There are some recipes that take you home, and some that create home for your own family. This one is both.
Maple and oat are both staples of the north. Maple, of course, is the sweet spring essence of our forests and a much welcomed ingredient used by early settlers. It’s our first crop of the year! Oats are a grain that grows well in our climate unlike wheat which does not. So a bread that uses both pays tribute to these New England treasures.
The sister competition
All the women in my family loved baking bread. It was an art born of economic necessity, but was one of the most loved foods on our table, certainly one that created the most memories for many of us. One whiff of yeast and I’m in my mother’s kitchen, or my Aunt Jeanette’s. Both these women, sisters, loved baking, and were just a tad competitive with each other over their creations. Perhaps more than a tad.
I’ve made a few changes along the way. First of all, my mom’s bread was made with brown sugar. Aunt Jeanette made a maple bread that did not include oats. I loved each of them! However, I had the most delicious bread ever at a restaurant quite a few years ago, and it combined both flavors. It was a maple oat bread that had a strong flavor of both the maple and the oats and I absolutely loved it. The chef was not parting with his recipe, so I set out to duplicate it.
That maple flavor
I tried many variations of my own, and none of them had the maple flavor of the original. Maple, even dark amber maple syrup, loses a lot of its flavor in baking as many other ingredients do, and in order to get the flavor I wanted, the dough ended up much too liquid.
My mom suggested I add some maple extract, one of her favorite ingredients. It certainly smelled good, and this seemed to be the right combination. However, I still needed more oat taste if I was to duplicate that exquisite loaf.
A nutritional swap
I decided to replace some of the white flour with white whole-wheat flour to bump up the texture and nutrition.
The original recipe just called for adding the old-fashioned rolled oats along with the flour, so I tried adding them to the cooling milk mixture to soften them and bring out the taste of the oats. This improved the flavor of the bread immensely, but I needed a little more chewy texture so I added in a half cup of extra oats, and compensated for the additional oats and heaviness of the whole wheat flour by increasing the liquid by a half cup.
These changes resulted in a bread that is pretty close to the one I had that day in the restaurant! You can most definitely taste the maple and the oats, and the texture is lovely. As long as you let it completely cool, it slices beautifully, but that is important for most breads.
Maple Oatmeal Bread
1/2 cup warm water, 105 to 110 degrees
2 1/2 oz active dry yeast (2 packets)
2 cups milk or plant milk
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats, divided
1/4 cup dark amber maple syrup
1/2 tsp. pure maple extract
2 cups unbleached white flour
3 1/2 cups of white whole-wheat flour, or so
1 tsp. salt
Warm your water to about 110 degrees, place it in a large bowl, and sprinkle in your yeast along with 1/2 cup of flour. Mix with a fork and set aside. You should soon see activity from the yeast, and definitely will be able to smell its aroma.
In a small saucepan, heat the milk to a simmer, remove from the heat and add the butter, 1/2 cup of the whole oats, and maple syrup. Set aside to cool to lukewarm.
Once the milk is cooled to lukewarm, add it to the yeast mixture in the bowl along with 1 1/2 cups of white flour. Mix well.
Add a couple of cups of the white whole-wheat flour, the remaining 1 cup of oats, and the salt. Stir, and continue adding flour until the dough comes together but is still a bit sticky. You won’t use all the flour yet.
Turn onto a lightly floured board or table, and start to knead. As it sticks to the board, add a bit more of the remaining flour. You might not need it all, it all depends on your flour’s protein content and the atmospheric conditions on that day.
Knead for about 10 minutes. The dough will feel elastic and will smooth except for the cragginess of the oats.
Place in an oiled bowl, turn over so that the whole thing is coated, cover with a tea towel or plastic wrap, and set in a warm spot for a little nap for an hour or so, or until the dough is considerably larger, double in bulk, and feels firm when touched with the palm of your hand. If you stick your finger in the dough, it will leave a little impression that slowly starts to fill in. If it springs right back and there is no depression, you need to proof the dough a little longer.
When ready, gently deflate by running your fingers around the sides of the dough, and turn out onto the board again. Cut into two, gently shape into loaves by folding it over on itself, and place in well-buttered loaf pans.
You can stop here and refrigerate this dough up to a full day. This will increase the flavor of the loaf nicely. Or, you can set the loaves aside in your warm place, and cover with a tea towel again until risen above the top of the pan.
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Brush the loaves with a little oil and sprinkle with a few more oats if you like.
Place in the oven and immediately turn the heat down to 350. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes on the middle rack of the oven. The internal temperature of the dough should be between 195 and 205 degrees F. The bread will be browned, and aromatic.
Let the bread cool in the pan for a few minutes then turn out onto a tea towel. Butter all sides if you would like a soft crust, and let it rest, loosely covered, to cool completely.
Resist the urge to cut into the loaf. This will be really hard, but it is essential or you will probably ruin the texture of the bread. If you cut right into it, it will look uncooked and will collapse on itself. Patience will be rewarded, so if you think you can’t resist cutting into it, go take a walk.
This bread freezes well, so you can enjoy one loaf now, and the other on a night when you really need something good at dinner time.
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