Colonial Brown Bread
I find that no matter which kind of bread I am making, whether it is meant to serve as a loaf to create sandwiches, to compliment our meal of soup or stew, or as a sweet breakfast I somehow feel connected to the people of the past. There is a strange time warping feeling you get while preparing the ingredients watching as hot water, flour, and salt can turn into a great fluffy, sticky mass simply by kneading it with your hands. Bread is easily accessible to us now. We can stop at the grocery and purchase a loaf for under $2. I distinctly remember being in middle school, sitting on my front porch, and talking with a girl in high school in wonderment; she was a French exchange student, spending part of the year in small town Illinois. When we asked her what was the biggest difference between her home and the United States, her answer was bread. The bread here was terrible. It was squishy, tasteless, and sugary. The bread in France was much more flavorful, delicious, crispy. All I could think then was that I wish I could taste French bread... but I would have to go to France.
There's a really great documentary on Netflix called Sustainable. That film resonates with me in many ways; it was the first film I watched that made me change my mind about what I would purchase from the grocery store, which was realizing that I really didn't want to purchase much. It was fascinating to learn that a majority of the wheat grown and used for baking here in the US is majorly lacking in any nutritional value. That's because the grains are often not whole, modified, and processed. The most well known conventional grains that we eat today: wheat, corn, and rice lack a lot of the nutritional punch than what we could be eating, ancient grains, like teff, einkorn, emmer, amaranth, millet, quinoa, black rice, black barley, rye, and spelt. In my strange obsession with researching what the colonial people of America were eating, I learned that they often made bread out of rye and corn. It was what was available to them. They didn't have modernized wheat like we do today.
Every time I make bread I hope that I can do better. We still bake with all purpose white wheat. It's harder to find flours made with different grains. I actually hope to start making my own flours at home! We recently bought a VitaMix, which can easily make flour from whole grains, and that will be fun to experiment with. Also, I always think Bob's Red Mill flours look pretty decent. What are your opinions on that? Do you have a place to source ancient, whole grain flours?
- 2 1/3 cups boiling water
- 1 cup oatmeal
- 1/2 cup butter, cubed
- 1/3 cup molasses
- 1 tbsp brown sugar
- 5 tsp yeast
- 2 tsp salt
- 5 1/2 to 6 1/2 cups whole grain flour
- In a large standing mixer, pour the boiling water over the oats. Stir in the butter, molasses, and brown sugar. Let sit for about 5-7 minutes, or until the mixture has settled and the water has cooled slightly. Stir occasionally.
- Add the yeast and salt and stir in. Begin to incorporate the flour. I find the best way to do so is to add about 3 1/2 cups all at once. With an attached dough hook, bring the mixer up to a medium speed and let a sticky dough form. Begin adding a cup of flour at a time and letting the dough form, up to 6 cups, until the dough no longer sticks to the side of the bowl. It's a lot of dough, so you will have to take it out after about 5-6 cups to knead by hand!
- Begin to knead the soft dough by hand on a lightly floured surface. Knead until it becomes smooth and elastic, about 8-10 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turn it over once or twice to coat all sides, and cover with a damp towel. Let rise until doubled, about an hour, in a warm and draft free place. I always use my oven.
- Punch down the dough. This is where it gets fun! I decided to use my new artisanal bread cloche from Freckled Hen Farmhouse. It is awesome! If you have a cloche, shape the dough into a ball and place in the center of the cloche. Close the lid and let rise until doubled, about 45 minutes. Don't have a cloche? Separate the dough in two, shape into loaves, and place into greased load pans. Cover with a towel and let rise until doubled, about an hour. Sprinkle some extra oats on top of the loaves if you wish!
- Once risen, preheat the oven to 375. Slice into the loaves with a sharp knife on top to let air escape. Bake for about 35-40 minutes until golden brown and the loaves sound hollow when knocked upon. If baking in a cloche, you'll want to remove the lid for the last 5-10 minutes, and it may take you a bit longer cooking time since it's all in one! I find that I have to cook this bread for between 45-50 minutes in the cloche.
I found this bread recipe somehow makes it seem more colonial with the addition of the molasses. It was commonly used at the time as a sweetener considering refined sugars were hard to come by. It find that I enjoy the flavor so much more in a bread rather than honey. Honey kind of gives bread a strange grainy texture, but that could also be because most honey breads involve whole wheat. I hope you enjoy making this recipe! It makes a really lovely addition to your holiday table and tastes phenomenal. It makes a really great sandwich bread, too, if you use a loaf pan!