I’ve been planning to make potato bread ever since the Honey & Co cookbook landed in my Christmas stocking back when we were still living full time in Turkey. I’ve just checked and that was Christmas 2014. Ooops. A lot of loaves have been baked in both of our kitchens since then, but only this week have I finally managed a potato version.
I was swapping bread notes with some instagram bread-baking chums and Stefano Arturi from ‘Italian Home Cooking’ very generously shared the recipe that he uses – from the 1996 book ‘Baking with Julia’ by Julia Child. As ever, I felt the original recipe involved unnecessary faffing, so I’ve further simplified it.
I am not sure why I waited for so long – just think, I’ve wasted six whole years that could have been filled with potato bread treats. On the other hand, my derrière could have ended up even more substantial than it is today, so maybe it’s a blessing. It is actually an extremely easy loaf of bread, so would be a great place for any nervous bread-makers out there to begin.
The dough starts with cold mashed potato – and if you think that sounds weird, just remember that potatoes are starchy, just like flour. Then you just add a little of the cooking liquid from the potatoes (more starch), some rapid-action dried yeast (or sourdough starter if you have some), a little oil, a bit of salt and some flour. Mix it all up, give it a decent knead and stretch, then leave it to do it’s own thing for a bit. If you use dried yeast, the rise will be quite fast – the yeast LOVES the mashed potato (well, let’s face it, who doesn’t?).
I left mine in the fridge (already in the tin) overnight for its final prove, then baked it first thing, which worked really well. If you are going to work or going out for the day, you could mix it up in the evening, give it a first rise overnight in the fridge, shape it in the morning and put it in its tin, then return to the fridge for the second prove and bake it when you get home – it is quick to bake so you’d have fresh bread for dinner.
I did something slightly wrong with the mix (I think this was either because my potatoes were quite waxy or could easily have been because I mis-measured the water – more likely). However, the dough is very forgiving and if you are finding it very sticky to work with – as I did – just make sure you have plenty of flour on your worktop. For this reason, I decided to do the final prove and bake in bread tins, rather than free-form on a baking tray (I was fearing a great ‘slump’). If your dough is holding its shape well, by all means just shape it into a fat baton shape and bake on a tray – that means you get extra crust, always a good thing in my book!
This was still very good the next day – probably because the mashed potato helps to keep things moist (sorry Vik), and also made absolutely smashing toast.
I wasn’t planning to put this recipe on the blog at this point, but several people have asked for it, so you’re only getting a final photo. It is so easy though that photos of the dough are not really necessary – I’ll do my best to describe what it should look and feel like.
Potato bread (adapted from Julia Child’s ‘Baking with Julia’)
Makes 2 x 1kg loaves
1 large potato (650 – 700g), peeled
670g plain flour (or bread flour if you have it)
2 x 7g sachets fast-action dried yeast (sourdough bakers, see note below*)
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons oil plus a little extra for greasing
125ml cooking water from the potato
You will need two 1kg loaf tins, greased, or a large baking tray
Peel the potatoes, cut into chunks and boil until tender. Drain (reserving the water), mash and leave to cool completely. Once cool, stir in the reserved water.
Put the flour into a large mixing bowl and stir in the salt until well distributed, then stir in the dried yeast (no need to reconstitute it – just chuck it in, but make sure you give it a good stir throughout the flour).
Make a well in the middle of the flour and pour in the mash/water combination, together with the oil. Stir with a table knife until the dough comes together (you can do this in an electric mixer with a dough hook if you prefer – just mix until the dough is smooth and elastic). Tip the dough onto a well-floured worktop and knead until smooth and stretchy, making sure the dough gets really well stretched out (if you’ve used a mixer, there’s no need to do this)
Put about a teaspoon of oil in a bowl that is at least twice as big as the dough. Turn the dough over in the oil (this will help it to come out of the bowl easily after it has risen) and cover the bowl with a silicone cover or clingfilm – or a saucepan lid works well if you have one that fits. (I don’t think it works very well to use a teatowel to cover the bowl – it allows some of the CO2 to escape, which is what makes the dough rise).
You have a choice now – you can leave the dough to rise at room temperature, which will be fairly quick – probably an hour or a little more, depending on the weather. Or you can put the bowl in the fridge and leave it to rise for several hours or overnight.
Once the dough has doubled (or more) in size, tip it on to a floured worktop and knead briefly again to expel the air. Divide the dough into two and shape roughly into ovals. At this point, depending on how floppy your dough is, you can either put the loaves into greased bread tins or place on a baking tray (lightly greased or lined with baking paper). Cover with greased clingfilm and, again, you can either rise at room temperature for about 45 minutes, or for several hours or overnight in the fridge. The dough should have almost reached the top of the tins, or if you are baking free-form on a tray, the loaves should have risen by approximately half of their original size. If you don’t think the loaves have risen sufficiently, just leave them for a little longer.
At this point, pre-heat the oven to 180°C (fan) and, once you are sure the oven is up to temperature, bake the loaves for about 45 minutes. If you knock the bottom of a loaf with your knuckle it should sound hollow. Turn the loaves upside down (or out of their tins if you’ve used them) and bake for a further five minutes, then remove from the oven and cool on a rack.
*Note: If you are baking with a sourdough starter, use 250g starter, omit the potato water and reduce the flour by 125g. That is how I did it, and it worked really well. If you want to include some of the starchy water, you could use 125g starter, plus 67ml potato water, reducing the flour by 67g, in which case I would add a pinch of dried yeast just to get things going.