Friday, March 7, 2014

Oatmeal Raisin Walnut Bread - Yum

Many years ago, when visiting Aberdeen, my sister-in law Sherri asked if I might help her make her grandmother's Oatmeal Raisin Bread. Her mom had this recipe written in her one and only cookbook. Sherri described to me the things she recalled about the bread, thinking that the recipe as written did not - quite - seem like she remembered. It needed more raisins, for one thing. We sat down together and reviewed the recipe, deciding how much to alter the original and finally making a recipe that turned out, to her recollection, fairly spot-on. We decided the amount of raisins could be more than what we used, but that was still fine.

Just a few years back, when Sherri approached me about making a cookbook out of all her mom's recipes so the family could all have copies, I set about deciphering the recipes written in the cookbook. My mother-in-law did not apparently use the cookbook itself, except to write recipes into: in the margins, between lines, inside the covers and any blank spot at all. She also stapled in bits of paper with yet more recipes. Some of the recipes were written in pencil a very long time ago and were barely legible. I had to stand under direct sunlight to catch the shininess of the pencil to be able to read these. Some recipes were written in pen, and then had alternate amounts written above, and sometimes crossed out with other things written alongside. Some recipes were written up to 3 separate times, in three separate places in the book, and sometimes these were differing in amounts or even ingredients. It was quite a task to get these all together.

Oatmeal Raisin Walnut Bread
Oatmeal Raisin Walnut Bread
To make matters worse, Sherri's older sister Nancy had many recipes her mom had written on note cards or other scraps of paper and given  her over the years. In many cases, these were so different as to be surprising to have come from the same person. And, on top of that, there were some recipes my mother-in-law either made while visiting me, or sent to me later, and these were different also. I have one way of making her Famous Baked Beans, and my husband swears mine are the best. Yet his sisters' recipes are quite different. 

Which brings me back to the Oatmeal Raisin Bread; there was the original recipe written in my mother-in-law's cookbook. There was the altered recipe as Sherri and I made it (and I had re-made this bread various times over the years), and then there was Nancy's recipe from her mom, which was far different. I created that cookbook for the family. Many of the recipes were ones that Nancy had passed on to her children and they also altered to their taste. Still, it was a labor of love and appreciated, to have all the recipes in one spot. When making some of the recipes and entering them into my website or in this blog, I have given credit to Mom Rawstern when using her recipes, though I have no clue where the recipe may have originally come from. I was planning to make the bread again a few days ago and decided to check the recipes side by side. Nancy's recipe was far larger. It easily made 3 loaves, where the one Sherri and I used made 2 smaller loaves. Nancy's recipe had a whole stick of butter, where the smaller recipe had 2 tablespoons. And on it went. I created my own recipe using the two, side by side, deciding as I went along what I wanted and what not. I added walnuts because i love them. I added some finely ground Earl Grey tea, though I could not find any trace of that flavor in the finished bread. I added gluten, as this is a rich, dense bread that takes some time to rise; the gluten is not necessary, but it helps shorten the rising time and makes the bread lighter-textured than if not using extra gluten. No matter which way, this bread is moist, slightly dense, wonderful as is, or as toast. 

Oatmeal Raisin Walnut Bread

Makes three (8 1/2 x 4 1/2-inch) loaves
Dough after 1st rise
Dough after 1st rise

2 cups boiling water
2 cups rolled oats
1 stick unsalted butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
1 cup cool water
4 1/2 cups bread flour
4 tablespoons gluten, optional
1 teaspoon salt
1 packet (1 3/4 teaspoons) instant/quick-rise yeast
1/2 cup dry milk powder, optional

3/4 cup walnuts, broken
3/4 cup raisins
1 Earl Grey teabag, or 2 1/2 teaspoons loose leaf Earl Grey Tea, finely ground, optional

Into the bowl of a heavy duty stand mixer with a dough hook, place the boiling water, oatmeal, butter, salt, brown sugar and molasses. Let stand for at least 10 minutes. Add in 1 cup cool water and stir. Check the temperature; it should be just warm to the pinkie finger but not hot. If still hot, allow to cool to just barely warm. Separately, combine 3 cups of the flour with the gluten, yeast, salt and milk powder if using. Stir to combine the dry ingredients. When the liquids are no longer hot, add in the flour mixture along with the raisins, walnuts and tea. Set the mixer to knead slowly until combined, then increase speed and allow to knead for 8 - 10 minutes, adding in the remaining flour little by little. Remove the dough hook and set the bowl in a warm place to rise until about doubled in bulk.
Oatmeal Raisin Walnut Bread
Oatmeal Raisin Walnut Bread

*If making this by hand, proceed similarly, allowing the first ingredients to cool, then adding the dry ingredients first with a spoon, then turn out onto a surface to knead in the remaining flour, kneading for a total of 10 minutes. Set the dough into a greased bowl to rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk. 

Once the dough has risen (2 - 2 1/2 hours), turn out and divide into 3 equal sections. Grease three (8 1/2 x 4 1/2-inch) loaf pans. Form each segment of the dough into a loaf shape and set into the pans to rise again, until about doubled in size, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Set pans in center of oven and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until risen and golden brown. Turn out onto racks to cool. Once cooled, the extra loaves may be wrapped and kept in zip-top bags in the freezer for up to 3 months.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.