Painting shows ingredients for rice cakes

Rice Cakes. 6″ x 6″ gouache and watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick

Most mornings I eat oatmeal cooked in milk to jump start my calcium intake for the day. Our house is cold and warm breakfasts are usually welcome. But because we shop just once a week, there are occasionally mornings when the milk is gone and hot cereal is not an option. Heaven forbid that I would cook my oats in water, converting them to standard gruel.

These are some of our options for mornings we are out of milk.

1) Rice cakes: take some leftover rice. Crack an egg or two into it. Add some sugar, vanilla, nutmeg. Beat for a few minutes with a fork. Scoop out by 1/4 cup measures and fry in butter.

2) French toast: take the last few slices of bread. Toast them lightly if they are not already stale. Cut them in half. Beat a couple of eggs in a shallow bowl. Add juice and zest of one orange if you like, or just add sugar, vanilla and nutmeg as for rice cakes above. Soak the bread briefly in the egg batter. Fry in butter. Serve with powdered sugar, maple syrup, fresh fruit or fruit puree

If we have sour milk, buttermilk or yogurt on hand we can just make waffles, cornbread or biscuits.

Painting shows bread for French toast, eggs, orange.

French Toast. 6″ x 6″ gouache and watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick.

If we have no milk products, sour or otherwise, we can get out our sourdough starter and make  sourdough biscuits with that, using a cup of starter, 1/4 cup of vegetable shortening, 1/2 tsp each of sugar, salt and baking soda, 1 cup of plain flour and 1 Tbsp baking powder. Mix them. Roll them. Cut them. Brush the tops with melted butter and let them sit for fifteen minutes while you preheat the oven to 425. Bake for 10-12 minutes

If I am feeling more ambitious than making biscuits and I have gotten up very early, I might return to my breakfast oatmeal and make it into some delicious oatmeal yeast bread, flavored with maple syrup. I have adapted this recipe slightly from an old cookbook called Coffee by Charles and Violet Schafer published in 1976 and now living in tatters on my bookshelf. This bread uses the sponge method, which will save you some time on the first rise (but you will have to knead it before the second rise after you add the remaining flour and salt).

Oatmeal Bread

Pour 2 cups of boiling water over 1 cup of rolled oats in a mixing bowl.

Measure 1 Tbsp of vegetable oil into a Pyrex measuring cup. Swirl oil to coat glass to the 1/2 cup mark.

Add oil to cooling oat mixture.

Into oiled cup, measure 1/2 cup maple syrup.

Add syrup to oat-water-oil mixture

Take that same old  Pyrex cup and add 1/4 cup lukewarm water.

Dissolve 1 Tbsp active dry yeast in the lukewarm water and stir with a fork.

While the yeast proofs, add 2 cups unbleached flour to your mixing bowl and stir. When mixture is lukewarm, add yeast and stir again. Cover with damp cloth and place in warm place to rise. Check in 30 minutes.

After your sponge has risen and fallen slightly, add 1/2 cup whole wheat flour, 2 and 1/2 cups unbleached flour and 1 tsp kosher salt to it.

This is when you knead it. I like to knead on a lightly floured bread board for at least ten minutes. If your dough is too sticky, add flour by the tablespoon until it is workable: dough will vary by the amount of moisture in the air, the temperature of your kitchen, the particular grind of the flour. Please add a little flour to the board, to your hands, or to the dough itself if you are having a lot of trouble with it: doughs containing honey, syrup or molasses are stickier than those that don’t, but you are going to love the flavor of this bread, so persevere.

After at least ten full minutes of kneading, you may want to add a little butter or oil to your mixing bowl. Rub it all over so that the dough won’t stick. Then plunk the dough back into the bowl, dampen your tea towel with warm water, wring it out and set it on the bowl again, placing the dough in a warm place for its second rise. Check it again in 30 minutes (or forty if you are reading a great novel). When it has doubled, take the time to grease two loaf pans or one loaf pan and a pie or tart pan if you want to make a round loaf. Using butter to grease the pans will add to the flavor of the finished bread.

Take the bread dough out of the bowl and set it again on your lightly floured bread board. Cut it with your dough cutter or bench scraper into two equal portions. Roll the first one up like a jelly roll and tuck in the ends: with any luck it will fit your loaf pan. Take the second piece of dough and roll it into a ball, continually tucking any edges under and smoothing the top. Place this ball in your pie or tart pan. Return shaped loaves to the oven to rise for fifteen minutes, then move them somewhere else while you preheat your oven to 375, making sure a rack is in the middle position with no rack above it (You should have already moved it when you were using it for the rising dough, but if you didn’t, do it now).

Painting shows loaves of oatmeal bread.

Oatmeal Bread. 6″ x 6″ gouache and watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick

When your oven is hot, set the loaves inside and putter around for ten minutes, doing dishes or having a cup of tea. After ten minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 350 and go back to reading your novel. Resurface in 30 minutes to check your bread: when you thump it, it should make a good solid thumping sound and the crust should have some brown color. When it thumps satisfactorily, remove it to a cooling rack. Mom taught be to remove the bread from the pans so that the crust does not steam in the hot pans: if you do this, you will get a crustier, chewier crust.

Now go away again: if you cut the bread hot you will ruin the texture. It’s best just to forget about it for awhile. When it is cool or almost cool, you can slice it and savor the beautiful bouquet of maple syrup. Whatever you do not eat immediately makes lovely toast tomorrow and the next day.

Food notes: On rice cakes: these rice cakes are not Asian rice cakes. They are the kind of rice cakes some people make in Louisiana: a fried cake made of sweetened rice bound with eggs. On oatmeal bread: for its most wonderful qualities, this bread requires maple syrup. None of the other ingredients are expensive, so splurge every now and then and make it. Can you make it with honey or golden syrup or malt syrup or brown rice syrup? Yes, you can, but it will not be the same and not yield the same deliciousness. Can you make it with more whole wheat flour? Of course you can, but, once again, you will not get the same bread: whole wheat flour will make it browner and heavier and wheatier. I keep the whole wheat flour to a half cup for the nod to health, replacing a little nutrition in that unbleached flour, but oats are good for you, too. Happy breakfast.

Equipment notes: Few things make me happier than having a dough cutter. I baked for many years without one, but it is the easiest thing to use when you need to divide yeast dough.

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