I’m always surprised at how difficult it is to easily buy really good bread in Chicago. Of course you can find it, but I just don’t have the time to go all over the city searching out exactly what I want. The real truth, though, is that there is something so satisfying about baking your own bread. While I could relatively easily give up eating meat, giving up bread would be MUCH harder for me.
This particular bread is Hungarian in in its roots and comes from the Beard on Bread book, a wonderful bread primer and one I go back to often. It was a favorite bread of my father’s and while there is no rye flour used in the recipe, it reminds me of the wonderful caraway rye bread that I grew up with. It’s a gutsy bread that really compliments soups and stews and it also makes great sandwiches.
George Lang’s Potato Bread with Caraway Seeds adapted from Beard on Bread
Yield: One 12 inch rounded bread
3 medium potatoes (Yukon Gold is great)
1 package or 2.25 teaspoons active dry yeast
2.5 cups warm water (until it is quite warm to your finger tips but does not burn)
About 7-8 cups bread or unbleached all-purpose flour
1.5 Tablespoons Kosher salt
1/2 Tablespoon caraway seeds
Canola or Grapeseed oil
- Scrub the potatoes and boil them whole in their skins until tender. I boiled them for 15 minutes and then let them sit in the hot water, with the heat turned off for 10 minutes. I rinsed them in cold water and removed them to a bowl to cool. When they are cool, peel them and mash them. (Do NOT puree the potatoes.) You want a generous cup.
- Dissolve the yeast and 3 Tablespoons of the flour in 1/2 cup of the warm water in a large bowl and let it proof for 30 minutes. This is your “starter.”
- Add the remaining 2 cups of warm water, the salt and the caraway seeds. Add the potatoes and add the flour one cup at a time, mixing well until you have a dough that is still a bit sticky but can be handled. The amount of flour that you use will depend on a variety of factors: how much moisture was in the potatoes, whether you use bread flour or all-purpose, the strength in your wrists and the humidity in the room. Even the brand of flour can make a difference. I have carpal tunnel syndrome so I am only able to mix through about 5 cups of flour. I add the remainder of the flour during the kneading process. As I have said before, once you learn what bread dough should feel like, you can make any bread. Don’t worry if there are a few lumps of potato – it just adds to the “peasant” nature of the bread.
- Allow the dough to rest for 15 minutes, covered before you knead it. This helps the dough properly absorb the flour and you end up having to add less flour which can make the dough leaden. You want gutsy, but you want it to have life.
- Turn it out onto a floured board or counter and knead the dough for 12-15 minutes or until it is supple and elastic and no longer adhering to your hands. (Add small amounts of flour as you knead to keep the bread from sticking to the surface and your hands.)
- Shape into a ball. Oil a bowl with a neutral oil like Canola or Grapeseed and roll the dough around until it is coated with the oil. This should be a light coating so about a healthy Tablespoon should do it. You want to “coat” the dough – not drown it.
- Place the dough in a warm, draft-free spot for one to two hours to rise until doubled in bulk. Since I like to keep my apartment cool, I warm my oven to 170 degrees F. while I am kneading and as soon as it comes to temperature, I turn it off. I then place my bowl in the oven for the dough to rise.
- When the dough has doubled (watch it since it can take more or less time than the 2 hours), remove the dough from the bowl. Punch it down and knead it for 4-5 minutes more. Shape the dough into a large round loaf and place it in a generously buttered or Criscoed 12-inch oven-proof skillet with slightly rounded sides. My Lodge cast-iron skillet is perfect.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
- Allow the bread to rise for 30-35 minutes. Brush the loaf with tap water and then with a sharp knife or razor blade, make a deep incision in the form of an “X” in the center.
- Bake the bread in the oven for about an hour or until it is nicely browned and sounds hollow when rapped with your knuckles or a wooden spoon. The baking time can sometimes take as long as 1/25 hours so be patient.
- Remove the bread to a cooling rack. Allow to cool completely before cutting it. You can freeze this bread if it is well-wrapped.