The lovely Tanna of My Kitchen In Half Cups has been baking bread for many years and definitely considers herself more of a savory instead of a sweet baker. So it's no surprise that she decided on a savory bread recipe for November's Daring Baker challenge. The tender potato bread she chose is a refreshing change from the egg, cream, chocolate, butter, and sugar laden recipes used for past challenges. It's nice to mix it up since baking involves both the sweet and the savory. Before I joined the Daring Bakers I had never used yeast in my baking. Although I've only used yeast 3 times (and all happen to be for past DB challenges - bagels, cinnamon buns, and now potato bread) I'm very happy to say that I am no longer afraid of yeast.
As scientific as baking can be, baking can sometimes also rely on intuition. Visual or tactile cues can help a baker determine whether it looks or feels right. I know when flour is just incorporated or when whipped egg whites have been folded into a batter enough to be combined but not over combined. Intuition was definitely needed with the potato bread.
The original recipe for the tender potato bread from "Home Baking: The Artful Mix of Flour and Tradition Around the World" by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid gave slightly vague quantities of potatoes and flour. "4 medium to large floury potatoes" really means nothing to me as potato sizes can vary widely. I did notice in another recipe in the same book that they called for 3 medium floury potatoes which they said was about 1 pound of potatoes. From this I assumed that one medium potato would weigh about 1/3 pound. But the ever helpful Tanna suggested that bread beginners use no more than 1/2 pound and advanced bread bakers use no more than 1 pound of potatoes. I ended up using a russet potato that weighed 14 ounces before I peeled it.
The recipe also called for 6.5 to 8.5 cups all-purpose flour. I've learned that the amount of flour needed for making bread dough can vary depending on many factors including but not limited to the weather, brand of flour, protein content of flour or a vague amount of potato. The dough will tell you when it's had enough flour. See what I mean by intuition? Since I'm still a bread novice and haven't fully developed my bread intuition yet, Tanna told us that the dough is ready when it's smooth and soft and still just a little sticky. Instead of measuring out 8.5 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, I combined 6.5 cups unbleached all-purpose flour with 2 cups white wheat flour for a total of 8.5 cups. (According to King Arthur Flour, it's okay to substitute about a third of all-purpose flour with their white wheat flour.) I ended up using about 7.5 cups of the 8.5 cups for my dough.
Tanna gave us the freedom to shape our bread dough any way we liked. I ended up making one 8.5 x 4.5 inch pan loaf, one 10x15 inch flatbread, two 3x5 inch pan loaves (one plain, one swirled with parmesan cheese). I adjusted my baking times as necessary but I wrote the recipe with the original sizes, shapes and baking times.
The bread turned out as tender as its name implied. The crumb of the loaves was tight and even. The flatbread had those irregular random air pockets that I associate with artisan bread. I thought the large and miniature loaves were a bit plain, but the one with parmesan was a bit more flavorful. My overall favorite was the flatbread. I brushed the top of the flatbread with some herb and caramelized shallot compound butter leftover from Thanksgiving and then generously sprinkled it with coarse sea salt.
A big warm virtual hug to Tanna for picking a great recipe that helped to expand my horizons and helped me gain more confidence when working with yeast. And thanks to all the wonderful Daring Bakers who shared helpful bread making tips. Our membership grows with every passing month. I really love being part of the Daring Bakers.
Tender Potato Bread
From "Home Baking: The Artful Mix of Flour & Tradition Around the World"
by Jeffrey Alford & Naomi Duguid
(Makes one 9x5 inch pan loaf and something more. Something more = one 10x15 inch flatbread or 12 soft dinner rolls or one small loaf.)
For the bread:
8 to 16 ounces floury potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
4 cups water
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
6.5 cups to 8.5 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
1 cup whole wheat flour
For the toppings:
For loaves and rolls: melted butter (optional)
For flatbread: olive oil, coarse salt, and herbs (optional)
Put the potatoes and the 4 cups water in a sauce pan and bring to boil. Add 1 teaspoon salt and cook, half covered, until the potatoes are very tender.
Drain the potatoes, SAVE THE POTATO WATER, and mash the potatoes well.
