Friday, 27 April 2012

Potato Bread with Thyme

It's been some time since my last entry; I suppose that I'm not a natural blogger. It's been a busy time with a job I had; that's not really relevant to a baking journal, though.

There were breads and other baked goods in that period. I'll have to catch up and post them retroactively. Christmas cookies and Easter buns, and some failures (which I didn't photograph; not in a good mood, I guess.) Now I'm between work again, and can be a bit more active in my writing and baking.

The blog wasn't all that was neglected. My wife's family came to visit the UK from where they now live in New Zealand and Australia. They were here for three weeks, and we spent so much time doing things together that I barely even cooked, much less baked. During that time, my sourdough pretty much expired - at least, it seemed to lose the vitality it once had, and became sticky and gluey. It still worked, but I didn't like the texture or flavour any more, so it's gone to the compost bin, food for worms.

I plan to create a new one from rainwater and local flour, as I did with the original. There's been a lot of rainwater, so I may make a few starters: rye, spelt and regular flour. The flours all come from the Redbournebury Mill nearby. I'd love to rent their bakery onsite, but The Pudding Stop uses it. I highly recommend their goods; truly delicious.

I decided to use up a few of the leftovers in the fridge, and what better way than in bread? We get a weekly organic vegetable box from Riverford, which always includes a small sack of potatoes. We don't eat that many, and I have to figure out creative ways to finish them off. This time, I had some leftover mash in the fridge, and it's been a long time since I made potato bread, so . . .

Potato Bread with Thyme

600g white bread flour
550g mashed potatoes
300g milk
50g butter
15g salt
10g yeast (All I had was dried yeast in the cupboard)
2 tbsp chopped fresh thyme

The potatoes are what I had left - use what you have, and adjust the flour. This may have been too high a ratio of potato to flour, really. A better one would be about 300g potato to 500g flour. This dough is about a 50% hydration; that is, a ratio of 2 to 1 solids to liquids, if I count the mashed potato as half liquid, half solids. That's a guess, but it feels about right. It may actually be more liquid than that. I will need to experiment more.

My other problem, which didn't materialise until later, was that the dried yeast had pretty much died. It's sell-by date was February 2012, but I think I bought it a couple or three years ago, so it had been opened a long time ago. I'd got out of the habit of proofing the yeast in warm water. My mistake.

Anyway, heat the butter and milk in the microwave or on the stove until the butter is soft and the milk warm. Let it cool enough to stick a finger in for five seconds without saying, "Ouch." Licking the milk and butter off your finger is not only allowed, but recommended ;-)

Rube the potatoes and flour together in a big bowl, add the milk, butter, yeast, chopped thyme and salt  and mix until it's come together enough to knead. Turn it out on the counter and knead it for about ten minutes. This is where I started to suspect that something was wrong. It cam together, but lacked some of the springiness that means the yeast is starting to create gluten strands from the flour. That almost happened, but then the texture started to break up a bit. I decided to stop kneading, and formed it into a ball, put it back in the bowl and covered that with some cling film and my apron. It wasn't a bad texture; it was only that it seemed to be going past the stage where the dough feels springy and alive. That's why I stopped. It should be very hard to over knead by hand, but don't bet against it.

I thought I should (finally) test the yeast. I have never had dried yeast go off before, and I've neglected it a lot in my life, but for about three years or so, I've been using fresh yeast or sourdough, and the dried yeast has gone unused. I warmed up a little milk and put a half teaspoon of yeast in it. Half an hour later, I had cold milk with mushy yeast grains. Not good.

Still, it's very hard to kill yeast, even if you're me. Rather than waste the materials and effort, I thought I'd just leave it a bit.

The next day, I peeked into the bowl. Lo and behold, the dough had risen! I left it until a full 24 hours had passed since I put it into the bowl, and decided to give it a try.

I turned it out onto a floured counter. It felt pretty good, but a bit delicate, so I decided to put it in loaf pans. Divided, formed loaves by folding it into envelope shapes and put it in the pans:

In case you're wondering, the pans are lined with non-stick baking liner. I've used it for years, because the pans rust a bit if they get wet, so I need to wash them as little as possible.

Covered again with cling film and the apron for three hours while they rose again, then into the oven at 180C for 55 minutes. The high butterfat content meant that they browned quite dark, but this morning I cut into it. There is a denser line at the bottom of the loaf, which isn't perfect, but it's a surprisingly light bread perfumed with thyme. Potato bread is a lot lighter than you might think, if you let it rise properly. There's not as much gluten in it, because of the potato, which means that the dough is delicate and easily overworked.

The second time I ever made potato bread, I rushed it, and it didn't rise long enough. It was a disaster, heavy and dense and pretty much inedible. Every other time, it's been really very tasty. I have to be careful when I toast this one, because the butter means that the crust has a tendency to burn, but it is delicious toasted.

By the way, I have no relationship to any of the companies mentioned in this blog. I just like their products.