Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Noah Elber's Maple-Oatmeal Bread

Noah Elbers's Maple-Oatmeal Bread (as sold at the bakery)
Since discovering Noah Elbers's Maple-Oatmeal Bread (and before I learned how to make it myself), I have bought maple-oatmeal breads from other bakeries, including in Vermont. I have yet to find one that can compare. I even remember being so put off by one of these other loaves that I cut it into small pieces, took it to the lake and fed it to the ducks (who, having no basis for comparison, seemed to like it way more than we did). It is hard to describe the flavor of Noah's maple-oatmeal bread other than to say that it is barely sweet, supremely delicate and very, very addictive.

Noah Elbers's maple-oatmeal bread (as sold at the bakery)
I watched the making of this bread from the mixing of the dough through the shaping but since it was going to be baked much later (after retarding) and we needed to drive back home, I didn't see the baking. 
Here is Noah's formula in baker's percentages:
60% all-purpose flour
20% whole-wheat flour (+ 10% each in starter and in poolish) = 100%
20% cooked steel-cut oatmeal
44% water
2.2% salt
16% pure maple syrup
20% liquid starter
20% poolish (made with a pinch of instant yeast)
All liquids together = 75%
  • Starter and poolish: 12-hour fermentation at 75°F/24°C
  • Oatmeal: Scale equal weight of oats and water. Boil the water, pour it over the oats, stir, cover and bake in the oven at a temperature of about 410°F/210°C for 40 minutes. The oats absorb all the water and by the time they are mixed with the maple syrup, they form an "oat chunk" rather than oatmeal. The water used to cook the oats is not included in the total water percentage
  • Autolyse: 20 to 30 minutes
  • Desired dough temperature: 77 to 78°F/25 to 26°C
  • Bulk fermentation: 2.5 hours with 5 folds after 50 minutes and 5 folds again after 40 minutes
  • No pre-shaping
  • Scaling: at 24 ounces/680 g
  • Shaping: as a boule or as an oval
  • Proofing: 45 minutes on the floor (at least 1 hour at home where the temperature is probably lower) then 14 to 15 hours in the retarder with the cover on
  • Baking: at 400-415°F/204-213°C for 35-40 minutes with lots of steam at the beginning
The first time I made the bread, I miscalculated the amounts (not surprisingly, since I truly am mathematically challenged) and used way too much water. I tried to rescue the dough but to no avail. It spread so much on the parchment paper that I thought I had totally messed up and would for sure get another treat for the ducks. What I got instead was a weird looking but delicious maple-oatmeal ciabatta which we found particularly enjoyable at breakfast. Before we tasted it, I was so mad at having messed up that I didn't take any pictures but I should have: the bread was rather too dark for a ciabatta and a bit flatter too but the crumb was perfect, delectable and open. I think I will actually make it again...
The second time was at my kids' house in the Northwest. Having no access to baskets of any kind, I shaped the dough as a boule and proofed it directly on a couche. It rose beautifully in the oven and even though it again turned out darker than I would have liked (the oven was way too hot), the taste was almost spot on.
However since I didn't want to end up with a ciabatta again and since I had no proofing baskets, I had reduced the amount of water to make sure the dough wouldn't be too slack. The end result is that I got a tighter crumb than the one I was shooting for.
(By the way, I am sorry for the poor quality of these two pictures. It was very dark out and raining and nowhere in the house could I get enough of the natural light I would have liked to work with.)

  • 447 g all-purpose unbleached flour
  • 151 g whole-wheat flour
  • 151 g steel-cut oatmeal, cooked as described above
  • 328 g water
  • 151 g liquid starter
  • 151 g poolish
  • 121 g pure maple syrup
  • 16 g salt
Note 1: The starter has to be fed and the poolish mixed the night before
Note 2: Poolish recipe: 100g flour + 1 pinch of instant yeast + 100g water. Mix well and leave to ferment overnight, preferably at warmish room temperature (above 70°F/21°C if possible)
Note 3: Noah retards this bread for 14 to 15 hours. I didn't do it (there was no room in the refrigerator) and even though the bread still turned out quite tasty, next time I will retard it and see if the flavor becomes even more complex (it should). Also, since I had no access to a mixer, I mixed the dough by hand.
  1. I mixed all the ingredients except the salt in a big bowl and let the dough rest for 30minutes, covered
  2. I mixed everything again to medium soft consistency, covered the bowl (dough temperature by then was 75°F/24°C ) and applied the 5-folds regimen recommended by Noah (see pointers above). Total bulk fermentation time was three hours at room temperature (72°F/22°C)
  3. I skipped pre-shaping, shaped the whole dough as one single boule and let it proof for two hours covered, on cornmeal-dusted parchment paper (I had no semolina), again at room temperature
  4. I pre-heated the oven at 475°F/246°C half-an-hour prior to baking time, after placing an old metal pan at the bottom and a half-sheet on the middle rack (my kids have no baking stone in their oven)
  5. I slid the boule with the parchment paper underneath on the half-sheet, quickly poured one cup of water in the metal pan and closed the door
  6. I immediately lowered the oven temperature to 450°F/232°C and let the bread bake for 25 minutes without opening the door
  7. I then rotated the bread, lowered the oven temperature to 420°F/216°C and continued the baking for another 20 minutes.
As indicated above and obvious from the picture, I started with an oven which was way too hot and I didn't lower the temperature enough afterwards. Oh, well, that's how we learn, isn't it? Noah bakes this bread at 415-425°F/213-218°C and, according to him, even at that lower temperature it colors quickly, much like it would in a hotter oven, maybe because of all the steam coming off the baking loaves or the materials his oven is made of or the heat or a combination of all these factors. Basically the home baker will have to find the temperature that works the best in his/her oven for this bread. But even if it comes out a bit too dark for your taste at first, I bet you will love it!
Noah Elber's Maple-Oatmeal Bread goes to Susan's Wild Yeast Blog for this week's issue of Yeastspotting.


