Historically, Labor Day has been true to its name for me: a weekend of work. Getting ready to launch a new school year and prepare a classroom for a fresh crop of students doesn’t lend itself to taking a relaxing three-day weekend off.
This year is different. I didn’t take a gap year before (or after) college. I haven’t been unemployed (or unenrolled) for more than three months since 1998. In fact, this is the first fall in 29 consecutive years that I’m not heading back to school. (Whoa. That’s heavy just to write!)
So this Labor Day I’m dong the opposite of running around frantically; I’m baking bread.
The thing about baking bread is: you can’t rush it. The only thing that can help a loaf to rise, yeast to ferment, or stringy gluten to develop, is time. It’s a project to be undertaken on a lazy Sunday when you’re not quite sure if it’s 1pm or 5pm, you’re not plowing through a to-do list, meeting friends, or fixing the gutters on your house (all things I reserved for a day earlier this week). You’re just relaxing: kneading sticky bread dough and then retreating to a book or movie (or even a glass of wine at the neighbors in my case) while it slowly rises on the counter.
Yesterday, I went for dinner at a friend’s house nearby, except we started our dinner party mid-afternoon so we had enough time to bake a couple loaves of fresh, crusty bread to go with our meal. They taught me their bread baking secrets as time stretched out and turned into evening. After a garden kale salad dinner, we ate thick slices of warm bread straight out of the oven, slathered with butter and plum jam made fresh that day. It was pretty great.
I spent today making a loaf of my favorite bread, a staple from the bakery where I spent my high school summers as a sometimes-counterperson/sometimes-baker. I don't bake much bread because I try not to eat much bread (less room for vegetables :) ), and the first thing I want to do with a loaf of homemade bread is to eat the entire thing. There are A LOT of opinions and advice out there about bread baking, and I don't claim to be an expert. I just enjoy it, which I think is the most important ingredient.
Baking bread is an important reminder to just slow down. Cultivate patience. Luxuriate in time. All things not typically characteristic of an early fall weekend for me.
I think I could get used to this new normal.
Honey Oat Bread
(adapted from Holly B’s Bakery)
To be baked in 2 loaf pans
2 cups warm water
2 Tbsp honey
1 package quick-rise yeast
2 Tbsp mild tasting oil (I used some hazelnut oil to give a slightly nutty flavor)
Scant 4 cups unbleached flour (I substituted some locally grown and milled red winter wheat flour that has high protein and gluten levels)
2 cups rolled oats
3 Tbsp dry milk powder (which I sometimes omit)
1 3/4 tsp salt
1. Mix together the water, honey, yeast and oil in a roomy bowl until the honey and yeast or dissolved. Dump on top the flour, oats and salt. Mix together these dry ingredients gently with your fingers without breaking into the liquid.
2. Then using a wooden spoon (or dough hook on a mixer) mix together until too stiff to continue. Knead the dough inside the bowl for 5 minutes. Form into a ball, lightly oil the bowl and place the dough back in it. Cover with a damp dish towel and let rise until doubled in size (at least an hour).
3. Turn the dough out onto a cutting board, cut in half and form into logs. Place in buttered loaf pans and cover again. Let rise until dough shows 1-2” above the rims (at least another hour).
4. Preheat over to 375 while dough is rising. Bake the loaves for 30-35 minutes. You’ll know they’re done by turning them out of the pan and thumping the bottom. You should hear a hollow thump instead of a doughy thud.
5. Remove from pans to cool, though I always cut into one right away and eat it warm with butter and jam.
(Note - there are three different kinds of breads from this weekend in these pictures, so yours may not turn out looking the same).