What a pleasure this rustic bread is, both to bake and to eat! With comparatively-short rising times and simple always-on-hand ingredients, this bread could easily be whipped up to go along with a big pot of soup for supper, or to make some incredible sandwiches for a light dinner.
The recipe begins with boiling russet potatoes that have been quartered. Good ol' versatile russets! The boiled gems are cooled for at least 20 minutes, which allows them to dry a bit.
In the meantime 1/2 cup of reserved potato water, cooled to warm-to-the-touch, is used to proof one tablespoon of active dry yeast. The potatoes are then tossed into a stand mixer and smashed with the paddle attachment.
The creamy yeast mixture, olive oil, and salt are mixed into the dough, then the paddle is replaced with the hook attachment. At first the dough looks dry and crumbly.
After several minutes of beating on medium, the dough comes together.
Finally, after the full 11 minutes of mixing, the dough is sticky and smooth, with little flecks of brown from the potato peel. Rustic and beautiful!
On a floured surface, the potato dough is cut into two equal pieces, then flattened into disks.
Here is where I used a little creativity and added some "loaded baked potato" toppings to one of my loaves----crispy crumbled bacon, shredded cheddar, and sliced green onions! Ohhh yeah.
The disks of dough are rolled up into torpedo shapes and set, seam-side down, on a flour-dusted tea towel for a second rise of 20 minutes.
The football-shaped loaves are transferred to a cornmeal-dusted baking sheet, seam-side up, ready for the oven.
After baking in a steamy oven (I used ice cubes chucked in the bottom of my hot oven to create the desired steaminess), the loaves are perfectly golden and crusty on the outside while chewy and delicious on the inside.
It was nearly impossible to wait the recommended 20 minutes to let these loaves cool before slicing and eating. In fact, I gave in after about five minutes and lopped off the end of the cheddar and bacon-swirled loaf, slathered it with butter, and groaned with the enjoyment of it. SO GOOD!
My family enjoyed the stuffed loaf with a big pot of Zuppa Tuscana for supper the other night. Perfection! We look forward to inhaling, I mean eating, the unstuffed loaves very soon. I'm envisioning a panini-style sandwich, hot and gooey with cheese and roast beef.
Many thanks to contributing baker Leslie Mackie for this recipe! You may find it on pages 138 and 139 in Baking With Julia, or read the recipe below. This is a winner of a recipe, all around! Give it a try!
Rustic Potato Loaves
~contributing baker Leslie Mackie~
Makes 2 loaves. A yeast-raised bread with a dough that's half flour, half mashed potatoes, and entirely satisfying. The crust is deep and dark, the moist crumb is tender and open here, tightly grained there, and the flavor is haunting and not easily placed, almost a little nutty. It is an odd and interesting dough to work with, a reverse dough--it comes together quickly and then softens and falls apart, defying what's expected of bread dough. The bread, two free-form rustic-looking loaves, each with a jagged, flour-encrusted crease running down its center, are easy to make and quick to rise---they proof for just twenty minutes before shaping and twenty minutes after, making them good candidates for baking on a whim.
1 1/2 pounds russet potatoes (about 3)
4 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup tepid reserved potato water (80 to 90 degrees F)
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
Cooking the Potatoes. Scrub the potatoes and cut them into quarters, peel and all. Toss them into a 2 quart pot, cover with water, add 2 teaspoons of the salt, and boil until the potatoes are soft enough to be pierced easily with the point of a knife. Dip a measuring cup into the pot and draw off 1/2 cup of the potato water; reserve. Drain the potatoes in a colander and then spread them out, either in the colander, or on a cooling rack over a jelly-roll pan, and let them cool and air-dry for 20 to 30 minutes. It's important that the potatoes be dry before they're mashed.
Mixing the dough. When the potatoes are cool, stir the yeast into the reserved potato water (if the water is no longerwarm, heat it for a few seconds in a microwave oven--it should feel warm to the touch) and allow it to rest for 5 minutes; it will turn creamy.
Meanwhile, turn the cooked potatoes into the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mash them. With the mixer on low speed, add the dissolved yeast and the olive oil and mix until the liquids are incorporated into the potatoes.
Replace the paddle with the dough hook and, still mixing on low speed, add the flour and the remaining 2 teaspoons of salt. Mix on low speed for 2 to 3 minutes, then increase the speed to medium and mix for 11 minutes more. The dough will be firm at first and soft at the finish. At the start, it will look dry, so dry you'll think you're making a pie crust. But as the dough is worked, it will be transformed. It may even look like a brioche, cleaning the sides of the bowl but pooling at the bottom. Have faith and keep beating.
First rise. Cover the mixing bowl with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise at room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes, at which point the dough will have risen noticeably, although it may not have doubled.
While the bread is proofing, position a rack in the bottom of the oven and fit it with a baking stone or quarry tiles, leaving a border of at least 1 inch all around. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Place a linen towel on a baking sheet, rub the towel with flour, and set aside; this will be the resting place for the bread's final rise. Rub a baker's peel or baking sheet with cornmeal or flour. Fill a spray bottle with water; set aside.
Shaping the dough. Turn the bread out into a lightly floured surface and, using a dough scraper, cut the dough in half. To shape each half into a torpedo shape, first shape it into a ball and then flatten it into a disk. Starting at the end farthest from you, roll up the dough toward you. When you're on your last roll, stop and pull the free end of the dough toward you, stretching it gently, and dust its edge with flour. Finish the roll and, if necessary, rock the loaf back and forth a little to taper the ends and form a torpedo, or football.
Second rise. Place the loaves on the floured towel, seam side down, and cover them with the ends of a towel (or another towel). Let the breads rise at room temperature for 20 minutes.
Baking the bread. When you're ready to bake, spray the oven walls with water and immediately close the oven door to trap the steam. Turn the breads out, seam side up, onto the peel or baking sheet and transfer them to the oven. Spray the oven with water again and bake the loaves for 45 to 50 minutes, or until the crust is very brown, the loaves sound hollow when thumped on the bottom, and, the most important test, the interior temperature measures 200 degrees F when an instant-read thermometer is plunged into the center of the loaves. Remove the loaves from the oven and cool on a rack at least 20 minutes before slicing. While you should wait for the bread to firm up in the cooling process, slather this bread with butter while it's still warm is a great treat.
Storing. The breads should be stored at room temperature. Once sliced, the bread should be turned cut side down on a cutting board; it will keep at room temperature for about 2 days. For longer storage, wrap the breads airtight and freeze for up to a month. Thaw, still wrapped, at room temperature.