There are few aromas that are more wonderful and comforting than the smell of home-baked bread. Baking your own bread is an extremely satisfying and rewarding experience. Unfortunately, with the hectic pace of our lives and the invention of the bread machine, baking bread from scratch is an activity that has really diminished. Speaking of which, does anyone ever use their bread machine? Everyone that I know who has one either stores it in the garage or has lost track of it altogether. My mom's machine resembles R2D2 and makes the bread come out shaped like a silo, so our slices are in the form of large discs that wouldn't fit into any toaster on the market today. To me, that's just not how bread is supposed to look.
I think that, for many people, the process of baking bread from scratch is very daunting, and they automatically think that it is much to difficult and time consuming, so why bother? It's true that some breads like sourdough, which involved preparing a "starter" or "sponge", can take days to make and call for many steps, but most basic bread recipes just require a very basic list of ingredients, a few hours of rising, and following some simple directions. Still not convinced? Well, I think that I have found the perfect bread recipe to change your mind. The recipe reminds me of one for a "dump cake", a cake made by just dumping all of the ingredients into a bowl and mixing them together. With this recipe, you just dump all of the bread ingredients into the bowl of the mixer and hit the "ON" button and most of the work is done. After bit of rising, kneading, and baking, you've got yourself a beautiful, fragrant, perfect-for-peanut butter and jelly loaf of bread. Give it a try! Here are some tips for brilliant bread baking:
- If you have a choice of maple syrups, Grade B is darker in color and richer in flavor than the more delicate Grade A, so the maple taste holds up better in baked goods. If you don't have maple syrup, you can always substitute honey.
- Maple extract is highly concentrated in maple flavor, so a little bit goes a long ways. It can be found in the spice and baking aisle of your grocery store, next to the vanilla extract. You can also substitute vanilla extract, but you'll be sacrificing the maple flavor.
- This bread can be made up to three days in advance. After it has cooled, wrap it tightly in both plastic wrap and foil and store at room temperature.
- If you don't have an instant read thermometer to test the bread for doneness, insert a sharp knife or a skewer into the center. If it emerges clean, then the bread is ready to be removed from the oven.
- This recipe calls for "quick-rise" or "instant" yeast, not to be confused with "active dry" yeast. Quick-rise yeast does not need to be hydrated prior to being mixed with flour and less rising time is required. It is a big factor in the simplicity of this recipe. Recipes using active dry yeast have longer rising times and the ingredients are combined in groups prior to putting them all together.
- When letting the bread rise in a warm, draft-free space, I usually turn my oven on for a minute and then turn it off, so that the oven is just warm. Then, I stick the bowl containing the bread in the oven to rise. Just remember to take it out before turning the oven on again!
- If you don't have a stand mixer, you can knead the dough by hand, for 10-12 minutes, on a lightly floured surface.
Whole Wheat Maple-Oatmeal Bread
Makes 1 loaf
1 1/4 cups warm water (about115F degrees)
1 large egg
2 tablespoons butter, softened
2 cups flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon maple extract
1 cup old-fashioned oats
1 teaspoon salt
1 packet (2 teaspoons) quick-rising yeast
Place all of the ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment. Mix at low speed until the dough is smooth, starts to cleanly pull away from the sides, and climbs the dough hook, adding more flour (2 tablespoons at a time) if dough is very sticky. Scrape the dough off of the hook and remove the bowl from the mixer. Shape the dough into a ball and place it back in the bowl. Cover the bowl loosely with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel. Let the dough rise in a warm, draft-free area until is has doubled in volume, about 1 1/2 hours.
Butter a 9X5 inch metal loaf pan. Butter a sheet of plastic wrap. Scrape the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead it until smooth, about 2 minutes. Shape the dough into an 8X3 inch log and place it into the prepared pan. Cover the pan loosely with the prepared plastic wrap, buttered side down. Let dough rise in a warm, draft-free area until the center is roughly 1 1/2 inches higher than the top of the pan, about 45 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Pull the plastic off of the dough. Place the bread in the oven and bake until it is deep golden in color and an instant read thermometer inserted into the center registers 180F degrees, about 30 minutes. Cool the bread in the pan for 15 minutes. Run a small knife around the bread and then turn it out of the pan to cool completely on a rack.