Daring Bakers Challenge: Tender Potato Foccacia

November 26th, 2007

Foccacia2

It’s been a busy November for me, with various projects I’ve been working on, and preparations for the upcoming holidays. I almost thought I wouldn’t have time to participate in the Daring Bakers Challenge, but when I saw that we could make foccacia out of the base recipe, I knew I had to do it somehow. I’ve been a big fan of foccacia, ever since I had my first panino in a little Italian restaurant whose name is now lost to memory, one of those wonderful revelations experienced upon going to college and discovering the whole rest of the world out there.

Tanna, of the charming MyKitcheninHalfCups, gave the Daring Bakers an excellent recipe to work with: a bread recipe that used potatoes, and could be made into numerous incarnations, from rolls to a loaf of bread. A versatile recipe, indeed!

I was also intrigued because I had never used potatoes in making bread before, and I was curious how it would change the end product. I did a little research and found some interesting tidbits in my Baking Illustrated book about how potatoes work differently from flour in baking: potatoes have more starch than flour, which will make a moister bread because starches trap moisture. Potatoes also have less protein than flour, which means that less gluten will be formed when working the dough, the end result being a more tender bread. Finally, potatoes lend their particular flavor to the bread. All this sounded quite positive to me, so I was eager to give this potato bread a try!

Unfortunately, as Tanna and Baking Illustrated warned me, using potatoes in a dough also makes the dough very sticky, because of the extra moisture in the potato starches. The note at the beginning of the recipe suggests that beginning bakers use 8 ounces of potatoes while experienced bakers use 16 ounces; in a foolhardy burst of confidence (and because all the potatoes at the store weighed about a pound each), I went for the full 16.

This was a really, really sticky dough, a sort of yeast monster determined to leave trails all over my table. Actually, I wasn’t as worried about the stickiness as I was concerned that the dough looked so wet and mushy- it did not resemble the well-formed bread doughs I was used to at all. I kept alternating between wondering if I should add more flour to make it behave and worrying that too much flour would ruin its texture. In the end, I used about 5 cups of flour total and decided I would take my chances with my little mushball.

I have to say it’s a credit to the recipe that the dough performed wonderfully after I made it: it rose like a dream, spread itself into oiled baking sheets without resistance, and baked into a thick, golden, entirely inviting foccacia.

Because I wanted to showcase the bread itself, and not the toppings, I kept it simple; a brushing of olive oil, a sprinkling of coarse sea salt, a dappling of dried rosemary. It was a wonderful foccacia: soft, pleasantly chewy but still light, and with a satisfying, hearty flavor. I have to say the potatoes make this especially filling; one piece and I felt like I’d had an entire meal!

All in all, a very satisfactory and illuminating experience: I don’t think I’d have thought of baking with potatoes until this came along, so thank you Tanna for giving us such an excellent recipe! And now I know how easy it is to make a great foccacia, which might be a dangerous thing for my health…

Be sure to check all the other Daring Bakers to see their takes on this recipe – with so many options available, I’m sure the creativity of the bakers will be on full display!

Foccacia

Tender Potato Bread

From Home Baking: The Artful Mix of Flour & Tradition Around the World

Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid

Makes 1 large tender-crumbed pan loaf and something more; one 10X15 inch crusty yet tender foccacia, 12 soft dinner rolls, or a small pan loaf.

Potatoes and potato water give this bread wonderful flavor and texture. The dough is very soft and moist and might feel a little scary if you’ve never handled soft dough before. But don’t worry: Leaving it on parchment or wax paper to proof and to bake makes it easy to handle.

Once baked, the crumb is tender and airy, with ting soft pieces of potato in it and a fine flecking of whole wheat. The loaves have a fabulous crisp texture on the outside and a slightly flat-topped shape. They make great toast and tender yet strong sliced bread for sandwiches. The dinner rolls are soft and inviting, and the focaccia is memorable.

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

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

Topping

For Loaves and Rolls: melted butter (optional)

For Foccacia: 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.

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.

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.

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