Potato pan bread
For me, baking is about the pursuit of an approachable loaf. In the food industry, conversations may revolve around which sourdough has the highest hydration, yet 99.5 per cent of the population are consuming a heavily processed product, the origins of which they know nothing about.
The focal point of bread is the grain. I have just done a stint of daily baking where we have been milling our own grains. The variety available is so staggering it can induce selection paralysis. But just by undertaking this process I have already succeeded in what I was trying to achieve: understanding where it all comes from. This year was the third year of grAiNZ, a yearly festival in Victoria dedicated to exactly this. Aside from the bread “nerdery” and education, the overwhelming sentiment is about making the practice more approachable, which will result in a more sustainable industry with greater diversity of grains.
This bread is easy. The potato both lightens the dough and gives it additional flavour beyond the taste of the flour that is used. Plus flatbreads or pan breads are a great way to get the feel for breadmaking. The biggest lesson with bread is that nothing is absolute. The variables both with ingredients and the atmosphere/temperature are endless. So adapt and overcome; observe and adjust as needed.
Without doubt, once you do start down this path human nature drives us to know what, why and how it can be better. Even failed experiments can be somehow satisfying, in that they help us to learn and improve. So start with dried yeast and try making spontaneous ferments. Go back to yeast if you need that control. Add flavourings. Or be purist.
Baking bread is really, really easy. But doing it well is really, really difficult. So if all else fails, do what I do and visit the professionals.
Potato pan bread
– 100g peeled, floury-style potato
– 1 small shallot
– 350g flour
– grapeseed oil
If using yeast:
– 10g powdered yeast
– 60g sour cream
If making sourdough:
– 50g starter culture
– 100g flour
– 100ml water
– 1 white onion, finely sliced
– 200g sour cream
Cut up the peeled potato and the shallot and combine it in a blender to liquidise. Transfer this mix into a fine strainer to let the liquid drain from the potato. Once most of the moisture has drained away, give the pulp a final gentle press to expel the rest. Retain both the potato pulp and the liquid. Add water to the potato liquid to bring the combined measure to 260 millilitres.
If using yeast: Place the potato liquid in a mixing bowl. Add the yeast and give it a stir, then let it settle. Mix in the flour, sour cream, potato pulp and salt to combine before transferring it into a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment. Mix on a low speed for about 12 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl to let it batch ferment and prove, covered for three hours at between 12ºC and 25ºC.
If making sourdough: Combine the starter culture together with 100 grams of flour and 100 millilitres of water to create a leaven. Leave this at about 20ºC for at least four hours to start fermentation. Combine the remaining 350 grams of flour, potato pulp, potato liquid and salt with the leaven and transfer to a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment. Mix for 12 minutes before transferring the dough to a large bowl and covering to allow it to batch ferment. For a sourdough I prefer to place the dough into a 12ºC fridge for 12 hours. Fold or turn the mixture in the bowl every hour or so.
After batch fermenting, turn the mixture onto a dry benchtop to portion. Grab a fist of the mix with an oiled-up hand and squeeze a ball of mixture out of the top. Pinch the ball off from the rest of the mixture and place on a kitchen scale. You are aiming for an 80-gram ball. Place the ball of dough onto a well-oiled tray and repeat until the mixture has been equally divided.
Leave the balls of dough to rest for 20 minutes before frying them in a well-oiled pan until golden brown on both sides. Once the pan breads have been formed and cooked, place them on a tray. Brush them with more oil and a sprinkling of salt and bake them at 195ºC for four minutes.
Let the bread cool slightly before serving it with the white onion and the sour cream.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Dec 7, 2019 as "The fabulous baker joys". Subscribe here.