g wholemeal bread flour
300g strong white bread flour
85g rolled oats
50g unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 tbsp salt
Butter a standard sized loaf tin.
Stir the yeast and molasses into 500ml warm water and leave for around 5 minutes. The yeast should begin to bubble and create a froth on the surface of the water – if it doesn’t, your yeast may be too old, so you should start again with a new packet.
For the autolysis process, measure the flours, oats and butter into a large bowl, stir in the yeasty liquid, cover with a teatowel and leave to stand for 30 minutes.
When the time is up, add the salt to the mix and knead on a floured surface for 15 minutes or so, until the dough is smoother and more elastic. Clean out your large bowl, grease it with butter and place the dough in it, covered with a towel, for an hour or until doubled in size.
Knock back the dough by pressing the air out of it with your knuckles and then shape it into a loaf shape. Place it in the tin and cover again with the towl for the second rising. This should take around another hour: it’s ready when the dough has domed up over the sides of the tin. During this time preheat the oven to 200c.
When ready to bake, sprinkle the top of the loaf with oats or bran if liked. Make sure you have plenty of space above the bread in the oven, as it my experience it can continue to rise quite dramatically once in. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until the crust is dark brown and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. The sides should also be quite firm. Remove the loaf from the pan and cool on a wire rack for a few hours before cutting.
Adapted from ‘Good To The Grain: Baking With Whole-Grain Flours’ by Kim Boyce.