It’s one of those perfect days for Mother Nature’s Outdoor Proofing Box. Definitely time to bake some bread.

I don’t make a lot of basic sandwich loaf breads – I really do have a penchant for more rustic Italian breads – but every now and again I need to get the bread pans out of the cupboard and see if I can still throw together a tender loaf or two.

I have to admit I succeeded, today!

I had a fun conversation with a woman at work the other day about baking bread. She loves it – and will only use her bread machine for the dough. She bakes her bread in the oven, but uses the machine to make the dough. She just finds it easier.

My thought is more power to ya if you’re going to make fresh bread. It doesn’t matter how you make the dough – by hand or by any number of machines – as long as you make it!

My absolutes and opinions on food and cooking have changed so much over the years, it’s sometimes hard to keep track. I remember years ago when a product called Sta-White or some such thing came out. It was to keep lettuce and potatoes and such from browning after cutting. Salad could last on a salad bar for days! It was a miracle! And then, one day, I realized salad staying fresh-looking on a salad bar for days probably wasn’t really a good idea. I went through my why make hollandaise sauce when you could buy a can of Aunt Penny’s?!?  phase, and still have internal arguments with myself about charcoal vs gas grill. Gas grill is winning, right now. I’m too lazy to plan the charcoal cooking, right now, but I really do like the taste. Maybe after I retire…

For years it was just part of the job to keep up with the fads. Now, I’m heading back towards the basics. I’m over putting together a dinner plate with tweezers. I want simpler meals. Lots of flavor – just not neurotic.

Today’s bread started out as a recipe from my Mom’s cook book. She really was quite the baker in her day and was never afraid to take a recipe and make it her own.

After looking through the cabinets at ingredients, I finally settled on a Molasses Oatmeal Bread. It’s an interesting recipe because the first rise is two hours in the refrigerator. So much for my outdoor proofing box. But the second rise outside was perfect.

I more or less followed the recipe, but the cup and a half of water became a 12oz beer – Avalanche Amber Ale – and the shortening became butter. I pretty much never have shortening in the house and we have a few beers sitting around that neither of us are going to drink… Time to use them up!

The biggest difference in making bread pan loaves and rustic loaves is the amount of liquid. The rustic loaves tend to be a bit drier and I have to resist adding more flour. You do need to play with just about any bread recipe a bit. There are a score of factors in play that affect a loaf – from temperature and humidity to moisture content of the flour – and you learn to feel different doughs and see what they need. And you need to know when not to listen to yourself!

The end result, today, was a damned good loaf. It’s properly soft, the crust has just the right amount of chew, and it’s going to work for dinner tonight, breakfast toast, and a sandwich for lunch.

The perfect all-purpose bread.