Herb-Oatmeal Bread

This unusual loaf is worth every second of the 3½ hours it takes from start to finish. Be sure you make enough of it, because it will put on a cookie-like disappearing act. Be careful about the ingredients, especially oatmeal; get a good one, like John McCann's from Ireland, and spurn the instant oatmeal as you would freeze-dried Chablis!

Ingredients

  • 2 packages active dry yeast or 1 ounce fresh yeast
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • tablespoons salt
  • ¾ cup oatmeal (not instant)
  • 1 cup water, lukewarm
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream or 1 cup light cream
  • ¾ cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon celery seeds
  • 1 teaspoon poppy seeds
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
  • 1 tablespoon fresh sage, chopped or 1 teaspoon dried sage
  • 1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped or 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • ½ teaspoon dried dill
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • ½ cup pine nuts
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour

Method

Combine the yeast, honey, and salt with 1 cup lukewarm (not hot) water and set aside. (Remember: if the water is too hot it will kill the growing yeast.)

Heat 1 cup water to boiling, and add the oatmeal and sour cream. Simmer, covered, for 10 minutes, then remove from the heat and cool to lukewarm. Combine the whole-wheat Hour, seeds, and herbs in a large mixing bowl. Add the oatmeal and yeast mixtures and beat until well blended. Add beaten egg and melted butter and beat several times again. Add the pine nuts, then add 3 cups of the all-purpose Hour, one cup at a time, beating between each addition until a fairly stiff dough is developed.

Spread the remaining all-purpose Hour on a board and knead the dough into it thoroughly, about a dozen times, then put the dough in a large, well-greased bowl and cover with a damp cloth. Set to rise in a warm place until double its original bulk (about 1 hour).

Just before the end of the rising time, presoak 2 clay pots, top and bottom, in water for 15 minutes. (We use 2 pots in order to bake each loaf separately.)

Place the risen dough on a floured board, divide, and shape into 2 loaves. Before putting the loaves in the presoaked pots, put a small piece of aluminum foil, just large enough to cover the bottom of the loaf, on the bottom of each pot. (This keeps the bread from sticking to the pot.) Place the dough inside the pots, cover, and allow to rise until almost doubled in bulk (about 45 minutes).

Cover the pots and put them in a cold oven.

Set the oven temperature at 480 degrees.

Bake for 40 minutes. If necessary, remove the lid for the last 5 minutes of baking to get a golden brown crust.

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