Friday, August 6, 2010

Comfort Food - Potato (Rosemary and Buttermilk) Bread

In researching recipes and techniques used for making this bread, I came across two distinct approaches. It is worthwhile examining both since they each have advantages. The first approach, taken by Peter Reinhard in his fabulous The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread, uses a starter, called a biga. This is a combination of flour and water, with a very minimal amount of yeast, that is allowed to ferment at room temperature overnight. Given that the current 'room temperature' in Jerusalem is around 38 C (100 F) and has been for several days, that does not seem like much of an option. The idea is to make the biga today, let it ferment, and then complete the mixing and baking tomorrow. No doubt the slow rise and fermentation will add a dimension of 'sourdoughness' to the finished bread.

However, if you don't have the time, or inclination, to wait until tomorrow, and you absolutely must have the bread today, then the way to go is the method used by Beth Hensperger's equally excellent book, The Bread Bible: 300 Favorite Recipes. In this volume, she uses the more typical active dry yeast mixed with flour to make exceptional bread. Given that it is so hot lately, and also since I really couldn't wait until tomorrow, I opted for the shorter prep time. Whichever way you go, you won't be sorry.

Here's what you'll need:
1 large russet potato (about 3/4 pound or 350 g)
2 Tbs. (30 g) active dry yeast
2 Tbs (30 g) sugar
1 cup (about 250 cc) cold buttermilk
2 Tbs (30 g) unsalted butter or margarine
1 Tbs (15 g) salt 
6 to 7 cups AP flour
1 1/2 tsp. dried rosemary, crushed
flour for dusting
egg glaze and sesame or poppy seeds for decoration

Here's what you'll need to do:
1. Peel the potato and cut into pieces. Cover with water and boil until soft. Drain, reserving the boiling liquid (1 cup - if there isn't enough then add to make up the difference). Mash the potato until smooth. Don't leave lumps or you'll have lumps in your bread!

2.Warm the potato water in a bowl, then add the yeast and a pinch of sugar and stir to dissolve. Let this mixture stand for about 10 minutes until nice and bubbly.

3. Now warm the buttermilk in a pan with the butter until it melts. Then add the remaining sugar, the salt, and the mashed potato. Make sure this mixture is smooth.

4. Combine the yeast mixture with the potato mixture, adding flour about 1/2 cup at a time until a soft, smooth dough is formed.
5. Knead the dough about 5 minutes until the dough is 'springy' and soft. Make sure the dough does not get too dry when you add flour. This will make for dense, heavy bread - not what you want at all. I found that I needed to add all the flour as the potato made the dough too sticky. It felt almost like a gluten-free batter bread at first. I added more flour and, despite my misgivings, the final bread was soft and fluffy.

6. Place the kneaded dough into a greased bowl, turning to coat, then cover with plastic wrap and let stand until doubled, about 1 hour. Don't get worried if it takes longer (even 2 hours). Let the dough be your guide.

7. When the dough has risen, remove it from the bowl, punch it down to remove the gas, them divide into two equal-sized pieces. Divide the crushed rosemary  and, kneading, work it into the two pieces of dough. Shape each piece into a loaf, placing it seam-side down in a prepared loaf pan. Let it rise an additional 30 minutes. Cover loosely with plastic while it rises. Finally, dust with the flour or coat with an egg glaze and seeds of some sort.

8 About 20 minutes before baking, pre-heat the oven to 375 F (175 C). Place the loaves on a center rack and bake for 45 minutes until golden brown. The loaves will have a thick crust and will sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Cool on a rack.

9 Oh, BTW, enjoy! Yum!!


  1. The loaves look lovely, but I don't actually see any rosemary anywhere....

  2. You are right, of course! Thanks for pointing this out (what a mistake!). This loaf can be made with variations using rosemary, or dried thyme, or marjoram, even flakes of garlic or onion. In my enthusiasm I accidentally left it out. The recipe has been updated and now includes the forgotten rosemary. BTW, for all the other herbs, the instructions are the same. Have a great day.