Oat flour is flour, right?
That’s the reasoning that came to mind when I ran out of all purpose flour over the weekend. I had baked some applesauce muffins — more on those later — and, when I set out to start a loaf of my quick no knead bread recipe, I didn’t realize I didn’t have a backup bag of flour in the pantry.
With 100 grams of white flour already in the bowl, I needed another 330 grams to hit the required mark for my go-to formula: 430 grams of flour, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon yeast and 345 grams water.
I had some wheat flour in the freezer. Upon reflection, that’s what I should have stuck with. Whole wheat flour makes a really dense loaf of bread, so I usually only swap out up to a fourth of the overall quantity of flour. I did, however, have an extra container of old fashioned oats in the pantry that I’ve been trying to use up. Oat flour is a common ingredient in sandwich bread and many gluten-free bread recipes, and I’d read that you could pulverize oats at home to make your own.
I’ll just do that, I thought.
That’s a phrase that has gotten me in trouble in the kitchen. Like that time in college when I tried to craft a lid to a smoker out of a plastic laundry basket and aluminum foil — It was bad. There were flames. — or those early cookie-baking attempts to use honey instead of sugar in a cookie recipe.
Don’t get me wrong: Taking shortcuts and trying new ingredients, tools and techniques is an important part of everyday cooking, but sometimes our best attempts to make do don’t work out.
I suspected as much on Sunday after I pulled out the food processor and powdered a few cups of oats. Because I was weighing the ingredients, I just kept sifting my homemade oat flour into the bowl on the scale. About half of the flour was wheat flour — part white, part wheat — but the other half was this shaggy oat flour that I knew was going to weigh down the bread.
I kept going.
Not giving up is an important tenant in our house, so much so that my 7-year-old recently wrote it as one of his rules to life on a set of yellow sticky notes. With that Post-it hanging on a wall nearby, I kept going, hoping for the best, that the loaf might be more “rustic” than “rough.” I took some mental notes about the oversaturation of the flour and lack of gluten development in the dough.
After rising all day, the dough wasn’t looking much better, but — like Dory — I just kept swimming. I’d already come this far.
In the loaf pan went this wet brick. I thought of Caroline Ingalls, a favorite literary character who baked coarse, unleavened breads every day of her adult life. I thought of every other home cook who continues to do so today, working from a pantry that has to last, not a pantry that can be replenished at the touch of a button on a phone.
When all you have is cornmeal — or oat flour, you’ll find a way to make it taste good, even without an egg or yeast or baking soda. It’s OK if it’s not a perfect loaf with a light, airy crumb, I told myself. It’s also OK if this one turns out like a dense, crumbly shoe.
I’d given myself permission to fail. What an unusual gift for a person who has struggled with that please, perfect, repeat cycle that Brene Brown talks about. If the bread magically came out of the oven with the wonderful chewiness of a hearty rye bread, I would be thrilled. It it looked like something like belonged on the Netflix show, “Nailed It!,” that would be OK, too.
When the loaf, in fact, came out heavier than a doorstop and mealier than mud, I took one bite of one slice and laughed out loud. The bread was terrible. Easily the worst loaf I’ve made in years and likely the ugliest to ever come out of my oven. I thought back to every golden loaf I’ve pulled out of that oven. I know how to make bread, I thought. This miss doesn’t change that.
I couldn’t go back in time to correct course, so the loaf went in the trash. Rather than dwelling on the wrong turns I took — and the right turns I missed — I made plans to get a bag of flour the next time I went to the store.
The next day, I was able to rely on what I knew, not focus on what I didn’t. The loaf came out perfect, at least to the loving eyes of its baker.
I can be so insistent on patching what’s broken or determined to find workarounds that I end up with a lumpy, not-so-attractive experiment that isn’t really worth keeping. Thank goodness cooking gives us a chance to try again.