Week Twenty-Four: Breads With Vegetables
Since last week was devoted to breads made with fruits, I thought it only appropriate to focus on vegetable breads as a follow up for this week. One of the first ideas that came to mind was to make potato bread, as it’s a widespread type of bread, commonly made in many parts of the world, from Germany to Peru and nearly everywhere in between.
In fact, recent increases in the price of wheat have incited a renewed interest in potato bread in many places, but specifically Peru, according to the New York Times. See, the potato itself originated in that region of the globe (Peru or Chile, depending on who you believe), and is a matter of national pride. But more important to the discussion at hand, the cheaper potato provides more food per square foot of growing space than do many grains. In times of recession, especially in poorer nations, this is obviously quite crucial.
But regardless of price per loaf, potato bread has endured through the years not because of its relative economy, but because of the end result. Adding some potato to wheat bread results in a moister slice, a greater complexity of flavor, and a fine texture much sought-after in white breads. It’s also an excellent way to use up leftover cooked potatoes that might otherwise go unused, either by being too little to serve a group, or perhaps by being too gummy or unpalatable in other ways.
You can replace any amount of flour and/or water in a wheat bread with potato, understanding that potato has no gluten. Therefore, the more potato you use, the denser and less airy the final loaf will end up. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; a common addition to the traditional full Scottish breakfast is an item called a potato scone (also known as a “tattie scone”), which is primarily a dough of mashed potato with butter and just enough flour to bind, rolled flat, and cooked on a griddle. It’s certainly unlike what you normally think of as a “scone”, but it’s undeniably delicious. (There is an Irish variant of this, called a “pratie oaten“, which replaces the flour with ground oats.)
One caveat in making potato bread is that you should be sure to use cooked potatoes. This may seem obvious, especially as the potatoes in this recipe are mashed; but it seems like an easy shortcut to use raw, grated potatoes. However, raw potatoes can harbor a naturally-occurring bacteria on the skin, known as “rope bacteria”. These spores can certainly survive the baking process, and will break down the texture of your finished bread. Ever seen a slice of bread that smells a bit off, and leaves little stringy strands when pulled apart? That’s rope bacteria at work. It doesn’t seem to cause any horrible diseases when ingested, but it will ruin your bread. And if your baking equipment gets infested with the spores, it’s rather difficult to get rid of. Luckily, boiling will kill it, which is why you should always use cooked fresh potatoes (dehydrated potato flakes are just fine). I’m not trying to scare anyone here, I’m just giving you the facts.
But back to the bread: this recipe will produce a pretty, artisan-style bread with a moderately open crumb, and soft interior. The crust is crisp, so don’t expect one of those pillowy, yellow-tinted loaves you find in the grocery store. It is fine-textured enough to make sandwiches with (no gaping holes for things to fall out), but firm-crusted enough to make some great bruschetta. The flavor is mild enough to blend well with any number of other foods, but is just outside of the ordinary wheat-bread flavor spectrum enough to be interesting.
If you like, you could certainly mix some cheese or herbs into the dough, if you want to play up the potato factor. Chives or dill would be good matches, as would a slightly less expected addition of rosemary, thyme, or oregano. Personally, though, I think this bread is good enough on its own – no need to spice things up. Besides, this recipe makes enough that you’ll be able pair it with several different meals. Keeping it plain expands its repertoire, and it’s good enough that you’ll want to serve it again and again!
Adapted from Bo Friberg
Makes 2 loaves
1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
4 ounces unbleached bread flour
1/2 cup warm water (105 to 115º F)
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
5 ounces (about 1 cup) cooked mashed potato (see note 1 below)
4 ounces (about 1 scant cup) white whole wheat flour, plus extra for dusting loaves
14 ounces (about 3 heaped cups) bread flour, divided
1 tablespoon instant yeast
2 heaped teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 cup warm milk (105º to 115º F)
1/2 cup warm water used to cook potato (105º to 115º F; see note 2 below)
1 1/2 tablespoons (1 ounce) honey
1. To make the sponge, whisk the yeast and flour together in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the warm water and corn syrup, and whisk until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap, and let rise 1 to 2 hours, or until fully risen and beginning to fall. You can refrigerate this overnight, then let come to room temperature for 30 to 45 minutes before proceeding with the recipe.
2. While the sponge rises, cook the potato (if you haven’t already; see note 1 below). Mash, and let cool to room temperature.
3. To make the dough, add the mashed potato to the sponge in the mixer bowl. Whisk together the white whole wheat flour, 12 ounces (about 2 2/3 cups) bread flour, the yeast, and the salt; add to the mixer bowl. Stir together the milk, potato water, and honey until the honey dissolves; add to the mixer bowl.
4. Using the dough hook, mix at low speed until the dough comes together, scraping the bowl as needed. The dough may look dry at this point. Increase the speed to medium, and knead for 7 to 8 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and cohesive. The dough should look wetter at this point; reduce the speed to low, and adjust as needed with the reserved 2 ounces bread flour. Add the flour a tablespoon at a time, until the dough begins to clear the sides of the mixer bowl, but is still slightly sticky.
5. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead a few times, forming a round with a skin stretched around the outside. Transfer to a lightly-oiled bowl, smooth side up, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise for 30 minutes.
6. Uncover the dough and, using a nonstick spatula, fold the dough over itself in a tri-fold, as though you were folding a letter. Cover again, and let rise an additional 30 minutes.
7. Grease a large baking sheet, or line with parchment paper. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide the dough equally in half, and shape into long ovals with tapered ends. Transfer the loaves to the prepared baking sheet. Spray or sprinkle with water, and coat heavily with additional white whole wheat flour. Cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 45 minutes. Preheat the oven to 400º F.
8. Using a sharp serrated knife or blade, quickly slash each loaf three times at a 45º angle, just deep enough to cut through the skin. Bake the loaves at 400º F for 10 minutes, opening the door to quickly spray or spritz the inside of the oven and the bread with water every 2 minutes (see note 4 below). Bake for an additional 20 minutes without steam, until the bread is golden brown and baked through. Transfer to a wire rack to cool thoroughly.
1. For the mashed potato, I used about 2 or 3 medium-sized red new potatoes, peeled, cut into chunks, and boiled for 15 minutes. It isn’t necessary to use salt in the water. You should be able to get a similar amount from 1 large baking potato. (Obviously, if you happen to have any leftover mashed potato, even with butter and milk in it, that would be perfect to use here; just adjust the salt level in the dough to accommodate any added salt in the potatoes.) After cooking the potato, strain, and reserve the cooking water. Use 1/2 cup of it in the dough, and use the rest as a starchy vegetable stock (cook lentils in it, make soup with it, use it to thicken stews, reduce it for sauce, etc.).
2. If you accidentally discarded the potato cooking water, you can use plain water, or some vegetable or chicken stock for extra flavor.
3. If you can’t find white whole wheat flour, you can substitute an equal amount of regular whole wheat flour.
4. The purpose of spraying water onto the cooking bread is to keep the crust from hardening and setting before the interior of the bread has fully expanded and set. This results in the fluffiest possible texture, and helps the crust turn out as crisp as possible. If you prefer, you can place a pan in the oven to preheat as well, then simply throw ice cubes into the hot pan during the first 10 minutes of baking, adding extra ice as the cubes melt. Either method will produce a similar result.