How could you say no to a bread loaf that someone has described as “basically a huge, yeasted, baked gnocchi”?
The recipe for this Tuesdays with Dorie (TWD) challenge calls for about equal amounts of mashed potatoes and flour, mixed with a small amount of the potato’s cooking water, yeast, olive oil. And after two quick rises, the bread is ready for the oven. Easy, right?
Except. I was baking in the Mr Gander Family beach hut, with a bare, holiday-house-kinda kitchen. It had a great view and gorgeous surroundings (see photos at the end of this post), but none of the baking accessories that forms my comfort zone: kitchen mixer, measuring cups, measuring spoons, kitchen scales, baking stone, and our slightly quirky but familiar oven. Instead, I made the rustic potato loaf with a large salad bowl, an old wooden spoon and by eyeballing the ingredients. It went something like this:
Me: does this look like 1/4 cup to you??
Mr Gander: …
In addition, we came back from the shops with waxy potatoes, not floury potatoes. Waxy potatoes, like kipfler potatoes, are great for salads. They have low starch content, maybe more moisture, and keep their shape when cooked. Floury potatoes, like Russet potatoes, are great for mashing because of their higher starch content and melty-fluffy-ness when mashed. Floury = great for potato bread. Waxy = maybe not so good for potato bread. (See here for more a detailed explanation.)
Probably because of the eyeballing, and the use of undesirable waxy potatoes, the potato loaf dough never quite came together into a satiny elastic ball as I expected. Instead, it looked like ciabatta dough’s cousin thrice removed: wet and shaggy, sticky, consequently a bit difficult to knead and shape; but also rises beautifully, with some irregularities in the moist, open crumb.
On a whim, I added rosemary from the garden, some whole fennel seeds, and a tiny bit of cracked pepper.
There was so much that could have gone wrong with this baking venture. I was unconsciously holding my breath until the bread came out of the oven. And – the bread loaves actually rose and browned in the oven! And most of them were eaten for dinner (before I took a photo). And the left over bread were made into toast the next morning (when I was ready to hover with the camera).
I made two batches of potato loaves, each with slightly different baking times and temperatures. One turned out more like the ‘classic’ rustic potato loaf. The other turned into a kind of hybrid gnocchi-bread. Surprisingly, the gnocchi-bread was the preferred bread for a few of the Gander clan. Hmm…gotta love the in-laws !?
‘Classic rustic potato loaf’: For the first batch, I turned the oven’s thermostat turned down to about 150C (300F), instead of the 190C (375F) specified in the recipe. This is because the oven in the beach hut has a tendency to “take off”, temperature-wise. The crust turned a golden brown after 40 minutes, and so I removed it from the oven.
The bread was, like the recipe promised, very tasty – and very moist, which was great for mopping up sauces. It also made good toast the next morning, with a lightly toasted edges contrasting with the soft, toothsome interior.
‘Hybrid gnocchi-bread’: This loaf baked for just over 30 minutes, with the thermostat on a higher temperature – apparently 170C (about 340F). Just for the record, I think the temperature in the oven was much higher than 170C / 340F.
The loaf browned much faster and formed a lovely looking crust. But underneath the crust, it was as though the bread decided it wasn’t going to get up and out of bed today (or maybe it was trying to become matzoh…). This left a gnocchi-like texture, with enough yeast-leavened lightness so that it wasn’t tough and chewy (like over-worked gnocchi can be), and instead was just-sufficiently-toothsome, creamy, tasty – especially with a puddle of melted butter on top.
Next time, I would like to make this properly, back within my baking comfort zone and with a few variations in flavouring. But Mr Gander has been making puppy eyes about the gnocchi-bread, so that may be something I will try to replicate back at home.
Verdict: I made bread in the beach hut!! This says a lot about how versatile and forgiving the recipe is. And it was very tasty, particularly for a dough that doesn’t have a long, slow rise to develop flavour. This is probably because of the potato in the dough – apparently before commercial baking yeast became widely available, people used starch-rich potato water to leaven bread.
So, if you are craving freshly baked bread in a holiday house, make this potato bread.
Now for that gnocchi-bread.
Recipes and other TWD-ers:
Curious about the classic rustic potato loaf recipe? Go to Dawn of Simply Sweet (who made such a gorgeous loaf with ‘baked potato’ filling, I’m jealous…yet inspired at the same time). To see what other TWD have done with this recipe, go to the TWD links page.
Kitchen with a view: being out of my comfort zone wasn’t so bad when I get this instead: