How do you like your Potato Bread?

All month long, I had a sense of peace just knowing I’d be making the bread that Tanna of My Kitchen In Half Cups tasked The Daring Bakers with for the month of November.  Mmmm…just the idea of being able to make something with no sugar or pounds of butter was quite the relief.  Don’t get me wrong.  I do love baking sweet things, but it seems that it’s all catching up with my posterior.

Who am I kidding?  I has caught up and doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere.

Regardless, I looked forward to the challenge, and smiled when reading Tanna’s speech on "unleashing my power as a Daring Baker."  No problem.  Actually, my problem is controlling my obsessive compulsive disorder enthusiasm for trying new things as a cook.  I have a tendency to make something and then move on.  It sounds fun, but I never really dig in to see what makes a recipe really great.  You know — make it ten times in a row so that you’re intimately acquainted with the gluten.

With respect to this, our newest challenge of "Tender Potato Bread" from Home Baking:  The Artful Mix of Flour & Tradition Around the World by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid, I’d not made potato bread before, but have made foccacia a few times and fougasse as well.  Does pizza count?  Potato sounded lovely.  I did have a bit of hesitation when I read Tanna’s comments regarding the amount of potato, or should I say range of quantity of potato that could go in this dough.

I was going to be attending a dinner party in celebration of a friend’s soon-to-be-born baby, and I was in charge of the bread and the dessert.  How convenient that I could subject all my unsuspecting friends make  Tender Potato Bread.  I  figured I’d have plenty of time based on what I’d read in the directions provided.  The only complication would be dealing with the dessert as well, so I made sure I planned right down to my unplanned trip to my local kitchen store to indulge myself with a handy dandy food mill that fits right on several of my pots.  I just love these challenges because it’s such a great excuse to buy a new kitchen gadget. 

Since we had umpteen gazillion choices about what we could do with this bread while our raging inner baker type selves were being unchained or something, I decided to go with a large loaf and a foccacia.  I’d serve the foccacia as an appetizer to help absorb the wine we all enjoy.  The hostess would be providing a lovely cheese platter, so I knew the foccacia would be a grand addition.  And just in case my dear friends hadn’t had enough of my bread, I decided to serve the large loaf with dinner just to make sure dash any hope of anyone avoiding carbs on that evening.  What a way to go!

The recipe for "Tender Potato Bread" can be found here.

The Process: whereby Kelly becomes one with her dough.
I boiled my russet potatoes with the skins on, then peeled them off after they cooled.  I know I should remember where I read that it was better to boil potatoes like this, but I can’t.  And it seemed natural anyway, because we usually eat our potatoes with the skins on.  I have trouble throwing away all those yummy vitamins and fiber.  (Actually, I’m lazy and less than love peeling potatoes.)  But still.
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I used the food mil to "mash" the potatoes, and was rewarded with lovely, fluffy potatoes — enough to measure out two cups for my dough, and freeze the rest for some other time.  Yes, my raging inner unleashed and wild baker type self was going whole hog with 16 oz. of potatoes in her dough.  (This is the part where you’re supposed to picture a bared chest and fists thumping while perched on some mountaintop.)  Okay, so maybe not my chest.  Well, bared, anyway.

I always hesitate when I get to the yeast part of any recipe and wonder why it always has to be different.  Like microwaves and dvd players.  The directions stated, "Mix & stir yeast into cooled water and mashed potatoes & water and let stand 5 minutes."  The "cooled water" had me wondering about whether the yeast would actually bloom and do what yeast is supposed to do.  But I forged ahead and followed the directions.  Yes, I did stick my hand in the potatoey, yeasty water and swirl, basking in the knowledge that I was wallowing in artesian bread hood.  Or something.
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All systems were go until I got to the part where I was supposed to "turn the dough out onto a generously floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes."  Ah….let me say that the dough poured onto the counter.  Like oatmeal from the pan.  Poured.  And no amount of flour could possibly be "generous" enough to allow me to knead it.  BUT!  I resisted the urge to just pour an entire bag of flour on the blob.  I stuck my hands in the dough and tried to act like I was going to knead it.  I tried.  I really did.  But what I spent most of my time doing was trying to get the dough off my hands and fingers.

