I was jinxed with this one! I truly was - not with regards to the recipe but with regards to finding time to actually complete it. The month has been so busy Phew! Every time I alloted time to start the challenge something would get in the way. And I was so excited to tackle this great challenge.
The challenge was from the truly wonderful and close to my heart Tanna of My Kitchen in Half Cups. It was as if Tanna had managed to look into the deep realm of my brain and picked out the one thing that has been on my mind a lot lately. Bread - and bread baking!
I live in Germany where good bread is plentiful. I have even been doing an interesting German bread series on The Daily Tiffin, where I have shown the several different varieties my baker offers. So, I have never really found the need to actually bake my own bread. But as I did the "Inside a German Bakery" series, I was more and more intrigued by bread baking. I just did not actually dare to make my own!
Hey, and being a Daring Baker does not mean you magically are relived of all your fears. Ohhhh noooo! You still have them - but what the Daring Baker group really does to you is make you confront your fears, challenge yourself and, in my opinion the best part of this group, motivate, cheer and help you along each step of the way.
So, as I said when Tanna chose a Tender Potato Bread from Home Baking: The Artful Mix of Flour and Traditions from Around the World by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid, I was at first fearful but the optimist in me was quite ecstatic. Especially as one of the variations we were allowed to make was a focaccia. It's something I was recently looking into and Tanna's magical powers pulled the idea out of my head, put it through her trick box and turned it into reality.
It was time to knead bread!
At the time I was emailing Hilda of Saffron and Blueberry and discussed the prospect of doing it together, but both our schedules did not seem to match and as the days sped past I was finding myself with less and less time. Hilda finally did manage to finish her challenge ahead of me and gave me a few helpful tips. All I needed was a day with ohhhh - approximately 72 hours and I was in business.
I finally thought of making the dough the night before and then doing it the next morning and once again the folks over at our DB blog were great with ideas, help and advice.
In the end I did manage to complete the challenge all in one day. It was brilliant, soothing and incredible. I was kind of irritated the day I chose to make the bread - but take it from me, on such days, folks, forget your shrink - just bake bread! I kneaded the bread, slapped it around, punched it and knuckled it back and forth. It was awesome. In the end I was rewarded with a soft, tender, moist crumb so wonderfully aromatic it was heavenly.
The allowed modifications for this challenge were as follows:
- The recipe was to be followed to the "T" until we get to shaping the bread.
- The bread had to be savory and not sweet.
- We were to knead by hand (medical exception allowed)
- We could not use a biga, sponge, or starter method.
- Recipe ingredient exception allowed only if allergy or an ingredient not available or cost prohibitive in our region.
- We could shape the dough anyway we liked: as a loaf, as rolls, as focaccia.
- We could season the bread in any way we wanted.
- We could fill it if we wanted to, keeping the filling savory
I also got to use my new measurement utensils I bought from Dubai. Together with my new digital weighing scale that gives me the weights in grams/kilos and ounces/pounds, I am armed for any future challenges!!
Come join me for a Traditional Feast this month. Bring along your favorite dish to celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanuka or Diwali.
Details can be found here.
Deadline: December 3rd.
Printable version here.
4 medium to large floury (baking) potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks.
4 cups (950 ml) water, reserve cooking water
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
6 ½ cups to 8 ½ cups (1 kg to 1350g) unbleached all-purpose
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
1 cup (130g) whole wheat flour
Note: For the beginner bread baker it is suggested to use no more than 8 ounces of potato; for the more advanced no more than 16 ounces. I used approximately 9 ounces, which did not make the dough as sticky as it probably would have if I had used more.
Making the Dough (Directions are for making by hand):
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, reserving the potato water, and mash the potatoes well. Tanna had suggested using a food mill for this, I always use my mill to make mashed potatoes as it gives the smoothest results. So, I too would suggest this.
Measure out 3 cups (750ml) 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 dough in. Let cool to lukewarm (70-80°F/21 - 29°C) – 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.
Add yeast to 2 cups all-purpose flour and whisk. Add yeast and flour to the cooled mashed potatoes and water and mix well. Allow to rest/sit 5 minutes.
Note about adding yeast: If using active dry yeast or fresh yeast, mix and stir yeast into cooled water and mashed potatoes and water and let stand 5 minutes. Then add 2 cups of flour to the yeast mix and allow to rest several minutes. If using instant dry yeast, add yeast to 2 cups all-purpose flour and whisk. Add yeast and flour to the cooled mashed potatoes and water and mix well. Allow to rest/sit 5 minutes.
I used instant dry yeast and simply whisked it into my flour. Sprinkle in 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 4 cups of the possible 8 ½ cups as suggested by the recipe have been used.
Turn the dough out onto a generously floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes, incorporating flour as needed to prevent sticking.
The dough was very sticky to begin with, but as it takes up more flour from the kneading surface, it becomes easier to handle. Scrape the dough off the surface using a scraper.
Keep adding flour until you feel the dough has the right texture. I personally only needed a little over 6 cups.
The kneaded dough will still be very soft and moist, but don't worry, leaving it on parchment or wax paper to proof and to bake makes it easier to handle. Place the dough in a large clean bowl and cover with plastic wrap or lid. Allow to rise for about 2 hours or until doubled in volume.
