Add One Cup of Mystery to This Recipe

Add One Cup of Mystery to This Recipe

Culinary student uncovers information missing from vintage family recipe

FVTC graduate Kyle Luchsinger not only recently completed his associate degree in Culinary Arts, he can now add food detective to the list of skills noted on his resume.

When a reader turned to Daniel Higgins, food and drink reporter for USA Today Network-Wisconsin, for help with an incomplete family recipe, Daniel turned to Fox Valley Technical College.

As part of his final project in a bread class, Kyle accepted the challenge to uncover information that was missing from this 1940s oatmeal bread recipe.


Full text from Post-Crescent:

Mystery solved: FVTC culinary student helps reader with grandmother’s oatmeal bread recipe

Urban Billmeier had a craving for his grandmother's oatmeal bread. He had a list of ingredients. He had scant directions on a copy of the recipe that had been "written down sometime in the 1940s."

Let the dough rise, punch it down and let it rise again before baking at 375 F for 45 to 60 minutes. That was it.

"My grandmother learned to cook and bake sometime before 1900," Billmeier wrote in an email about her oatmeal bread. "I would love to give it a try ... I am hoping that you might have an idea of what we do or point me in a direction to find the information missing from our recipe."

I knew exactly what to do — get someone else to do my work. For this bread recipe, that was Kyle Luchsinger, a Fox Valley Technical College culinary arts and hospitality management student in a bread class taught by Julia Steinhiser. Solving the bread mystery was part of Luchsinger's final project last semester.

Grandma’s Oatmeal Bread Recipe

Yield: 2 loaves

2 cups water

2 cups rolled old-fashioned oats

2 teaspoons salt

2¼ teaspoons active dry yeast or 1-ounce fresh yeast

¼ cup warm water

½ cup molasses

5 cups bread flour

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 tablespoon lard

Boil 2 cups of water in a small sauce pot. As soon as your pot of water starts to boil, turn off the heat and add 2 cups of oats to the water and allow to soak until all the water is absorbed by the oats, about 20 to 30 minutes.

Add yeast to ¼ cup of warm water. If using fresh yeast, mix with the water until fully dissolved.

After the oats have absorbed all the boiled water, add remaining ingredients in bowl of a stand mixer. Mix with a dough hook on low speed for 2 minutes. Increase to medium speed for about 5 to 6 minutes or until the dough forms into a large mass. Dough should be slightly tacky.

Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Proof the dough on the counter in a warm place for 1 hour or until the dough is double in size.

Roll dough on a flat surface. Dough should still be only slightly tacky and not need additional flour. Separate dough in 2 equal loaves and place in a lightly greased loaf pan or sheet pan and proof for another hour on the counter in a warm place until the dough doubles in size.

Heat oven to 375 F.

Bake for 30 to 45 minutes or until the loaf reads 210 F in the middle of the loaf with a thermometer.

Remove from pans and place on wire rack.

Allow to cool slightly. Bread can be sliced and served while warm. After loaves have completely cooled, place in plastic bags and seal between servings.

(Recipe from Urban Billmeier's grandmother and Kyle Luchsinger)

TASTING NOTES: It took all of one bite to understand why Billmeier wanted to make this recipe work. This bread looks wheat but eats white. Molasses gives it the dark color but also its slightly sweet flavor. Oat flavor is minimal, but I suspect the oats add gravitas to the loaf. This bread is heavier than most white loaves though it maintains a somewhat airy and light texture inside the crusty shell. It's a surprising and delightful bread from heel to heel combining seemingly contradictory flavors and textures. 

EQUIPMENT: Stand mixer with dough hook, wooden spoons, mixing bowls, measuring cups, measuring spoons, probe thermometer, loaf pans and wire racks. My forearms ache to think about the work involved in kneading the dough without a stand mixer. Still, it can be done by hand. It just comes with a deeper appreciation for the work done by your ancestors just to feed themselves.

PRACTICALITY: It's difficult for me to assess the practicality of something I didn't make. Especially when it was made in a kitchen with professional grade equipment by someone who plans to make food his career. If you regularly make bread at home, there's nothing here you can't handle. For the rest of us, maybe we can convince a bread-making friend to try this recipe.

HACKS/INSIGHTS: Fresh yeast can be found at local bakeries or supermarkets with bakeries. Fresh yeast requires refrigeration and lasts two weeks after it has been opened.

Lard can be substituted for equal amount butter or shortening.

One way to proof bread at home is to heat your oven on its lowest setting (usually 170 F) turn off the oven and let cool for 5 to 10 minutes. The oven should be around 80 to 100 F. Place the dough in the oven on the top rack with a bowl or pan of boiling water on the bottom rack to provide steam. Close the oven to trap the steam and proof.

SOLVING THE MYSTERY: Luchsinger had plenty of baking experience before college. From an early age he said he enjoyed being in the kitchen with his mother and as he got older often made family meals for his siblings. Despite practical experience and classwork at FVTC, one ingredient in this bread recipe required deep-dive online research: 1 cake yeast dissolved in ¼ cup warm water.

After some online searching, Luchsinger said he found out that 1 cake yeast was the same as 0.6 ounces of fresh yeast.

Before World War II, yeast was strictly a fresh product. Luchsinger found Fleischmann's print ads from 1940 that promoted eating fresh cakes of yeast as a way to improve health. Just mash a yeast cake in a glass and add milk — or tomato juice. Though yeast cakes disappearing from stores can't be blamed solely on Americans losing their taste for yeast-infused tomato juice.

Fresh yeast didn't travel well to the front lines during World War II. The U.S. government wanted dehydrated yeast to make bread for the troops on the battlefield, and in 1943 Fleischmann`s made the first active dry yeast. Turns out, home bakers liked the longer shelf life of dry yeast too.

Armed with the knowledge of what constituted a yeast cake, Luchsinger converted fresh yeast to active dry yeast measurements. From there he was back in familiar territory of how to make bread.

Published: Jun 16, 2021

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