  1. Farine, a beautiful and unusual (to me) bread. Many thanks. I will look forward to making this.

  2. Hi, Robert, thanks for stopping by. Yes, the bread is very unusual and I must tell you, it is easy to get hooked on it...

  3. Oohh, fascinating recipe, I'm going to try that!
    I already add crushed oats to most of my sourdoughs, and I use maple syrup in a seeded loaf that I'm experimenting with (you have to bake a loaf a hundred times to get it just right :), and I've only just started with this one), but I never thought of adding syrup to my daily sourdough.
    Thanks for posting!

  4. What an AMAZING post!!! I learn so much from your work. Heavenly!!!
    What kind of mixer they use? Do you know whice company sell it?
    Do you know how many breads the oven can hold when it's fool?
    Blessings to you, Avital

  5. @Mrs. J, thank you for visiting. I have a question regarding the oats. I don't know where you live, so I wonder if by crushed oats, you mean what we call in the US rolled oats? What percentage do you add to your regular dough? Do you do it for health reasons or because the aroma of the oats shines through?
    @Avital, thank you. Noah uses an old refurbished mixer, a German one I believe. I will ask him the exact brand. You can see it working in a short video clip in this post:
    I will ask Noah how many loaves his oven can hold at a time and get back to you with both answers.

  6. @Avital, I just heard back from Noah. Here are the answers to your questions, straight from him: "The mixer is a 'diozna' but it is an antique. A company in the Netherlands refurbishes them and sometimes has them for sale. That company is called "Spronk". The oven will hold 100 to 125 loaves depending on how good you are at loading, and how quick you are while baking."

  7. MC, I do have a question and being completely math phobic the answer is probably in the baker's % where I couldn't find it. What is the recipe for the poolish? I would love to try this bread. Where will you be living in the North West - I live on Whidbey Island where I know you have friends. Thank you for a wonderful post, AnnieT.

  8. AnnieT, you are right, I haven't included the poolish recipe. For this bread, take 100g all-purpose flour to which you add a pinch of instant yeast, add 100g water and mix well. Cover and leave at room temp (ideally around 70 minimum) for the night. It should be bubbly in the morning. You will need 151g of it.
    So you live on Whidbey Island. What fun! Send me a mail and we'll chat!

  9. Wonderful Post MC. I'm a little confused about the water amounts. I understand the equal parts water and steel cut oats. Is that amount of water removed from the total water? And, in the beginning of the video he is breaking the lumps in the bottom of the mixer. Is that the clumping that occurs during the soaking? And, when he says bake the soaker for 40 minutes, I'm guessing he puts the pan into the oven at +- 410F to bake it. Yes?

    This looks delicious. Can't wait to try it

  10. Hi Eric! Sorry for the confusion. I amended the post to make it clearer. No, the oat water isn't counted in the total water as it gets totally absorbed during the baking. The mixture is really not a soaker but a solid "oat chunk". That's why it is clumpy and has to be "de-clumped" when mixed with the maple syrup. It is indeed baked at around 410°F. Let me know how the bread comes out if you try it!

  11. Hi again AnnieT, I have now included the poolish recipe in the post. Thanks for pointing out the omission!

  12. Thats looks delicous, I am now a little bit sad that I have no marple syrup in the pantry otherwise I could/would bake it tommorow.

  13. Hi MC,
    I live in Holland and I'm not sure what my organic (biodynamic, actually) "havervlokken" are called in the US. They are flocons d'avoine fin in french.
    I add them because I love the taste; I use about 7%, and usually I treat them as flour and not as later addition to the dough (but sometimes I soak and add later, in combination with fruits/nuts). It always surprises me that I can't find a trace of them in the bread when it's done, but the taste always shines through :).

  14. Bread and recipe both look lovely and interesting! Definitely going to try this. Came here from yeast spotting.

  15. Another one for the list...when i start to bake again...i feel like a nomad...
    hope you are well...

  16. To avoid the mistake I made with this recipe, perhaps you could edit the ingredients list to say "151g of cooked steel cut oats", and modify your instructions to specify combining "about 80g oats with 80g boiling water...use 151g of the resulting oat chunk" (some weight lost to evaporation). The way I read it, I used 151g of oats plus 151g boiling water. Many will read your instructions as intended, but I need lots of clarity when it comes to ingredient quantities. It still turned out delicious and beautiful, although the dough was stickier due to the extra oatmeal. Thanks so much for posting!

  17. I'll try this bread, as I love oatmeal. ... and let you know. Thank you for the recipe and video,




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