Friday, January 13, 2012

Rustic Potato Bread

I’ve got the oven on in the kitchen because the heater is not working downstairs and it is cold, cold, cold.  Who knew Africa could get so cold?  I feel guilty having the oven on just for heat, so I am baking bread.  Rustic potato bread because I forgot to pack a bread pan and this Julia Child recipe from her Baking with Julia doesn’t need one.  If you need an excuse to warm your kitchen, join me.  Also, there is nothing more divine than the aroma of bread baking.  

3/4 lb or 340g russet potatoes (I don’t have russets so local potatoes will have to do.)
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup or 60ml tepid reserved potato water (80 – 90°F or 26.7 – 32.2°C)
1/2 tablespoon dry yeast
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 1/4 – 2 1/2 cups or 280g – 310g flour

Peel your potatoes and cut them into cubes.   (Julia says just to scrub them but, really, peels in bread?  I don’t think so.)

In a small pot, cover the potatoes with water and add 1 teaspoon of the salt.  Cook until they are fork-tender.  Reserve 1/4 cup or 60ml of the potato water and then drain the potatoes in a colander.  Put them in a single layer if you can, to make sure they can dry completely.  Cool for 20-30 minutes.

When the potatoes are cool, stir the yeast into the potato water, warming it again if necessary.  It needs to be warm enough to activate the yeast.  Leave for about five minutes. 

It should get all foamy like this.

Meanwhile, put your cool, dry potato cubes in a mixer and beat until they are nicely mashed. 

Add in the olive oil, the yeast/water mixture and the last teaspoon of salt. 

Mix until the liquids are incorporated into the mashed potato.

Change your mixer attachment to the dough hook and start adding in the flour.  This mixture is going to be very dry at the beginning.  I had to come back and check Julia’s recipe several times because I was sure I had missed some liquid but the 1/4 cup of potato water is it!  Just trust and keep mixing.  As she says, the dough will transform.  And it does.  Ideally you will mix for 11 minutes.  I ended up stopped at about 9 1/2 minutes because the dough got so sticky that it just went round and round on my dough hook and it didn’t look like any kneading was happening like that.

For the first rise, put a bit of cling film on the top of the mixing bowl and allow the dough to rest for 20-30 minutes at room temperature.  Making bread in Cairo brings me back to my Paris winter days of bread making.  Room temperature was too cold for the dough to rise, so I used to run hot water in the stoppered sink and add a kettle of boiling water.  I would carefully float my dough in a bowl or the baking pan in the hot water.  It was the only way to get the dough to rise.  It works just great if you are in a cold climate.  Here I filled a pot with hot water and floated the bowl in it. 

Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 375°F or 190°C and flour a tea towel, as a resting place for the final rise.  If you have a baking stone, put it in at this point as well.  If not, about halfway through your preheating, put the baking tray in the oven so it can get nice and hot.

Once your first rise is done, roll the dough into a ball and then press out into a round disk.   Starting at the end farthest from you, roll the dough into a tube.  When you get to the last turn, put a little flour on the final edge and fold the corners in.  Roll it over and place it on the well-floured tea towel, seam down.  With marble all over this cold kitchen, I placed mine in a baking pan and put it on the warm stove.

Let rise for 20 minutes.

Julia’s recipe calls for spraying the insides of your oven with water to create steam when you put the loaf in to bake.  I prefer to put a pan in the bottom of the oven about halfway through the preheating process.  This pan gets really hot and a half cup of water added just as you put in the loaf creates enough steam for a great crust.  

When the second rising is done, pull your oven shelf out enough to allow you to roll the dough from the tea towel to your heated pan.  Julia wanted me to put it seam side up but that just didn’t work out. 

Making steam!

Bake for about 45-50 minutes or until the crust is nice and brown and the loaf sounds hollow when thumped.  If you are so inclined, you can check the internal temperature which Julia says should be 200°F or 93°C.

This recipe is easily doubled to make two loaves, since that is actually what Julia made.



  1. What kind of flour do you use, bread or regular? This sounds good, I'll have to try it.

  2. Regular all purpose flour. The bread was lovely! As I told my husband, I will definitely make this again. If fact, I was regretting halving the recipe. It's just the two of us so I thought one loaf would be enough but it would have been nice to have one to freeze for later.

  3. You are welcome! Thanks for reading!


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