January 6, 2013 by epaduani
This isn’t just some random person’s recipe for potato bread with caraway seeds. This is George Lang’s recipe! Who is George Lang, you ask? Good question. About all I can find out about him, through both Beard on Bread and the internet, is that he authored a book called The Cuisine of Hungary. This recipe, which comes from that book, is, according to Jim, a “fine example of gutsy Middle European peasant bread.”
One of the problems that I saw even before starting this project was that with the goal of making every recipe in a cookbook I may have to make something that I might not normally want to make or, worse, something that I don’t like. Though I have nothing against potatoes or caraway seeds, this was one of the breads that caused me to say “Hmmm?” in regards to when I would go about making it. I have never sat down and buttered myself a nice slice of potato bread with caraway seeds, nor have I made sandwiches using that type of bread. But reading the description again, and this time focusing more on the fact that it was from Hungary and also “delicious with heavily sauced dishes”, I asked my wife if she wanted to have stuffed cabbage for dinner this weekend. That’s certainly “Middle European” in origin and the tomato sauce that we make with it would certainly fall into the category of “heavily sauced”. Having agreed on the ideal dish to serve with this bread, I set about making it on Sunday morning.
George Lang’s Potato Bread with Caraway Seeds [1 large free-form loaf]
3 medium potatoes, or enough for 1 cup mashed potatoes
1 package active dry yeast
2 1/2 cups warm water (100° to 115°, approximately)
2 pounds unbleached all-purpose flour (approximately 8 cups)
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
1/2 tablespoon caraway seeds
I thought it was a little amusing that the first step in making Cornmeal Bread was to make polenta. That set a trend, though, as the first step today was to make mashed potatoes. I peeled the potatoes, cut them into cubes, put them in a pot and covered them with cold water. I brought them to a boil and then let them simmer for about 15 minutes before draining them. I make my mashed potatoes with a potato ricer, but you can do yours with a regular potato masher if you wish. Just mash them. After I put mine through the ricer I set them aside to cool.
After I finished my mashed potatoes, I dissolved the yeast in 1/2 cup of the warm water, mixing well with 3 tablespoons of the flour in a large bowl. Jim called this a “starter” and said that I should let it rise for 30 minutes. Truth be told, it didn’t really seem to rise much at all, though I did get the tell-tale bubbles that told me that my yeast was alive and well.
To my “starter” I added the remaining 2 cups of warm water, the salt, and the caraway seeds. I mixed in the mashed potatoes and then I added the 8 cups of flour, though for the last cup I left a little out to account for the 3 tablespoons I used earlier to make the starter. I started to mix this with a wooden spoon, but as the ingredients came almost all the way up to the top of the bowl it started to make a mess of the counter. I thought I had a large mixing bowl, but now I’m thinking that I’m going to need to invest in a “Big Ass”, commercial mixing bowl. With all of that flour I figured that the dough was going to be a bit tough but I was able to mix it all up good with my hands in the mixing bowl before dumping it out onto my floured counter so that I could knead it. I don’t recalling noticing in my initial reading of the recipe the kneading time required for this bread, but it didn’t surprise me when I saw that I would be kneading for 12-15 MINUTES! Maybe this is some sort of penance for the mistakes that I have made during my life, but frankly I’m getting tired of spending the bulk of my baking day kneading dough. I began the kneading process to get the dough to the point where it “is elastic and supple and has great life in it”. One of the things that I do enjoy about kneading the dough by hand is that I am really starting to notice the changes that the dough goes through during the kneading process. Though I dusted the counter and the dough once or twice with a little bit of flour, I did not need any extra to keep the dough from being too sticky. By the 8 minute mark I could really feel the dough changing and by the time I reached the 15 minute mark it really felt like it had some life in it. I put it in my flower bowl, though this time the bowl was oiled as that was what Jim said to do, and put it in my cool oven to rise for “1 to 2 hours”, or, of course, “until doubled in bulk”.
I checked on the dough after 1 hour and 40 minutes and decided that it had risen enough. I turned it out onto my lightly floured counter and kneaded it for another 5 minutes. Then I was at a crossroads. Jim’s recipe say that I should take the dough and “shape into a large round loaf, place in a buttered 12-inch ovenproof skillet with rounded sides, and let rise for 30 to 35 minutes” At the end of the recipe, in the notes section he said that “if you find the dough is not too soft, you might try letting it rise in a free-form shape on a cookie sheet sprinkled with cornmeal. Then slide it directly onto hot tiles to bake.” Since I purchased some unglazed quarry tiles yesterday specifically for the purpose of baking bread, I decided that I would go that route and I formed the dough into a round loaf and put it on my cutting board which had been dusted with cornmeal so that it could rise for the 30-35 minutes.
Why did I buy tiles to use during the baking of bread? Well, because Jim told me that I should. They are ideal, apparently, when a “definite crustiness is desired.” He also said that the “purpose of the tile is to produce a steady, evenly diffused heat, which is different from that radiated by the ordinary gas or electric oven.” Finally, he added that he generally installs “a pan of boiling water to create steam during the baking” on the rack below the tiles.
I lined my oven rack with the tiles and set a pot of water on the stove top to boil and then preheated the oven to 400°. I let the oven get nice and hot as I wasn’t sure if I needed to let the tiles heat up for a specified amount of time (no reference from Jim, so I guess not). I made a “deep incision in the form of a cross in the center” of the loaf and brushed it with water and then slid it off of my cutting board and right onto the tiles.
I baked the loaf for 1 hour and then carefully picked it up to give it the usual “sounds hollow” test. My wife was standing there and her first comment was “Oh, wow, that’s a big loaf of bread”, and then after I asked her if she thought it sounded hollow enough or needed a few more minutes, she said it sounded good and that I should take it out from the oven to cool. It rose quite a bit in the oven and the “deep incision in the form of a cross in the center” made the dough expand upward/blow up.
The bread sat on the counter while I made the stuffed cabbage that we would be having with the bread. Many families have bread with their meal, but with a project like this I think we will be having a lot of meals that are based on the bread I will be making that day. While the stuffed cabbage cooked, I decided that it was finally time to slice the bread and give it a try.
I sliced the big loaf in half and then decided to cut slices from one of the halves. The first thing that I noticed was that it was nice and crusty. The second thing was the aroma of the caraway seeds. I could smell them as soon as I cut the bread. I took a bit and enjoyed it a lot. I took the end piece and slathered it with butter and took a bite of that and, as usual, it tasted even better. Shona (my wife) took one bite and gave it her seal of approval as well. It is definitely a rustic, peasant loaf. It is dense and flavorful, while not overpowering in any way. I don’t really taste the potato that much, but not really being an aficionado of potato bread I’m not sure if that flavor is supposed to be pronounced or just “there”. When we had the bread with the stuffed cabbage, it confirmed my initial thought that this would be the perfect bread to have with it.
Happy Baking!…or as the Hungarians would say: