Oat Porridge Sourdough

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After the past few weeks, I’m not sure I want to move ever again. Throughout the last year as our new house has been under construction, we’ve been steadily reducing anything superfluous around the house. My wife and I don’t have much “fluff” to start with (we try only to buy what we need), and yet, this move (just across town mind you) has been a sprint from start to finish. We had only a few weeks to fix all the small issues found by the inspector, prepare all the paperwork required, pack up our belongings, and finally do the last cleaning. Toss on a graduation trip one of the weekends plus visiting family, and that leaves only a smidgen of time to get all this done. But as is always true with me when it comes to baking, making this oat porridge sourdough bread was a priority.

We finally finished packing the track to the brim; furniture on top of furniture, kitchen stuff on top of bedroom stuff, clothes on top of everything else, but one sure thing was my starter acted as a co-pilot up front in the moving truck where I could keep a close eye on it.

Moving

Somehow we pulled it off and are now in a temporary abode until our home is finished hopefully only a few more weeks. Baking for the rest of the month is going to be tough, but it’s going to make moving into a home with a double oven that much better. I cannot wait to double my bread baking experiments.

Now that the moving gripes are out of the way let’s get started with this entry. I’ve been working on it for quite a while now through several attempts, failures, and successes. Let’s talk about oats.

My wife typically gives me dirty looks when she catches me finishing off the household’s supply of rolled oats before she can even get a few days of breakfasts in (since writing this I’ve started to stock these oats in bulk so we always have supply). I eat them just about every morning for breakfast with cut fresh fruit, pecans/walnuts/almonds, honey and either currants or raisins. It’s one of the only things I can eat in the morning that keeps me completely full until lunch. Given my high activity level (running, gym, dog walking, hiking, etc.) I almost always wake up ravenous, and oats do the trick.

A while back when I was flipping through Tartine No. 3, I stumbled on their oat porridge recipe and immediately read it with unwavering attention. So let me get this straight, oat porridge, my favorite breakfast concoction, cooked into a loaf of my already favorite sourdough recipe? I tell you I was ready to grab the package of oats from the cabinet and get baking straight away.

Bob's Red Mill Regular Rolled Oats

Despite my fervor for cooking this loaf, I’ve been hesitant to share my progress on until I finally tinkered and tested enough to discover some insight, with a bit of luck here and there, and a process that will deliver worthy results. Now that I’m happy with the outcome, and I’ve consistently made some exceptional tasting loaves, it’s time for me to share my findings with you.

Your first attempt at this bread might be more challenging than previous the recipes I’ve written in the past. I have never made a porridge bread before this, and I wasn’t sure what to expect, but really, what could be so hard about folding in some cooked oats? I’ve added all kinds of ingredients (walnuts, olives, sesame seeds, stout beer, etc.) and had smashing results so this shouldn’t be any different… Well, it turns out those cooked oats come with a lot of surprises. First and foremost, cooked oats do hold on to a lot of water, so you have to take that into account when hydrating your dough.

Additionally, the simple act of cooking oats pushes them into releasing much of their starches which in turn makes them very, very sticky (ever noticed if you leave your morning oatmeal in the bowl the oats stick to the bowl like glue?). Not only these two things but since they are sticky and hold together tightly after they are cooked, they can be quite difficult to properly mix through your fermenting dough without destroying the gluten network built up during bulk fermentation. Don’t worry though; we’ll work through each of these issues in turn.

Aside from all the doom and gloom, this is one incredibly moist, tender, light and tasty loaf. Once you get the hang of dealing with the porridge and the effect it has on your dough, you’ll be hooked on the results. This bread is one that’ll cause people to line up outside your door in the rain, hoping to get a loaf.

I’ve received a few comments and emails asking for me to show you a few of my “failed attempts” and the process from beginning to end, not just the final results. For this oat porridge bread, I chronicled each attempt, the results, and any notes and lessons learned. The method and ingredients directly below represent my best effort thus far, and the entries afterward show those that didn’t quite hit the mark. If you’re interested, read on as they might provide some added insight for those struggling with this tricky recipe.

Prepare the levain – 6:30 a.m.

The levain used for this bread is the same young levain I described in my last post. Start this in the morning when you wake, and it’ll be ready in around 5-6 hours.

WeightIngredient
18gRipe starter
35gWhole wheat flour (King Arthur whole wheat flour)
35gWhite bread flour, ~13% protein (Sangre de Cristo, a local high protein flour)
70gWater

I try to keep the levain somewhere warm in the kitchen, at around 78°F (25°C). One handy little trick rick I’ll use if my house is still a tad on the cool side, especially in the early morning, is to put the levain in the oven and turn the interior light on until it warms up slightly (not the actual oven!). This setup provides a fairly sealed environment where the levain can do its thing for about 5 hours. If you’d like even more control, a home dough proofer is a way to go.

When your levain build is ready for use after its ~ 5-hour rest, first cook your oat porridge.

Oat porridge – 11:30 a.m.:

I cooked the following in a covered saucepan over the lower end of medium-low heat for about 16 minutes. You want the porridge to be creamy and ever so slightly on the liquid side. Don’t cook for too long or at too high a high a heat or the porridge will dry out and become very stiff. I’ve found that cooking this porridge requires a bit of trial and error; each person has a different idea of what “porridge” means and typically for me, it’s more on the dry side. When I made the porridge for this bread at a lower heat and only for 16 minutes, it was creamy with a whitish color that was easy to later fold and incorporate into the dough.

Cooked porridge

After this cooking time, I scooped out the porridge onto a baking sheet and covered with aluminum foil to cool but not dry out.

WeightIngredient
500gWater
250gBob’s Red Mill old fashioned regular rolled oats
A PinchFine sea salt

You’ll want to cook this far enough in advance to ensure it cools sufficiently before mixing into your dough right before the first set of stretch and folds during bulk fermentation. You don’t want to mix warm/hot oats into your dough; fermentation will pick up at a rapid pace I have nightmares about dough like this. I cook the porridge right before I start the 1 hour autolyse to give it much needed cooling time.

Now that the porridge is cooked and cooling let’s start our 1 hour autolyse.

Strong dough

Pseudo-autolyse & Mix – 11:30 a.m.

For this bread, I’ve found the best results with a 1 hour autolyse, which increases the extensibility of the dough. This leads to a more relaxed dough to help incorporate the oat porridge later in bulk fermentation.

I label this a “pseudo-autolyse” because it does include my preferment (levain), which isn’t typically added to an autolyse. For this mix, it makes sense for me to add my levain to the autolyse because the dough is rather stiff due to the lower hydration. Adding the levain, and all of its water, is necessary so I can effectively mix the dough.

Gather the following:

WeightIngredientBaker’s Percentage
700gWhite bread flour, ~13% protein (Sangre de Cristo, a local high protein flour)70%
300gWhole wheat flour (King Arthur Flour Whole Wheat flour)30%
750gWater75%
150gRipe levain15%

Then:

  1. In a thick bowl add in your 150g levain
  2. Add 700g of your total water to your mixing bowl and mix with your hand until the levain is wholly dissolved
  3. Add in your white and whole wheat flours
  4. Mix by hand until all the dry ingredients are incorporated
  5. Cover with wrap and keep covered in a warmish place in your kitchen at around 78°F (25°C) for 1 hour

After your 1 hour pseudo-autolyse, add to your mass:

  1. 25g sea salt
  2. 25g of the remaining water

Cut the salt through your dough with your hand and mix everything until it comes back together and becomes sticky.

Dough during bulk fermentation

At this point, as I was mixing in the 25g salt and 25g water, I started to feel a little anxious… I wanted to add more water; things just felt strangely stiff. You must fight the urge to add more water here, trust me. Once you add in your cooked oat porridge later in the process, the oats will release quite a bit of water into your dough, dramatically increasing hydration. Early attempts at this bread had me sweating as I was trying to shape hydrations that were undoubtedly more than 100%.

Final dough temperature:79°F (25°C)

Bulk Fermentation – 12:30 p.m.

Transfer your dough to a clear container to be used during bulk fermentation and let rest for the first 30 minutes.

After the first 30 minutes and right before your first set of turns, add in the oat porridge a little bit at a time folding well after each addition. Use splashes of your remaining 25g of water a little at a time as your folding the porridge into your dough. You’ll have to make the judgment call here whether you’ll need the entire 25g based on how your dough feels. I ended up using it all, but it has been quite dry lately here in New Mexico.

Now that the porridge is incorporated, perform the first turn set, and each subsequent, in 30-minute intervals. When performing each set pinch any large clumps of oats with your fingers to break them up, we want a fairly uniform distribution of porridge throughout the dough and very, very few pockets of porridge hiding in your final loaves.

  1. 12:30 p.m. – Turn Set 1
  2. 1:00 p.m. – Turn Set 2
  3. 1:30 p.m. – Turn Set 3
  4. 2:00 p.m. – Turn Set 4
  5. 2:30 p.m. – Turn Set 5
  6. 3:00 p.m. – Turn Set 6
  7. 3:30 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. – Rest on counter untouched

The dough was so wet I felt like I could have just kept strengthening it until the sun set. You’ll need to judge when the dough has reached sufficient strength to stop the stretch and folds. Six sets did the trick for me.

Pre-shape – 6:10 p.m.

Take the dough out of the container onto your work surface and sprinkle some flour on top before dividing. Divide into two halves and lightly scoot the dough in little circles across your work surface with your bench knife in one hand and your other empty hand. Let this pre-shape rest, covered with a damp towel or inverted bowls, for 20 minutes.

You want to do the pre-shape rather tight, a little tighter than you’d typically do for my standard country sourdough. The tight pre-shape will help strengthen the dough just a little bit more before your final shaping.

Lightly dust your proofing bowls/baskets with white or brown rice flour in preparation for the next step.

Shape + Proof – 6:30 p.m.

Take a clean kitchen towel and lay it on the counter. Spread flat some of the uncooked rolled oats onto the towel in a circle about the size of your desired finished boules. After shaping, you’ll quickly plop the shaped boule on top of these oats to coat the surface before placing into your proofing baskets, creating a nice dotted surface with a touch of crunch after baking.

Make sure you  shape these boules tight  to give them added structure during their overnight proof in the fridge.

For this wet porridge dough, I find shaping into tight boules produces a much better result than using Tartine’s “structural shaping” technique for a batard shape. Shaping here is your typical procedure, folding the dough up like a package and then twisting on the work surface to create tension. For a detailed explanation see this post’s section on shaping.

After each boule is shaped tight and resting on the counter, scrape up the first boule and gently invert and drop onto the resting rolled oats. Pick up the boule with both hands and gently lower into the proofing basket, seam side up. Spread out some more rolled oats for the next boule and repeat.

I found that this bread requires a little more proof time to get that fermentation active. After doing the final shape, I left these loaves out on the kitchen counter (ambient temp was around 74°F/23°C) for an hour.

Score + Bake – 9:30 a.m.

In the morning, preheat your oven with Dutch oven inside to 450°F (230°C). I usually leave the shallow side facing up on the left, and the deeper side on the right facing down. This way when it’s time to load the bread I can quickly grab the shallow side, slide in the dough, and then place back on the stone and place the deep side on top to cover.

See my guide to baking with a Dutch oven for more pictures and instruction.

Proofed oat porridge sourdough

After one hour, take one of your baskets out of the fridge and cut a piece of parchment paper to place on top. Take your peel and then put it on top of those two and quickly invert it, so the dough is now resting on the parchment paper and the peel.

For these oat porridge loaves, I have taken quite a liking to Tartine’s “zipper” like scoring. Grab your kitchen shears and do 3-4 snips across the top of the dough so that the shears are almost entirely parallel to the surface. This score opens up so beautifully and creates a very rustic feel to these loaves, which contrasts elegantly with the dotted rolled oat surface.

oat porridge scoring with scissors

Take out the shallow side of your Dutch oven and drag in your boule. Quickly place the pan back in the oven, cover with the deep side, and bake for 20 minutes. After this time, open the oven and take off the deep lid of the Dutch oven (set it next to the other half inside the oven, which will help regulate oven temperature for the rest of the bake), then bake for an additional 35 minutes or so, until the bread is to your desired doneness.

 Wait at least 1-2 hours before cutting  into the finished loaves to let the interior fully set.

This oat porridge sourdough requires a little longer bake time to get that nice dark outer crust. Additionally, the interior, extremely hydrated by the porridge, takes several additional minutes to bake thoroughly. For this dough you’ll want to experiment with bake times and temperatures, potentially decreasing the heat towards the end of the bake to extend the bake time without scorching the crust. I ended up baking for a total of 35 minutes for the last uncovered portion.

Once you bake is finished, try as hard as you can to not slice into them for at least a couple of hours. The interior remains very delicate and almost gooey until it sets.

Conclusion

This first venture into porridge bread was a challenge for me; adding in another type of grain that has been cooked with additional hydration threw a wrench into my process and had me experimenting until things came out how I was hoping. The results, though, are pretty darn great. This bread has a very, very moist crumb with a fragile crust that stays good for many days after baking. I made toast almost a week after and the bread still tasted fresh to me.

