Tuesday, January 20, 2009

PRESIDENT OBAMA! Say it loud, say it proud! (Say it with bread.)

To quote two iconic songs: O HAPPY DAY...been a long time comin'! I have never been prouder to be an American than I am today on the inauguration of our 44th president, Barack Obama! It was so amazing to glimpse that unprecedented sea of humanity on the mall at the capitol and to feel the whole world watching and celebrating together. (Personally, I monitored MSNBC on tv while simulataneously Facebook-ing via CNN live. What a strange, new technological world!) I just wish my mom had lived long enough to witness this day--she would have been overjoyed. I also wish I could have celebrated with my dear friends, June and Tom, who are currently with family in New Orleans. So I had to have my own inaugural watch party at home. Here are my favorite quotes from the very moving ceremony:

"This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed — why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath." --President Barack Obama

"Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get back, when brown can stick around, when yellow will be mellow, when the red man can get ahead, man, and when white will embrace what is right. Let all those who do justice and love mercy say amen...say amen...and AMEN!" --Rev. Joseph E. Lowery

With all the pomp and circumstance, I suppose I should have had a whole red, white, and blue luncheon planned for today, but I didn't. As it happens, I am (even as I blog) enjoying some carrot-ginger soup from Trader Joe's (finished with a pinch of cayenne, a sprinkle of dried thyme, and a good glug of heavy cream) and a simply scrumptious grilled cheese. This sublime sandwich is special because it was indulgently made with three cheeses (cheddar, provolone, and swiss), but even more so because of the divine bread that I baked myself. Even though I have a freezer full of hand-made, brick-oven artisanal loaves (thanks, John and Keith!), I decided that I could not let my winter break end without baking some bread of my own. And in honor of this new era of "Yes we can!" personal empowerment and civic responsibility, I'll have you know that I made the recipe up myself! I wasn't sure if or how it would turn out, but I have to confess that these were among the most beautiful loaves to ever come out of my kitchen! And they are tasty, too, with a tender but hearty texture. Heretofore, let this recipe be known as Obama Inaugural Bread! Inspired by our new president and this profoundly historical day, I feel like waxing poetic for a moment. So gather 'round and give ear to my culinary hymn o' the day...

Bread seems a very fitting symbol for this inauguration day. Bread represents the food that we need to live and the work that it takes to make it. As the scriptures say, "By the sweat of your brow will you eat your bread" (Genesis 3:19). And Lord knows, our new president has his work cut out for him! Therefore, my bread begins with oatmeal--sturdy, long-cooking, steel-cut Irish groats--to symbolize our immigrant heritage and the ethic of the working people. Then I added wheat flour, in honor of our nation's proud farmers; I used both dark whole-wheat and light all-purpose to celebrate this new day in America's racial history, and to remember Martin Luther King's dream, the day after we celebrate his birthday. Next I added a lot of honey for this sweet day of peaceful transition. I also used a good amount of yeast in hopes that this country will rise up out of our current crises of economy and warfare. But I put in some salt, too, because this ascent will inevitably be tempered by the sharp brine of opposition and argument. Then I included some butter to symbolize the richer days that we believe our nation will enjoy in the near future, and milk to represent the fertility of this abundant land. Of course, I used a diverse blend of nuts and seeds, representing all of the country's beautiful cultures and peoples, and I threw in one egg to recognize, in particular, the powerful and brilliant women of our nation (shout out to Secretary of State Clinton!). Finally, I added water to symbolize this political purification--an ideological baptism, if you will--and in the hope of a living rebirth of our country's enduring greatness. Hmmm...does this make you want to bake bread or run for office? Either way, my recipe follows...


Obama Inaugural Bread (aka Honey Oatmeal Harvest Grains Bread)
Makes 2 large loaves

1 cup prepared steel-cut Irish oatmeal (cooled)
4 tablespoons melted butter
1 cup whole milk
1 egg
1/2 cup honey
4 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1 cup mixed nuts and seeds (I used KA's Harvest Grains Blend)
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup water (more or less/as needed)

egg wash (one egg beaten with a tablespoon of half-and-half)
rolled oats

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine all ingredients except the egg wash and rolled oats. Mix until fully combined, cover the mixer with a tea towel, and let sit for about 20 minutes to fully hydrate the dough before kneading. After the dough rests, remove the towel, turn the mixer up to medium speed (about 4 on my Kitchen Aid) and knead with the dough hook for five minutes (it will seem a little soft and sticky, but that's okay).

Turn the dough into a large, greased bowl (I spray mine), cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until almost doubled. (This will take about an hour in a normal house or about two in my icebox!) Punch down the dough, divide in half, and on a well-floured work surface, shape into two rectangular loaves. Press each loaf into a well-greased pan (I used large glass loaf pans sprayed with flour-added Pam). Cover the loaves loosely with sprayed plastic wrap, and let proof in a warm place for about a half hour, until about an inch over the top of the pans. While the loaves are proofing, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

When loaves have fully proofed, carefully removed the plastic wrap, brush the tops with egg wash and sprinkle liberally with rolled oats. Bake for 40-45 minutes until the loaves are golden brown on the bottom. (You may need to cover the tops of the loaves with foil after 30 minutes to prevent over-browning.) Remove from the oven, and cool loaves in the pans on a rack for fifteen minutes or so. Then turn the loaves out of the pans and cool completely on the rack. Store in an airtight container, bag, or wrap.


Just the Right Size said...

Oh Gina, that was beautiful! I haven't made homemade bread in a while and this looks simply perfect!

J S Grant said...

This looks like great bread - I'm going to have to try it - I'll report back.