I have been experimenting with different types of Potato Bread since attending Paul Merry’s Going Professional Course last year. Paul is a Master Baker and his baking school Panary is based at Cann Mill in Dorset. The mill is owned by Michael Stoate and their stoneground flour is superb. Using potato in bread has an interesting history as illustrated by Paul’s notes. “Potatoes would have first entered our daily bread as a response to a shortage of wheat flour. Flour supplies would become alarmingly low when there were major disruptions like war-time or a catastrophic series of crop failures that would lead to famine. In Europe and Britain crop failures and famine were relatively common in the 18th century, and were still occurring during the first half of the next century. Such dire times would be accompanied by social unrest and frightened governments. Bakers were encouraged to turn to other grains like barley and oats to bulk out the bread and as things got more desperate, other foodstuffs entered the bread that would never be associated with bread in normal times such as acorn flour, peas and potatoes.
Compared with most of these grim additives, the difference with potatoes was that both bakers and bread consumers found them attractive, and some would even say they improved the bread. The consumer would be likely to enjoy the flavour, appreciate the moistness and better keeping qualities brought to the bread by the inclusion of potato, and warm to the rich and flavoursome crust the potatoes inspire.
For the baker the benefits were complex and were more to do with their craft issues. Potato flesh was found to be an active stimulant to fermentation. The enzymes it brings are useful, and yeast is very content to feed on potato starch.
In the early decades of the last century, before chemical “improvers” had become really popular, potatoes had the glamour of being referred to as an improver and became a permitted additive during World War I.
Gradually the use of the potato in daily bread began to fall from popularity mainly due to the additional labour costs involved in preparing them”
I love using potatoes in bread for several reasons. It allows the dough to hold more water (more water in a dough = a softer crumb), it improves the keeping quality of the bread and it gives a lovely colour to the crumb and crust.
Grated raw potato, boiled and mashed potato and baked potato can all be used. Even leftover mash from a meal although attention will need to be paid to the seasoning. If the mash is salted then salt will need to be reduced in the dough. Also the liquid content of the dough may need to be adjusted.
Because I run a micro bakery preparing a large number of potatoes is a bit of a faff so I have been trying out the recipe using potato flour and instant mash. You would imagine that potato flour is cooked and dried potato which is then ground into flour but this is not the case. Potato flour is only potato starch. It still works quite well in the recipe but not well enough. Instant mash also works but I don’t like the fact that it is pre-seasononed. Eventually I stumbled across a company that sells pure, unadulterated Potato Flakes. The company is called Bacarel. Their normal minimum quantity is 12.5kg but Anthony Carter kindly agreed to sell me their sample bag of 3kg. The cost is £14.40 so 12p for a small 500g loaf.
Below is my recipe. The instructions are minimal and assume a basic knowledge of the steps of bread making.
Recipe for Soft White Potato Bread
275g Strong White Flour
25g Potato Flakes
15g Soft Butter
5g Fresh yeast or 2.5g instant yeast
200g Milk and Water (50/50)
Scald the milk and mix with the water. The liquid should be neither warm nor cold to the touch. Dissolve the yeast in the liquid and then add the rest of the ingredients. Mix until all the flour is wet. Cover and leave for 10-15 minutes. This is an optional step but makes the kneading easier. Knead until you have a soft and pillowy dough with a definate spring to it. Press with a floured finger and the imprint should push back. Cover and leave to prove until puffy. This can take anywhere from 45 minutes to 1.5 hours. You will know when it is ready when you push a floured finger into the middle of the dough and the hole remains. Turn out, gently degas and then form into a log. Place into a greased small bread tin and prove again. The next prove/rise will be quicker. This time the dough should feel fragile and a touch with a floured finger should push back very very feebly. Bake in a hot oven (200c Fan) for 35-40 minutes. You should be able to smell when the bread is cooked. Tap it on the bottom and it should sound hollow. Personally I find this an unreliable test so always probe with a thermometer. 93oC or above is what I am looking for.
Paul tried to show me many times how to test a loaf was baked properly by listening for vibrations (don’t ask!). Still cannot master it….sorry Paul.