Oat porridge sourdough crust and crumb

Crust

Marvelously thin and unexpectedly soft, this crust was colored so well and had such a unique taste. It’s something different than the other bread I’ve made, hard to put into words, but if I had to sum it up, I’d say soft like silk. The super high hydration must leave its mark and the mark is very welcomed.

Oat porridge bread with incredible crust

Just look at those colors. I heard myself saying “oooooh” in my head as I first saw that picture from my camera roll. I love the sheen and the shine, the striations of color, the dark spots and the light spots. The crunchy baked oats on top impart a nice crispness to the outside when you bite into the bread, I wouldn’t bake this bread without them.

Crumb

The crumb is just straight tender. Nothing I’ve had can compare to this light, stretchy and custard-like interior. My latest attempt produced an excellent and open result.

Oat porridge sourdough light and fluffy crumb

You can see in this shot the crumb was quite light and airy, I love this aspect of this bread. With my mixing and stretch and folding, I finally was able to sufficiently incorporate the oat porridge throughout the loaf.

Taste

Not much more to say here than already stated: it’s remarkable. This cooked oat porridge does not impart a particularly heavy “oat” taste to the bread, but rather, adds moistness and tenderness that hints at a light nutty flavor. For days after the bread remained moist inside, and when toasted, became crisp and continued to have that fresh-baked-bread taste.

Oat porridge bread crumb

I highly recommend trying this bread! If you have any issues or questions, drop me a post below, and I shall do my best to get you on track. For the curious, read on for some of my “missed” attempts including some notes, pictures, and my hypotheses on why things didn’t quite pan out.


Previous Oat Porridge Attempts

Attempt #1 – The Strong Dough

The following bake was my very first attempt at this recipe and my first endeavor into the world of porridge bread. As you can see in the following pictures, the results were less than stellar. I did not sufficiently mix the porridge through the dough, the crust was on the pale side, and hardly any oven spring. Also, there was almost no openness to the crumb — a rather dense product.

Oat porridge bread attempt #1

Yikes, that’s ugly! I followed the Tartine No. 3 Oat Porridge Bread recipe nearly precisely, except for two deviations: I only had Bob’s Red Mill Thick Rolled Oats on hand (this is what I typically eat for breakfast) instead of traditional rolled oats which are much thinner, and I upped the levain amount by 25g (to a total of 175g).

Using thick oats and cooking them uncovered at medium heat most definitely overcooked them and dried them out to the point where they became stiff & hard to integrate into the dough. These rigid pockets of oats were scattered throughout the final loaf and were both unsightly and not very pleasant.

For this attempt, I also only performed a 40 minute autolyse and the resulting dough was not extensible enough, adding to the difficult task of mixing in the dry and stiff porridge.

Key Lessons Learned from Attempt #1

  • Don’t use thick rolled oats, instead opt for traditional rolled oats
  • Dough needs at least a 1 hour autolyse to increase extensibility
  • Mix in the porridge until it’s thoroughly incorporated
  • Cook porridge covered to prevent it from drying out

Attempt #2 – The Hydrated Surprise

For my second go at this recipe, I vowed to rectify the stiff porridge by using regular rolled oats and upping the amount of water used during cooking. Instead of 500g for the porridge, I ended up using 800g, added in 100g increments after the 500g at the start. This was cooked again at medium heat in an uncovered saucepan.

In addition to adding more water to the porridge, I also increased the autolyse time to a full 1 hour. This length of time did help to increase extensibility in the dough to make oat incorporation easier.

When it came to adding in the porridge everything was looking good: the dough was rather tight, and strength was there, but there was some excellent extensibility thanks to the increased autolyse. A few turn sets into the bulk fermentation, and that’s when I noticed things were starting to go south on me… The dough became extraordinarily slack and was failing to hold any shape after stretching and folding. It was quickly turning into a nightmare scenario where hydration levels are pushed too far for the flour to handle. Cooked oats can absorb a significantly large amount of water, about 84% by weight, and that water is coaxed out of the grain later as bulk fermentation progresses. I ended up cobbling together some decently shaped boules, but at hydration that must have exceeded 100%, I was seriously having trouble.

The result was again abysmal. The crust was pale, displaying almost no caramelization during the bake and little dynamic oven spring.

