mid-month update: savory sweet potato bread

Remember this post when I wrote that a savory version of sweet potato bread was my goal for November’s baking project? Well, it was and I’ve since learned a lot. Thus far, I’ve baked a total of six loaves, three different ways. So much for sticking to the narrow path and following the rules. Hey, it’s my bread and I do what I want. Okay, seriously, I think my approach was sound and if you’re interested in giving it a try it might work for you also.

Spoiler version: This bread requires a two-day build assuming you’ve already got sourdough on hand. You’ll use no commercial yeast. The base recipe (I used the Basic Sourdough Bread recipe from The Bread Bakers Apprentice) produces two 1.5 pound loaves. This recipe also is most similar to the one from Bakers & Best that I linked to in that previous post. You don’t need a lot of sweet potato as the cooked potato will equal no more than 25 percent of the total flour weight. One big or two medium-sized sweet potatoes should do it. Baking time is relatively short, 30 minutes at 425 degrees.

The Approach

I started the month with a couple of plain sourdough loaves. I hadn’t yet baked using Peter Reinhart’s Basic Sourdough Bread recipe from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice and I wanted to familiarize myself with the base recipe and the baking approach. I had been wanting to try this recipe because I knew that it would likely serve as a good foundation from which to bake a variety of breads through adjustments such as flour type and add-ins. To make this bread, you need to use sourdough, or barm as Peter Reinhart calls it. You do keep and maintain a sourdough starter don’t you? No? Well, stop reading this right now and head over to The Perfect Loaf where you’ll find everything you need to get started baking with natural leaven and all the good reasons for why you should. I’ll wait.

Weekend number two was showtime. Four loaves, two ways. The key addition to the base recipe for this bake is of course the sweet potato. I decided to start with the yellow-flesh sweet potatoes rather than the orange-flesh, “Garnet yams,” since I really didn’t want to obsess over weather or not the color would come through in the final loaves. Continuing with this minimalist approach, I used no seasoning in the preparation since I wanted to let the natural sweet potato flavor come through as much as possible. I chose to roast the sweet potato uncovered at 450 degrees for one hour.  Whatever flavor boost I got from adding sweet potato to the dough would have to come through the roasting alone.

The other big change was that I intended to use two different flour blends in preparing the four loaves – two loaves using 100 percent bread flour in the preferment and the main dough, and two loaves using a rye-based preferment and 10 percent whole wheat flour, what Reinhart notes is a “classic French pain au levain” in the main dough. I was curious to see how these subtle differences might impact the preparation feel of the dough and the final appearance, taste and texture of the bread.

The Process

Of course my time management for all this was horrible proving that I apparently didn’t learn much from the trial run bake the previous weekend. I prepared the preferment the evening before but forgot that after mixing the ingredients, instead of putting the dough into the refrigerator for overnight fermentation, I was first supposed to leave the dough out at room temperature for about four hours. Oops. I managed to complete day one the morning of day two. Tip #1 – read the recipe again before getting started. I started day two ready to bake. Then I remembered I actually needed to cook and mill the sweet potato. I must note here that I loved the way the dry roasting blistered and charred the skin of the peeled sweet potato. But, oops again, another hour and a half lost. I finally began mixing the dough just before noon. Tip #2 – start on time. If you’re about to make bread that has a four-hour fermentation and three-hour proof in addition to ordinary prep time, you probably want to get started before noon if you want to finish while the sun is still up. Reread tip #1.

savory sweet potato bread - 2

Success

The rest of the baking day was pretty uneventful and although I didn’t pull the final loaf from the oven until one in the morning (technically, day three but who’s counting?), I did it. I accomplished my goal of baking four loaves of sweet potato bread using two different flour blends. Each of the loaves rose well and had what I was hoping for, an open, irregular hole structure. As for appearance, the crust of the rye/whole wheat loaves browned a bit more than the 100 percent bread flour loaves which was expected and what I prefer. The flavor of the sweet potato is very subtle which for me is also good. I don’t know if that is due to the type of sweet potato used or not, so next week I’ll try the Garnet yams.

Until then, happy baking. And if you have any questions or feedback please leave a note in the comments below.

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