The only real rules were that our bread had to be savory (we all needed a break from our sugar highs anyway), the recipe had to be followed as written until the shaping stage and -- here was the kicker for me -- "you must knead by hand."
To remember the process, I journalled the experience while baking on Monday, November 12. My notes appear below.
7:30am: I have Mondays off this semester; it's also Veterans Day today, so the kids have off, which makes this day of seem way more exciting than normal. (Think back to being a kid and having a day off from school. That's the feeling.)
Plus, the holidays are fast approaching. The weather has suddenly turned colder, Thanksgiving is a week and a half away and Christmas will be in a little over a month. We went to a Christkindl Market this weekend and basked in lighted evergreens, delicately painted ornaments, holiday treats, and seasonal music.
I mention all this because, for me, day off + cooler weather + holiday season = hard core desire to bake. I whipped up a gingerbread yesterday just because I couldn't stand NOT to.
So today strikes me as the perfect day to take on this month's DB Challenge. Now here's the thing: I have a definite comfort zone when it comes to baking. Yeast breads are outside of my comfort zone. Sure I've done them before, but when I have to need to bake, yeast bread recipes don't leap to the fore.
I realized, however, that it's not the yeast part of yeast breads that freak me out. It's the KNEADING. With September’s DB challenge, I was able to use the KitchenAid to do all the heavy work.
Not This Time.
No, Tanna is shoving me out of my comfy little baking rut by requiring all the DBers to knead the potato bread by hand. By HAND! WHAT? But my KitchenAid is ... right... there.... and it has a dough hook attachment.
To which I imagine Tanna might say, "Well, you have your own dough hook attachment. It's called 'your hands.'"
Dear God, there is going to be dough everywhere. And it’s going to be sticky, as this dough is, as Tanna writes, “very soft and moist and might feel a little scary if you’ve never handled soft dough before.”
“But don’t worry,” Tanna continued, “leaving it on parchment or wax paper to proof and to bake makes it easy to handle.”
OK, Tanna, I’m putting my trust in your advice. Let’s roll the dice (er, dough?) and see what happens.
I love that these are "all purpose cooking potatoes."
9:20 am: So far, so good, though I’ve only tackled the simple parts of this recipe so far. I’ve peeled, boiled, and mashed the potatoes, added in the reserved cooking water, and am now waiting for things to cool down before adding the yeast.
The original recipe allows you to use the dough in a number of ways (pretty much anything savory) but I think I’m going to go with the focaccia. Mmmm, focaccia. The thought of you will get me through the kneading. I hope.
11:55am: Well, I’ve been reminded as to why I hate kneading. The dough gets EVERYWHERE. Stuck to the counter and my hands of course, but also in my clothes, my hair, nearby cabinetry, the bread box (ironically) and even the dog, who stuck close by to catch any scraps that would fall like manna from heaven. Of course, I’m not sure if you can call what I did kneading – more like “Wrestling with the Sticky Yeast Monster.”
Did I mention I hate getting my hands dirty? I do. I’m so lame.
The dough did get easier to handle as I added the flour (at this point, 7 cups) though it is, as the recipe says, “very soft.” The goal with this dough (before the first rise) is for it to be “soft and smooth and not too sticky.” I think I achieved that but the real test for success will be in tasting the final product.
With a little bit of flour.
A little more flour.
Ready for kneading.
So, so sticky. My hands got MUCH dirtier.
After kneading and adding a few more cups of flour.
Jesus God, my kitchen is a mess.
1:20pm: After rising for two hours, the dough is easier to handle, but still very sticky. I used 2/3 of the dough to shape (and I use the term very loosely) a focaccia and topped it with some herbed oil, salt, and sautéed red onions.
It looks amazing, you guys. I hope it bakes up well!
I’m off to the DB blog to get ideas for the dough 1/3 I have left.
Sautéing the onions for the focaccia.
After letting the dough rise.
Kneading the dough again.
5:07pm: Challenge complete! The focaccia baked up beautifully – despite my dropping it face down on the open door of my oven. (Oh well – could’ve been worse!) Fortunately, it held up very well and it was a very looong ten minute wait before I could cut into it.
Mmmm, delicious. The crumb is moist and tender yet chewy and the bread itself is packed with flavor! Visually, it’s very pretty to look at, too.
With the leftover dough, I formed 9 rolls, brushed them with butter, and parbaked them per Mary’s instructions for freezing yeast bread. They look great, and I’m looking forward to baking –and then eating – them.
Post note: the rolls baked up beautifully, though I should have baked them for only 10 minutes, instead of 15, after thawing. They were very simple, and a pat of butter took to them very well.
BIG thanks to Tanna for pushing me past my comfort zone with this recipe. I never would have tried it without you – and the other 200+ Daring Bakers, of course!
The final product! (You can hardly tell I dropped it.)
Tender Potato Bread
From Home Baking: The Artful Mix of Flour & Tradition Around the World by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid
Makes 1 large tender-crumbed pan loaf and something more; one 10X15 inch crusty yet tender focaccia, 12 soft dinner rolls, or a small pan loaf.
4 medium to large floury (baking) potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks variety of potatoes you might want to use would include Idaho, Russet & Yukon gold. (For the beginner I suggest no more than 8 ounces of potato; for the more advanced no more than 16 ounces. )
4 cups water (See Note)
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
6 ½ cups to 8 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
1 cup whole wheat flour
Conversion Chart for yeast:
Fresh yeast 1 oz/ 1 tablespoon = active dry yeast 0.4 oz/ 1.25 teaspoon = 0.33 oz / 1 teaspoon
reference: Crust & Crumb by Peter Reinhart
For Loaves and Rolls: melted butter (optional)
For Focaccia: olive oil, coarse salt, and rosemary leaves (optional; also see variation)
Put the potatoes and 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. I have a food mill I will run my potatoes through to mash them.
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.
Allowed to add yeast one of two ways:
Mix & stir yeast into cooled water and mashed potatoes & water and let stand 5 minutes.
Then mix in 2 cups of all-purpose flour and mix. Allow to rest several minutes.
Add yeast to 2 cups all-purpose flour and whisk. Add yeast and flour to the cooled mashed potatoes & water and mix well. Allow to rest/sit 5 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 cups of the unbleached all-purpose flour and stir until all the flour has been incorporated.
At this point you have used 4 cups of the possible 8 ½ cups suggested by the recipe.
Turn the dough out onto a generously floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes, incorporating 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.
As a beginner, you may be tempted to add more flour than needed. Most/many bread recipes give a range of flour needed. This is going to be a soft dough. At this point, add flour to the counter slowly, say a ¼ cup at a time. Do not feel you must use all of the suggested flour. 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.
It is at this point you are requested to Unleash the Daring Baker within. The following is as the recipe is written. You are now free to follow as written or push it to a new level.
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.
To shape the large loaf:
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, 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.
To make a small loaf with the remainder:
Butter an 8 x 4 inch bread pan. Shape and proof the loaf the same way as the large loaf.
To make 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.
To make focaccia:
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 focaccia 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 flat-bread before you bake the loaf; bake the rolls at the same time as the loaf.
If making foccacia, 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 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.
Instead of oil, salt and rosemary, the focaccia can be topped with onions slow-cooked in olive oil or bacon fat, a scattering of chopped anchovy fillets, and flat-leafed parsley leaves.
Alternate fillings, seasons, shapes are up to you.
You must follow the recipe as written until you get to shaping the bread.
If you are new to bread and already your whisks are shaking (or is that your boots), you may bake the bread (or one of it’s variations) just as written.