Measure out 3 cups of the reserved potato water (add extra water if needed to make 3 cups). Place the water and mashed potatoes in the bowl you plan to mix the bread in – directions will be for by hand. Let cool to lukewarm – stir well before testing the temperature – it should feel barely warm to your hand. You should be able to submerge you hand in the mix and not be uncomfortable.
Mix dough by hand (Tanna said no stand mixers were allowed for this challenge):
Mix and stir yeast into cooled potato water and mashed potatoes and let stand 5 minutes. Then stir in 2 cups all-purpose flour and allow to rest several minutes. Sprinkle on the remaining 1 tablespoon salt and the softened butter; mix well. Add the 1 cup whole wheat flour, stir briefly. Add 2.5 to 3 more cups of all-purpose flour and stir until the flour has been incorporated. At this point you will have used 4.5 to 5 cups of all-purpose flour.
The dough will be a sticky mess. Turn the dough out onto a generously floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes, incorporating more of the all-purpose flour as needed to prevent sticking. The dough will be very sticky to begin with, but as it takes up more flour from the kneading surface, it will become easier to handle; use a dough scraper to keep your surface clean. The kneaded dough will still be very soft. When the dough is soft and smooth and not too sticky, it’s probably ready.
Place the dough in a large clean bowl or your rising container of choice, cover with plastic wrap or lid, and let rise about 2 hours or until doubled in volume. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and knead gently several minutes. It will be moist and a little sticky. Divide the dough into 2 unequal pieces in a proportion of one-third and two-thirds (one will be twice as large as the other). Place the smaller piece to one side and cover loosely.
Shape the large 9x5 inch loaf with the larger piece of dough:
Butter a 9X5 inch loaf/bread pan. Flatten the larger piece of dough on the floured surface to an approximate 12 x 8 inch oval, and then roll it up from a narrow end to form a loaf. Pinch the seam closed and gently place seam side down in the buttered pan. The dough should come about three-quarters of the way up the sides of the pan. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 35 to 45 minutes, until puffy and almost doubled in volume.
Pick one shape for the remaining dough:
Shape the small loaf: Butter an 8 x 4 inch loaf/bread pan. Shape and proof the loaf the same way as the large loaf.
Shape the rolls: Butter a 13 x 9 inch sheet cake pan or a shallow cake pan. Cut the dough into 12 equal pieces. Shape each into a ball under the palm of your floured hand and place on the baking sheet, leaving 1/2 inch between the balls. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for about 35 minutes, until puffy and almost doubled.
Shape the flatbread: Flatten out the dough to a rectangle about 10 x 15 inches with your palms and fingertips. Tear off a piece of parchment paper or wax paper a little longer than the dough and dust it generously with flour. Transfer the flatbread to the paper. Brush the top of the dough generously with olive oil, sprinkle on a little coarse sea salt, as well as some rosemary leaves, if you wish and then finally dimple all over with your fingertips. Cover with plastic and let rise for 20 minutes.
Place a baking stone or unglazed quarry tiles, if you have them, if not use a baking/sheet (no edge – you want to be able to slide the shaped dough on the parchment paper onto the stone or baking sheet and an edge complicates things). Place the stone or cookie sheet on a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 450°F/230°C. Bake the flatbread before you bake the loaf; bake the rolls at the same time as the loaf.
If making flatbread, just before baking, dimple the bread all over again with your fingertips. Leaving it on the paper, transfer to the hot baking stone, tiles or baking sheet. Bake flatbread until golden, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a rack (remove paper) and let cool at least 10 minutes before serving.
Dust risen loaves and rolls with a little all-purpose flour or lightly brush the tops with a little melted butter or olive oil (the butter will give a golden/browned crust). Slash loaves crosswise two or three times with a razor blade or very sharp knife and immediately place on the stone, tiles or baking sheet in the oven. Place the rolls next to the loaf in the oven.
Bake rolls until golden, about 30 minutes.
Bake the small loaf for about 40 minutes.
Bake the large loaf for about 50 minutes.
Transfer the rolls to a rack when done to cool. When the loaf or loaves have baked for the specified time, remove from the pans and place back on the stone, tiles or baking sheet for another 5 to 10 minutes. The corners should be firm when pinched and the bread should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.
Let breads cool on a rack for at least 30 minutes before slicing. Rolls can be served warm or at room temperature.