Sunday, August 10, 2008

Potato Bread

Ingredients:
  •  2 small potatos, peeled and cubed
  •  1 1/2 cups water
  •  6 - 6 1/2 Cups flour (I have never got this much into 2 loaves, but you need this much for kneading).
  •  2 pkgs active dry yeast 
  •  2 Tbs. shortening
  •  1 Tbs. salt
  •  3 Tbs. sugar

Prep:
Boil potato cubes in the water (unsalted) for 10-12 minutes. Don't drain the potato water, instead skim out 1/2 cup of it and set aside to cool. Mash the potatos and water together, then add warm tap water to make 2 cups. When the 1/2 cup of set-aside potato water is between 110 to 115 degrees, mix it with the yeast to soften the yeast and start it growing. Once the yeast is dissolved, add the potato mixture (also cooled to between 110 and 115 degrees), 2 cups of the flour, and the sugar, salt, and shortening. Beat at low speed of mixer for 1/2 minute, then high speed for 3 minutes. The thin dough should be smooth with no lumps of flour or yeast.

If you have a mixer with dough hooks, get them out and mix in as much of the remaining flour as you can with the hooks at high speed. If you don't have dough hooks, mix as much of the flour in as you can with a spoon. At this point, the dough should be getting stiffer, but still very sticky. Turn it out onto a floured surface and knead in enough of the remaining flour as you can to make a moderately stiff dough that is smooth and elastic, but still a bit tacky if you rest your hand on it too long.

Shape into a ball and place in a greased bowl, turning it once to grease both sides. Cover and let rise till it's double in size (45 min to 1 hr). I usually place a wet tea towel of a light material on the top to add moisture and darkness and turn the oven on to "warm", sitting the dough on the stove or right next to it. Mom used a crockery bowl and a wet tea towel, then put the bowl on the top of the refridgerator, since heat rises toward the ceiling. The optimum temperature for yeast to rise is about 80 degrees, so don't get the dough too hot or cold. This first rise is called "proofing" the dough. Basically, you are "proving" that the yeast is working before you go on to the next step.

After rising, punch the dough down (literally punch the dough once, with enough strength to "shock" the bigger air bubbles and break them). Divide the dough in half (use a kitchen knife if you like) and then cover the dough with the tea towel and let it rest 10 minutes.
Shape each bit of dough into a loaf and put each in a greased 8x4x2 loaf pan. Cover with the tea towel and let rise again, till nearly double (about 30 - 35 minutes). Bake in a 375 degree oven on the middle shelf for 40 to 45 minutes. Check the bread at 30 minutes; if the top is browning too much, cover the loaves with foil to slow the browning for the last 15 minutes. Test for doneness by "thumping" the crust with your fingernail. If you get a hollow sound, it's done.

Bread is always a challenge. Differences in the type or freshness of the yeast, the ambient temperature, and the humidity can speed up or slow down the rising process. You may be tempted to let the dough rise more than double, or far above the rim of the loaf pan (an inch or two is ok), but don't do it. If you let bread dough rise too much, it will form big bubbles and then you have hollow spots (or "voids") in the finished bread.

Once the bread is done, turn it out of the pans and put on a wire rack to cool. If you try to cut the bread while it is too warm, it will mash the bread. Make sure the loaves are cool enough to handle comfortably before cutting. Use a bread knife (long knife with a rounded tip and lots of small serrations) or something similar, and don't put pressure on the bread with the knife. Use the sawing motion of the knife to do the work, as if you were sawing a piece of wood. Put your hand lightly on the top of the bread and cut through the crust, then curve your fingers over the cut to hold the top of the new slice close to the loaf instead of letting it fall over as you cut down through the loaf.

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