If my huzbink hadn’t been there, adding flour in 1/4 c. quantities, I would have had gooey dough all over everything in my kitchen.  It seemed to take forever to get the dough to a semi manageable state.  I think it began to happen at about the 7 to 7-1/2 total cups of flour added point.  Although the dough was still extremely soft, it was oh-so-easy on my pathetically weak hands and wrists (severe tendonitis) and I was able to work with it with no problem outside of the stickiness.

Once it came together, the dough was remarkably smooth and soft.  Quite nice, actually.  Well, as long as I didn’t get too excited and throw it around.  No counter slapping or pizza slinging with this dough.

The Design: whereby Kelly finds out that mushrooms have a mind of their own.
The dough took the entire two hours to rise, but that time allowed me to frost the cake I was taking for dessert. After the first rise was finished, I used sauteed oyster mushrooms, garlic and thyme to "stuff" the large potato loaf.  This sounded like such a tasty idea until I tried to roll the dough over the mushrooms like one might roll cinnamon buns. It didn’t want to cooperate.  And getting it into the loaf pan was nothing short of miraculous.  At one point, I truly thought the dough would be on the floor and the dog scarfing up the mushrooms.  But since I was a veritable Sheerah of the Kitchen, nothing was going to stop me at this point.  The dough did end up in the pan.  But I wasn’t exactly sure where those mushrooms ended up.  And after the second rise, the dough did try to escape the pan, but I wasn’t quite sure what to do other than bake it and let it fend for itself.

My second creation was a foccacia that had four sections — each with its own toppings.  The base of my toppings consisted of a herb blend of fresh rosemary, thyme, oregano, minced garlic and salt.  To that I added sun dried tomatoes, kalamata olives, and parmesan.  The dough was a bit resistant in letting me twist ropes to create the "x" on the top, but I finally got it attached.

The Baking: whereby Kelly gets a bit overzealous about toppings and stuffings.
The foccacia baked at 450 degrees F for 11 minutes so that it was nicely beginning to brown.  I baked it on a piece of parchment sprinkled with flour and placed on a jelly roll pan that had been placed in the oven while it was preheating.  All went well.  Um…except that the tomatoes got a tad burnt.  Sometimes those convections fans get a little excited and I forget to rotate whatever I’m baking just to make sure the brown is evenly distributed.  They kind of match the olives, don’t you think?  Rethinking the tomatoes, I could have sprinkled them on at about the 5 minute mark.  Or, waited until it was finished baking.

The large loaf stuffed with mushrooms cooked in a 375 degree F oven.  I turned the heat down to 355 degrees F with 19 minutes left of the 50 minutes, and then took the loaf out to cool with 8 minutes remaining.  It was done.  The bottom tapped hollowly, and the edges proved firm when pinched (unlike my thighs and other unmentionables.)

The Eating: whereby Kelly and friends enjoy potatoey bread for its amazing absorbent qualities.
This bread was exceptionally lovely to eat.  The texture was perfect — chewy without being tough.  It cut beautifully, toasted nicely, and was scarfed down by all who crossed its path.  Mmmm…Totally yummy!  I could have added more toppings on the foccacia.  The herbs were lovely, though.  The mushrooms worked very well with the flavor of the bread, and actually toasted quite nicely the next day for lunch.  I do wish I’d made a plain loaf, though, so will be making this again in spite of the sticky dough.

Now, to figure out how to get those mushrooms nicely rolled in a swirl….And while I’m doing that, don’t forget to check out the other Daring Bakers to see what they’ve done with their Potato Bread.

Savory Toasted Potato Mushroom Bread…Mmmmm…