Monday, November 26, 2007

Daring Bakers: Unleashing My Daring Baker and Bread Shaping Skills with Tender Potato Bread

You probably woke up this morning thinking how good a slice of homemade bread toasted spread with some homemade jam would be with that cup of coffee for breakfast or a good leftover Thanksgiving turkey sandwich on soft chewy bread for lunch would be didn't you? Can't you just smell that bread baking? Can't you just taste it as you bite down on puffy, pillowy bread? Don't just want some right now? You want to know why you woke up craving bread?

Well because over 300 Daring Bakers made you want some bread that is why!!

Yup, we're back at it again this month and we've tossed the sugar, frosting, and pastry cream right out the window to bring you the definitely not Atkins friendly, Tender Potato Bread from "Home Baking: The Artful Mix of Flour & Tradition Around the World" by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid, courtesy of this month's challenge hostess, the always cooking up a storm with a smile and one of my favourite food bloggers, Tanna of My Kitchen in Half Cups!

Now, I have to admit that when Tanna announced she had picked potato bread for this months challenge I was pretty excited because well, you see, I make potato bread at least once very two weeks. It is in my "don't get bored with bread" rotation and with the craziness of the holidays approaching I was relieved it was something I could do in my sleep versus the normal scald myself with molten sugar creation we have become famous for in the Blogsphere.

Then, I read Tanna's instructions that were part of her post on our secret blog titled, "Unleashing the Daring Baker in You":
"Being a Daring Baker is about trying new recipes, techniques and taking risks. It’s reaching just beyond my comfort zone. This is a Daring Baker Challenge, not a contest and not a competition because at its heart and soul is support and sharing the how to of the baking we do."

After reading what I think should be the Daring Baker creed, I couldn't just approach this challenge as a walk in the park but had to listen to my inner bread baking demon. Tanna had given everyone the option of shaping and flavouring the bread anyway we wanted and the unleashed Daring Baker in me took this opportunity to play with shapes that have always been on my list to try: British Cottage Loaf and a decorative loaf shape, the classic Wheat Sheath.

Before I get into the shape making, let me tell you about this wonderful dough. The Tender Potato Bread dough is a moist dough that at first will make a novice bread baker think you need to add more flour but resist the urge. Bread doughs that have mashed potatoes as part the ingredient will absorb the flour as it rests and this results in a really moist but silky dough. This recipe was lovely in that way. After about 30 minutes, I sunk my fingers into the dough and it was sticky but I could feel that when it finished with its rest it would be a heavy and thick but smooth dough. It didn't disappoint me.

The traditional British Cottage Loaf is a solid and dense bread formed by placing a smaller ball of dough on top of a larger ball of dough and then making vertical slashes on the loaves in a manner so the loaf rises and bakes in a almost "corkscrew" appearance. The Tender Potato Bread (TPB) dough lends itself to this shape because good potato breads are dense with tight texture. After the TPB dough rested for the first rise, I divided it into two dough balls, one large and one that was approximately 1/3 the size of the larger dough ball.

Then I pushed my finger through the center of the dough balls until I touched the counter. This merges the two dough balls together at the center and helps with the "corkscrew" shape that will result. Then I made the slashes.

(excuse the blueness of those two pictures, I think my digital camera is starting to have issues) Next I let the bread rise while I preheated the oven. I brushed the loaf with an egg wash and baked it until it was golden brown and the inside temperature was 190 degrees. The loaf came out perfectly shaped.

And when I sliced it after letting it cool completely, it had the texture that a good dense potato bread and a British Cottage Loaf should have and was the perfect compliment to a bowl of vegetable soup I had before I left for Michigan and Thanksgiving. I gave the remainder of the loaf to my trainer, C and her roommate K. I got an email from C the night before I left telling me that it was more than OK to make them more!

Next up was the Wheat Sheath. A Wheat Sheath is a decorative bread form in the shape of stalks of wheat normally gathered with a rope. It is intended to be used as centerpiece and not eaten. It is a difficult bread to form as there are lots of little pieces and the dough can dry out as you work with it, leading to flat and cracked looking bread instead of a wheat sheath.

You need to work from a pattern and I used a combination of the corn stalk pattern in Paul Hollywood's 100 Great Breads and a few other sources. Taking about 1/4 of the remaining dough, I rolled it out to about 1/4" thick and cut out the base in the form of a keyhole.

Then you take half the dough and make about three long strands about 20 inches long and twenty or twenty five little strands about 8" long. Set aside the little stands and cover them loosely so they don't dry out and braid the three 20 inch strands. Place the braid under the bottom part of the keyhole and leave the ends out and apart on either side.

Place the little strands in two layers in a random fashion. These form the "stalks" of the wheat. Fold the braid over the top so it forms a criss-cross.

Next, take the remaining dough and form the little ears of the wheat by making a long log and cut off little chunks in random shapes and sizes, rolling them into mini-torpedo and then making a little cut in the center with a razor blade. Attach these little ears to the top round of the keyhole shape by brushing the base with an egg wash. Start at the outside and circle around into the center alternating the direction the little ears of wheat lay on top of the outer layer. Let the bread rise for 30 minutes to an hour until the wheat ears puff up.

Brush the loaf with egg wash and bake for 1 hour at 375 degrees then turn down the oven and let it bake for an additional hour at 200 degrees. This completely hardens the loaf. The bread should be a golden brown. If it starts to get too brown, cover it with a layer of foil so it won't over brown. Remove from the oven and let cool completely, overnight if possible. It is OK to leave this bread uncovered because you want all the moisture to leave the bread so it will hold up for several days or even weeks. If you want to keep the loaf permanently you can brush the loaf with a clear varnish. The bread will stay good looking for several years as long as it is stored correctly.

I took the wheat sheath home to be the center piece on the Thanksgiving table. It survived the trip very well tucked in my suitcase in a shirt box and packed between my clothes. When I put it on the table, everyone oohed and awed over it and I have to admit, it did look fabulous.

Thanks Tanna for helping me stretch my bread shaping skills. I'll definitely be making the British Cottage loaf again soon to eat and I am ready to try another decorative loaf too! And thanks also goes to my Daring Baker Sisters in Arms who baked with me on IM! We had quite a party a few Satudays ago and you know who you are! Hugs gals, you made the time go by so fast and I learned something neat from each of you!!

If you want to try this wonderful bread, the recipe for the Tender Potato Bread can be found at Tanna's post here and to see what all 300+ of my other Daring Baker brothers and sisters around the world did with their Tender Potato Bread dough go check them out on our blogroll.