Flour the surface generously and then turn the dough out onto the surface. Knead gently for several minutes. It will be moist and still a little sticky.
Forming the Bread:
I decided to use half of the dough to make a focaccia and the other half to make rolls. I was able to get one medium sized focaccia (approx 10 x 15 inches) and 6 medium sized rolls with the dough
To make rolls:
Butter a 13 x 9 inch sheet cake pan or a shallow cake pan. Cut the dough into 6 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 and topping (please see below). Cover with plastic and let rise for 20 minutes.
Baking the bread(s):
Note about baking order: Bake the focaccia before you bake rolls.
Note about cooling times: Let all the breads cool on a rack for at least 30 minutes before slicing. Rolls can be served warm or at room temperature.
Brush the tops of the rolls with a little melted butter or olive oil (the butter will give a golden/browned crust). Slash the rolls crosswise two or three times with a razor blade or very sharp knife and immediately place on baking sheet in the oven.
Just before placing the rolls in the oven, I sprinkled my rolls with a few black cumin seeds to give a delicious aromatic flavor. Believe me, the fragrance that lingered in the kitchen was simply gorgeous!
Bake rolls until golden, about 30 minutes.
Transfer the rolls to a rack when done to cool.
Place a no edged baking/sheet (you want to be able to slide the shaped dough on the parchment paper onto the baking sheet and an edge complicates things). Place the baking sheet on a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 450°F/230°C.
Just before baking, dimple the focaccia all over again with your fingertips. Leaving it on the paper, transfer to the hot baking sheet. Bake until golden, about 10-12 minutes. Transfer to a rack (remove paper) and let cool at least 10 minutes before serving.
Focaccia Topping of my choice:
My topping consisted of some lovely roasted Piquillo Peppers, black olives, basil and coarse sea salt.
200 g of roasted peppers - cut into strips
Handful of Ligurian balck olives - coarsely chopped
Handful of basil leaves - chopped
Coarse sea salt
Simply layer the topping on the focaccia before allowing it to rest for 20 minutes (see above). After the focaccia has rested, dimple bread again and bake as mentioned above.
Alternative suggested toppings:
Simple topping: Olive oil, coarse salt, and rosemary leaves
Anchovy-Onion Focaccia:Top with onions slow-cooked in olive oil or bacon fat, a scattering of chopped anchovy fillets, and flat-leafed parsley leaves.
Conversion Chart for yeast:
1 oz/ 1 Tablespoon of fresh yeast = 0.4 oz/ 1.25 teaspoon active or instant dry yeast = 0.33 oz / 1 teaspoon instant or rapid rise (bread machine) yeast. (Reference: Crust & Crumb by Peter Reinhart).
Notes about Flour:
King Arthur Artisan Organic All-Purpose Flour is fairly new in the markets in the US and is advertised to be best for making European-style hearth breads with a protein level of 11.3%
This is simply the most tender focaccia I have ever had. It was not very potato-ey but there is a wonderful potato aroma to the crumb. We had the focaccia filled with Italian prosciutto and a green mixed salad. It was a great dinner. Tom actually asked me "Did you really make this yourself!" He was blown away by the texture and the flavor the focaccia offered. Soeren devoured the focaccia at lightening speed and wanted to take a sandwich to school in his lunch box the next day. Apparently everyone wanted a bite. We had the rolls the day after. I tasted half a little after they came out of the oven and they were quite good. However, the next day, I placed them in the oven to warm through again and the truth is they tasted even better. I presume the flavors were able to combine and infuse more. The cumin seeds added a wonderful pungent flavor and with some strong cheese it was another treat we loved.
Would I make this again?
I already have!! I made the rolls for Thanksgiving again, this time topped with Thyme and yet again it was simply awesome. I already have plans to make a loaf using the same dough this weekend. It's easy and straightforward. Never once did I feel overwhelmed while making the challenge. I followed the recipe and was amazed how easily everything came together.
What did I learn from this challenge?
Have no fear when making bread. I have to say the challenge taught me a few things. That bread is not really the same as baking a cake - where you do have to weigh everything out to perfection. Here I went with my own feeling. For example I did not use the entire 8 1/2 cups of flour as proposed in the recipe - I used about 6 and a bit. My feeling told me that the texture of the dough was OK after that amount. I also liked the idea that we were left enough room to experiment with different types of breads - loaves, rolls or focaccia. That made me more creative. The cumin seeds idea was only a minor thing but it came to me at the spur of the moment and it was brilliant. I am learning that there are so many great sides to baking. The group is allowing me to discover so many hidden facets in me I did not even know existed!
Tanna, you are gorgeous and amazing. I thank you for daring us to make this challenge. I also really thank you for going out of your way and explaining every detail, answering every question on the DB blog and giving fantastic instructions. All that made me a little less fearful and more of an optimist!
You'll be seeing a lot of Tender Potato Bread variations today and if you feel encouraged to bake your own bread this is the perfect way to start.
Please do check out some of my other talented and daring colleagues over at the Daring Baker blogroll. We've grown to more than 400!
Check out my other Daring Baker challenges on the left sidebar under "A Proud Daring Baker". You'll find each challenge listed chronologically in the index. Have fun browsing!
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