After my fist DB challenge last month, I was really excited to see what the next one would be. I checked the website maybe 120 times until I finally saw the next challenge posted- Tender Potato Bread. I was thrilled with the choice because my husband A* is a bread baker (and bread lover) and I’ve helped him make bread before, so I relished the prospect of doing it on my own, with maybe just a little bit of help from him. Also, both A* and his mom spoke of the wonders of potato bread (how soft and delicious it is, with little specks of potato in it). Once I read the actual recipe, it thought it was… interesting. It was kind of Talmudic, having both the canon and commentary all rolled into one. I found it just a little bit confusing but appreciated all the notes and suggestions from someone who had tried the recipe already.
Before I started, A* and I decided that he would be more of a consultant so I could actually learn how to do it on my own. I appreciated having him there for reassurance and support, as well as actual coaching, but I wonder whether having him there made me less daring. For example, he disagreed with the recipe at several points and I had to remind him that I was supposed to follow the recipe as it was (such as not using the sponge method). In the end, I have to admit I ended up going with his deviations a couple of times. My yeast, for example, was very close to its expiration time and A* was surprised by how little yeast the recipe called for, so I ended up putting in more yeast (about 3 tsp) just in case it was weak. Also, I realized at the last minute that I only had salted butter, so A* said it was OK to use that and omit the salt (as it turns out, a mistake). Oh well… I tried to keep to the spirit of the recipe as much as I dared.
The process was a little bit scary for me, but only because I was concerned about the dough being too sticky and how I would knead it. When I saw the first mixture was basically liquid I almost freaked, but A* reminded me to look at the next step in the recipe (add more flour). The stickiness proved to be a problem throughout… I kneaded and kneaded for what felt like hours and every time I felt I was ready, I would call A* over and in the 30 seconds it took him to get to the kitchen, the dough was really sticky again. I swear this cycle happened MANY times. A* kept telling me I was focusing too much on kneading and not enough on incorporating flour, which only kind of made sense to me and proved very hard to implement. I’m not sure what I would have done if I hadn’t had A* there to tell me how long to knead it for. From recipe, it was hard to tell when to stop, and I likely would have stopped too soon (potentially the first time it stopped being sticky before it got sticky again).
FINALLY, I got it to a place where I felt it was not ridiculously sticky and set it to rise. A* suggested oiling the rising container, but that wasn’t in the recipe. I ended up acquiescing because, alas, the dough was getting sticky again, and I’m really glad I did because it was REALLY sticky after the rise. Then came more kneading, more sticking, and more blasted suggestions about incorporating more flour. Finally, I was ready to shape! We decided to do a focaccia and 2 small loaves (I only had small loaf pans). I made the focaccia with dried thyme (no rosemary in my supermarket for several weeks now; I don’t know what that’s about), and after baking it came out pretty if a bit pale.
The loaves got a light oiling and then an egg wash (A*’s suggestion) and came out beautifully golden, with a crisp crust (see picture at the beginning)
Audience Response/My Response:
The audience this time was just A* and me, as we were having a lazy day alone and home. We both thought the texture and look of the bread were perfect and liked the nuttiness of the whole wheat but found it kind of bland. We agreed that it definitely needed more salt. I’m not sure if this was because I decided that adding salted butter was enough (and it actually wasn’t) or if kosher salt (which I used) is less salty per teaspoon than table salt (which I think it is) or if the recipe really needs more salt, or maybe all three. A* noted that too little salt is better than too much because you can add salt to the toppings. We ended up eating the bread dipped in olive oil, balsamic, and lots of kosher salt.
We were also a bit disappointed that there weren’t any actual potato bits, although the crazy kneading probably obliterated them. A* thought the amount of potato was probably too conservative (even though we used 16oz.) because we ended up with barely any potato taste and no chunks.
What I learned/practice:
1) Kneading bread is fun! It’s like playing with A LOT of play-dough at a time. However, apparently you have to remember that it’s not just about the squishing and folding but also about incorporating the flour, which took me forever to learn.
2) Kneading is easier, at least for me with my little hands and short arms, when you use smaller amounts of dough. (Corollary- I may need to start exercising to build some arm strength if I want to knead the whole dough effectively).
3) Pizza stones are awesome for baking bread! That part is definitely going into our permanent baking repertoire. In our past bread baking forays, the bread came out with a very soft crust and I like solid crusts. The pizza stone really helped with that!
4) I’m not sure I can say that I can now make bread totally on my own (I got a lot of coaching) but at least I’m closer!
The final verdict:
I had lots of fun making the bread and it was delicious if a bit bland. Next time I would add more salt, potentially egg wash the focaccia, and come up with some flavorings just to experiment. A* wasn’t too convinced with this recipe, as he thought that it didn’t call for enough yeast, salt, or potatoes and he prefers the sponge method like in the Tassajara Bread Book. All in all, I think the potato bread concept is a keeper, as is using a pizza stone for baking, but we’d probably use a different recipe. We might even start baking bread regularly... but only after I finish my dissertation!