Baking Oatmeal Molasses Bread with Mindfulness
My first sessions of meditation took place in a chapel with about 15 other students, the room felt huge and hallow and when we were instructed to find a place to focus our gaze I couldn’t shut out my peripheral vision and curiosity. Apparently it wasn’t only me who found the space hallowing the next class we were only 12, the next we were 9, then finally 7 the group who stuck it through. My first year of college was hectic as I learned to navigate the ropes of higher education. Tasked with a new vocabulary, harder classes, book lists that never ended and clubs galore I was busy every night of the week, but my weekly Wednesday night meditation sessions were a private paradise. None of the other students I saw outside of that space, to be honest they were mostly Asian and the meditation lead by an older professor was a quiet event from beginning to end. Although we were encouraged to visit with each other before and after the practice, I usually slipped in 3 minutes before class and used this time to fully practice and recover my introverted energy, and I felt the others did the same.
During this same time of my life I developed another meditation routine, Friday night bread. To be honest it wasn’t me who was first interested in baking bread, it was the girl I was interested in pursuing. Like all young love you find yourself doing things you never expected just to spend time with the other. Luckily for me I came bearing the kitchen skills necessary to hold my own as we tackled the daunting task of making our own bread. As all amateurs, we used a guide. Beard on Bread by James Beard became my bible and I read his notes thoroughly. Before the first expedition I had already read 4 times the introduction “observations” about textures, moisture level, springiness, and kneading. In theory I was already an expert, but as all things the practice was next.
I started from the beginning and baked the first Basic White Bread. Paranoide I hovered over my baby as it rose and rose and baked and baked. The process as expected was excruciatingly long, but I was transfixed. The first bread was good, a bit dense but with a great flavor. I kept working my way through the book, buying ingredients here and there that I stored in a big bowl on the shelf above my desk next to my aloe vera. Week after week I poured in new energy and received back knowledge and a loaf or two of bread. Eventually the then girlfriend got bored of baking and faded off, but I continued relentless in my new passion.
One would think bread baking was lonely, but friends came with books, others with music and the smell of fresh bread eventually lured my whole floor and half the building into the kitchen with me. Bread became my introvert activity as well as a means to socialization. It turns out in dorm life a friend with warm fresh baked bread is about as valuable as a friend with ice cold beer.
More importantly I learned in the kneading and hour rising before the warm smell of bread attracts and audience the power of being present and focused. Last week I discussed mindfulness and the first step is doing one thing at a time. Weekly bread is how I trained myself in being mindful and wholey present.
Mindfulness In the Bread Process
The first step to yeast and sourdough bread a like is proofing your yeast source in warm water, it takes anywhere from 5-15 minutes for most proofs. This is a wonderful time to be mindful.
I prop myself above the yeast bowl and observe the process happening inside. I notice the bubbles as they rise, the smell that reaches my nose, the size of the proof slowly growing. Pair this with deep breathing and you have yourself a full meditation and your first step of bread done.
All bread has a different amount of kneading time but this is undoubtedly a moment of mindfulness. You will be kneading 5-15 minutes depending on the dough, it’s a long and arduous process and sometime even a tiering one too. If we aren’t careful we can enter the task of bread making negatively and kneading will be a chore instead of a joy. As a mindful task I focus on each movement slowing down my kneading to see the bubbles on the bread, the texture as the dough pulls and folds, the sensation of my palm sinking into the surface. There is so much going on during the kneading process and so much changing with each pass, but it’s easy to miss in the rush to get things done. When I knead bread with mindfulness I am much calmer, happy and less tired at the end of the process than when I knead bread in a hurry.
This is undoubtedly a period of rest, put on your timer and enjoy a cup of tea or a chapter of your book.
This is an interesting time to be mindful because at first your mindfulness will have little stimulation. You are waiting for the first whiff of bread. As soon as you start to smell the bread focus yourself on being mindful of how the smell fills the space, how warm it is, how it moves and changes, and how you eventually become use to your new situation and forget the smell is there all together.
You dough should be wet but no longer sticky, keep incorporating sprinkles of flour until you find a suitable texture.
If you live in a humid place like me, most recipes will require less water.
This recipe is adapted for the tropics.
If you live in a cold place you may want to boil all the water, I have also adapted this step from the original recipe.
Be patient, be mindful, and don’t forget the salt.
I’ve found bread that is under of over risen can still be eaten, the only bad bread is saltless bread.
The original recipe makes 3 loaves, I have adapted it into 1 loaf and to be made with 100 % whole wheat flour, because I just don’t have a big enough family for all that bread. Reminder this is for the tropics if you aren’t in a humid place add a bit more water.
This bread carries a nutrition punch of oatmeal protein, iron in molasses and fiber of whole wheat.
As far as breads go, it’s a pretty good one.
Nik’s Version of Maryetta’s Oatmeal Bread
1 ½ cups water (½ cup boiled, the rest at room temperature)
150 g oatmeal flour (plus more for when kneading)
480 g whole wheat flour (bran sifted)
7 g instant yeast
1 T salt
¼ cup molasses
2 T oil
Mix the boiling water into the room temp water. Add the yeast and the two types of flour and mix to form a firm and sticky ball. Mix well, add up to ½ cup more water if needed to combine.
Leave this sticky dough ball uncovered to rise 1 hour, or until doubled.
Cover the rising dough with the molasses, oil and salt and begin to massage with your hands. With the dough is well coated remove it from the bowl and begin to knead on a floured bread board. (You can use white flour or oatmeal flour, you may add up to 1 cup more flour (110g) during kneading depending on your dough)
Knead the dough for 5-10 minutes until very smooth and elastic, wet but not sticking to your hands. Press the dough into a parchment lined bread tin and leave to rise another 30 mins – 1 hour uncovered or until the bread has risen 1 inch above the rim of the bread tin.
Bake in an oven preheated to 350*F for 30-40 minutes, or until golden brown and sounds hollow when knocked on from the bottom.
Enjoy warm or toasted, keeps 1 week in the fridge and up to 3 months frozen.
See image below for the original 3 loaf recipe, if you’ve never baked bread before I highly suggest you find your own copy of Beard on Bread by James Beard to read and enjoy.