Tender is the Dough

It’s that time of the month again! The Daring Bakers challenge for November was my very first savory challenge since joining up: Tender Potato Bread. I’ve never used this recipe before, but I have made potato bread in the past, from a Nigella Lawson recipe in How to Be a Domestic Goddess. In addition, Jeremy has made the rosemary potato bread from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, so we had a reasonable baseline for comparison. To make things a bit more interesting for myself, I was one of the crazy bunch that decided to make this bread fresh as part of our Thanksgiving meal.

Potato bread dough

I got my start on the challenge last Wednesday evening, amid a bunch of other Thanksgiving prep activities. I used about 12 oz of russet potatoes for the batch, the equivalent of two rather small peeled potatoes. To save myself a bit of time, I got the dough started on the stand mixer, and finished off kneading by hand. I found that, although the dough was very soft and sticky, it was manageable as long as I kept my hands and the surface well floured. By the time I decided to call it good, I had gotten up to around 8 cups of flour added in total.

Potato bread dough after first proof

The oiled and covered dough was set aside to rise while I went about roasting pumpkin and making pies and boiling apple cider brine and such, so my kitchen was pretty warm for a change. It was a good thing I picked my largest bowl to proof in, because in a few hours, the dough was about ready to bubble over the sides of the bowl. I shaped half of it into a loaf of focaccia and half into rolls, and both got squeezed into the already-bursting fridge to retard overnight.

Potato foccacia dough

The next morning, after starting my stuffing and getting my apple pie in the oven, the focaccia dough came out of the fridge for its second proof so that it would be ready to bake by lunchtime. Soon it was pillowy and light again, ready to dimple and drizzle with olive oil. I topped my focaccia with red onion rings, fresh rosemary, and a scattering of feta and fleur de sel.

Potato foccacia dough

Then it was a bit of a waiting game, thanks to demands on my oven. Once the apple pie was done, I needed to roast some cauliflower to make soup for lunch. I went ahead and roasted that at 450F instead of the usual 400F, so that the focaccia could join it in the last 10 minutes. I finished off the soup while the bread rested, and we had a lovely light lunch to fortify us against the final Thanksgiving preparations. (The soup recipe will be forthcoming tomorrow.)

Potato foccacia ready to eat

We both enjoyed this focaccia, which came out with a tender, fluffy crumb and lots of flavor thanks to the toppings. And, I might add, it paired really nicely with the soup, sliced into rectangles. But there’s no rest for the wicked. While our lunches were still settling, I flung myself into turkey preparations and pulled the muffin pan of cloverleaf rolls from the oven for their second proof.

Potato Cloverleaf Rolls

The rolls were rather more challenging to shape than the foccacia because the dough was still very sticky. Twelve cloverleaf rolls meant 36 little balls of dough that had to be shaped, each of which stuck tenaciously to my hands even with frequent reapplications of bench flour.

When the turkey was done, the rolls (and some green beans and shallots for roasting) went in the oven. Somewhere in between making gravy, mashing potatoes and pureeing yams with vanilla-scented cream, I pulled them out to cool and rubbed their browning tops with a pat of butter. Then we loaded up our plates and dug in. Everything tasted great, but unfortunately the cloverleaf rolls came out more like bread-shaped building blocks than actual bread. I think it may have had something to do with the metal muffin pan, which I don’t use much anymore. The good news was that we had so much other good food to eat, including the remains of the focaccia from lunch, that we didn’t miss the rolls at all.

Potato Cloverleaf Building Blocks

Because of the way the rolls turned out, I didn’t quite feel that I had done the challenge justice, so yesterday I decided to give it one more shot. This time I made a half batch of dough with 4 oz of potato in order to bake a single loaf. I used bread flour by choice (and because I am fast running out of AP), but accidentally grabbed white whole wheat flour instead of the normal stoneground variety. I kneaded entirely by hand for about 15 minutes, and added about a cup of flour. Again, the dough rose phenomenally well, and when I punched it down to reknead, I added in a tablespoon or so of chopped fresh rosemary, and shaped it into a tight little boule.

The potato boule blob

When I came back to check on the dough again about an hour later, it was easily more than doubled in size. Visions of The Blob were starting to run through my head, but fortunately it hadn’t quite outgrown the square of parchment paper I proofed it on. I gave it a few slashes and some decorative sprinkles of flour, and slid it from the baking peel onto the hot baking stone. Forty minutes later, it was golden brown and crisp with an internal temperature approaching 200F, and I had a hard time waiting for the allotted half-hour before slicing into it.

Baked potato rosemary boule

As you can see, the loaf had a light, even crumb and a sturdy crust. We sliced it up and taste-tested it with a bowl of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Although it was very pretty and had good texture, I couldn’t help but feel that it was somewhat lacking in flavor; it needed more salt or something. I thought I had added quite a bit of rosemary, but the loaf expanded so much during the second proofing that you could hardly find the specks of herbs in the finished product. Jeremy said it tasted alright, then noted that he should really make some more bread himself—last year he was quite the breadbaker. I totally agree, because I thought his potato rosemary bread was fantastic. Maybe I could even get him to make another loaf of it and write a guest-post here…

Baked potato rosemary boule

This was a relatively straightforward recipe: I had few problems in working with the dough, and no trouble at all in getting it to rise. My dough was a little too soft and sticky to sustain shaping, hence the big flat boule. I’d say this recipe is best suited as a palette for focaccia, and that doesn’t need much in the way of shaping. The other option would be to continue adding flour until I get a different consistency of dough, but that might affect the chew. Make sure to check out the Daring Bakers blogroll to see everyone’s creations. And thanks to Tanna of My Kitchen in Half Cups for choosing a savory challenge this month, since we’ve got desserts to spare around here already! You can find the potato bread recipe on her website here.

I am a member of the Theta Class of the Daring Bakers, induced in July of 2007. For more information and a list of my previous challenges, click here.

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