Oat porridge bread attempt #2

The crumb was marginally open, but it was far too wet. After cutting into the bread, it had a shine to it that almost looked damp to me. The actual taste of it was not that bad, but it needed a good solid run through the toaster to firm things up, perhaps the loaf required a little bit more baking time.

Key Lessons Learned from Attempt #2

  • Do not add excess water to the porridge. Shoot for the 500g outlined in the successful recipe above
  • Cook the oats on medium-low heat to prevent burning and rapid cooking
  • The oat porridge was incorporated more thoroughly but not quite enough; we’ll need to do more pinching and folding
  • Because of the extremely high hydration here, there was not enough strength in the dough, causing poor oven spring
  • 1 hour autolyse time right on the money

Attempt #3 – Oh The Beautiful Crust

My hopes and energies were high at the start of my third attempt. I felt like I had successfully flanked the two sides of this bread: one side was under hydrated with a stiff porridge, and the other side was way over hydrated with an almost soupy mess of porridge and flours. At this point, I surely could find the middle point and create something magnificent.

I reduced the amount of water in the porridge down to 500g but cooked it on medium-low heat, covered, for 18 minutes. The result was a more creamy porridge which was much easier to fold into the dough and thoroughly incorporate. There was still some work to do here though; I needed to continue to pinch any oat pockets found during subsequent stretch and folds to break them up and do a more intensive job of incorporating.

As I lifted the top part of the Dutch oven off, I noticed the oven spring for this attempt was respectable, but it did not hit my self-imposed goal. Crumb, well, there was some excellent openness to it, but it was still far too tight more deep holes and pockets, please.

Oat porridge bread attempt #3 crumb

I was happily surprised at the beautiful color and caramelization of the crust when baking these loaves. Beautiful dark colors at the edges and light centers where the scissors had left their marks. Gorgeous.

Oat porridge sourdough attempt #3

All-in-all it was a solid attempt with some excellent improvements on the outward appearance. With notes scribbled down in my notebook, I was determined to adjust a few parameters and give this another shot.

Key Lessons Learned from Attempt #3

  • Cover the oat porridge while cooking to prevent burning and water evaporation
  • Wait as long as possible before cutting into the baked loaves, at least 1 (seriously!) hour and preferably overnight
  • Oats were incorporated much more uniformly, but still had some room for improvement here

Attempt #4 – Just Roll With It

I was eager, excited, and confident at the start. Keen to cook the oats to the correct creamy consistency, excited to get the hydration level spot on, and confident the result was going to be what I had been searching for the previous attempts. So. Close. Oh so close. My results had much promise, but there still were a few tweaks needed.

I found that the key is to cook the oats at the lower end of medium-low for a full 16 minutes, and covered. 500g is the correct amount of water for 250g of oats, and you want to add the pinch of salt at the beginning of the cook, right when you put the water and oats together.

Oat porridge with creamy consistency

The crumb for this attempt was really splendid! I think things could have opened up a bit more with larger pockets given additional proof time. Since I reduce the levain to a meager 150g I should have realized the proof time should have been extended until I noticed things were moving along far enough.

The crust on this loaf came out gorgeous, yet again. Perfect caramelization, dynamic movement from the excellent oven spring and the scissor snips again showed a great zig-zag all the way down with dark colors on one side and light on the other.

Oat porridge bread attempt #4

Key Lessons Learned from Attempt #4

  • Cook oats covered on the low end of medium-low for 16 minutes, you want a creamy consistency
  • Add porridge before the first turn of bulk, incorporate well
  • The dough will become pretty slack, do vigorous turns
  • The 50g you hold back should be used cautiously. If your dough starts to feel slack, don’t add it all in.
  • Pre-shape tight and shape tight
  • Ensure fully proofed

Fin

And so that’s all we have, folks. Many attempts led up to what I believe was the best loaf yet. I know there will be more and more improvements as I continue to bake this bread, and don’t worry, those will be chronicled and entered into a future post if the loaf improves sufficiently.

Even though some of these bakes were not encouraging, especially at the outset, this craft is one that takes patience and persistence. Sometimes I almost forget this axiom but then I’m reminded I always have something exceptional to eat, and my troubled thoughts vanish as I take the first bite. I think it was best said by Hamelman:

Experiment, play, realize that failure isn’t really a failure, it’s an edible part of your evolution as a baker.

Jeffrey Hamelman

Buon appetito!

If you use this recipe, tag @maurizio on Instagram and use the hashtag #theperfectloaf so I can take a look!

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