Despite years of being the “guy who never ever gets sick” I contracted something at the beginning of December which caused my immune system to completely collapse and left me a physical and mental gong-show for the entire month. A month, I might add, in which I was Executive Chef and couldn’t miss a moment of work.
I got vertigo, chest pains, the shakes, heart pounding, random numbness in my extremities and oh yeah, I couldn’t sleep. The few doctors that were available during the holidays couldn’t fix me, hell they couldn’t even tell me what was wrong inside… So, I just sucked it up and suffered through Merry-‘Freakin Christmas and into the New Year.
Perhaps due to all the Zen breathing exercises that I employed back in December to get my heart rate under control I cracked open my long-neglected copy of The Tassajara Bread Book during a particularly sleepless night and started down Edward Espe Brown’s rabbit hole of sponge-fed Buddhist bread making… It was just something to do at 2:00am.
I noticed a big bag of oats that Crystal left in the kitchen after her last museli experiment and decided to go for a peasant-style oat bread. The results were surprising! It wasn’t heavy and dense like you’d expect, but light and fluffy with a great, not-gritty texture from all the oats, barley and flax… Okay, okay, I used a “quick oat” mix by mistake… but whatever, it worked great!
Night after night I spent wandering the kitchen in housecoat and slippers, drinking tea and listening to Thai-inspired surf guitar, hoping that the last vestiges of my immune system would rally and save me from the post-sickness spins while oat bread baked in the oven. Total loaves baked: Eight. Total nights slept: Zero.
What’s A Sponge ?
All of the yeast bread recipes in The Tassajara Bread Book are halfway between sourdough bread (with all of the multi-day fermentation that a sourdough starter entails) and any other home bread recipe where you just mix some yeast with sugar and go. The “sponge” that chef/roshi Brown starts with is like a fermentation soup of water, sugar and yeast that you feed just enough flour to get the whole party started and leave just long enough for some serous chemistry to occur. After an hour the sponge gets bubbling and you mix together whatever type of bread you want.
Quick Oat Bread (Makes one large sandwich-style loaf or two smaller round loaves)
- 2 ¼ Tsp (7g) Dry Yeast
- 1 ½ Cups (350ml) Lukewarm Water
- 2 Tbls (30ml) Liquid Honey
- 1 Cup (125g) All Purpose Flour
- 2 Tsp (8g) Salt
- 2 Tbls. (30ml) Canola oil
- 1 ½ Cups (135g) Quick Mixed Oats
- 1 ½ Cups (190g) All Purpose Flour
Method (Pre-heat oven to 350˚F/ 175˚C. I find it easier to do all the mixing/kneading in a stand-up mixer, but if you want to go oldschool, more power to you!)
- Dissolve the yeast in water, mix in the honey and let sit for 5 minutes or until the yeast blooms on the surface of the water. Stir in the first cup of flour and mix well to form a paste. Cover and let rise in a warm spot for 45 minutes. It’ll grow about twice its size… Weirdly fascinating.
- Pour in the salt and oil and start mixing slowly. Add alternating amount of the oats and flour while the dough hook does it thing. After eight minutes the dough should come away from the sides of the bowl and form a smooth ball. Plop it into a large, oiled bowl, cover and let rise again in a warm spot for another 50 minutes. It’ll grow again… Still fascinating.
- Punch down the dough and drop it onto a floured work surface. If you want to make a bread loaf, drop it in a bread pan. If you want something a bit more rustic roll the dough into two balls roughly the size of your palm. Let whatever-sized bread you choose rise at room temp for a final 20 minutes.
- Brush the top of the bread dough with an egg wash and bake at 350˚F/ 175˚C for 1 hour or until golden brown. Remove the bread from whatever pans or trays they were baked on and let rest on a rack for 30 minutes before slicing into it.
Music to Bake Bread To:
Khruangbin – The Universe Smiles Upon You