We finally nailed it! My favorite loaf for years was the Macrina potato loaf, and since I have the Macrina Bakery Cookbook and the nearest Macrina is farther away than I'd like, I figured we should give it a shot.
So in the last, say, 4 weeks, Ed and I have made probably 5 loaves, and we finally got it just right. Below you'll find the recipe with my notes (**) and some things we learned along the way.
A couple quick things:
1) Do NOT be stingy with the salt. The loaf could actually use even more than this recipe calls for, I think.
2) Do not go to all the trouble of baking homemade bread and get to the end and realize your crappy store-brand flour has lost its umph. Yes, flour goes bad! I found this out the hard way when my homemade pizza crust under my homemade sauce (!!) tasted like cardboard. Just buy some good King Arthur Flour--it's worth the $3.
3) Do NOT be a wimp about the kneading. The loaf definitely needs a good long knead, so set the timer so you don't accidentallyonpurpose knead for too short a time.
And now...drum roll.....taDA!
Here she is. A beauty, no?
Macrina Potato Loaf
1 1/4 lbs russet potatoes
1 T kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp dried yeast
2 T extra virgin olive oil
3 C unbleached all-purpose flour
Scrub potatoes, leave skins on, and cut into 1 inch chunks (**the chunks don't need to be perfect). Place potatoes and 1 tsp of the kosher salt and cover with water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are tender. Measure out 1/2 cup of potato water and set aside. Drain potatoes in colander and leave them to dry for 20 minutes.
Pour the lukewarm potato water into a small bowl and sprinkle yeast over the top. Stir together well and then leave to stand for 5 minutes.
Place drained, cooled potatoes in bowl of stand mixer. Using the paddle attachment, mis on low for a minute to roughly mash. Add olive oil and mix another minute. Add potato water/yeast mixture and mix until combined (**scraping the bowl once or twice) for about 1-2 minutes. (If mixing by hand, place potatoes and olive oil in a bowl and mash with a potato masher. Add potato water/yeast mixture and mix with a wooden spoon until combined.) Switch to hook attachment and add flour and remaining 2 tsp salt. Mix briefly on low spead to start bringing ingredients together (**use spatula to push flour into bottom of mixer), then increase speed to medium (**4 on KitchenAide) and mix for 11 minutes. (If mixing by hand, add flour and 2 tsp salt and mix with wooden spoon. Knead with your hands for 10-15 minutes.) **Dough will appear to not be binding at first, it'll look dry and like it's not coming together, but it will become moist as kneading continues. Check for elasticity by pulling the dough; finished dough should stretch about 2 inches without breaking.
Pull dough from bowl onto a lightly floured surface and form into a ball. Place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let proof for about 45 minutes in a warm 70F room. Dough will almost double in size.
Place dough on a floured surface and flatten it into a rectangle with your hands (**rectangle should be slightly wider left-to-right than long top-to-bottom). Starting with the end closest to you, roll dough away from you into a tight log. Stop rolling just before you get to the end, and then flatten the last 1/2 inch of the dough and flour this 1/2 inch section. This will prevent the loaf from fully sealing and will cause the seam to open slightly during baking. Wrap loaf--seam side down--in a floured dishtowel and let proof at room temp for 45 minutes. Dough will rise slightly and feel spongy to the touch.
Place baking stone on center rack of oven and preheat to 400F. Place a small oven-proof pan under the baking stone--**we use our tiniest cast iron pan, which is about 6" across. (**A baking stone REALLY helps the loaf bake evenly. Our first attempts--before we replaced the baking stone I so dumbly left in our oven in Jackson--were not nearly as good as the baking stone ones. Just so you know. If you don't have one, pre-heating a cookie sheet might work, but I'm not taking the blame if it doesn't.)
Working quickly: Get about 3 ice cubes from the freezer. Get your loaf mostly unwrapped from the towel. Open oven, place loaf seam side up on baking stone, and place 2 ice cubes into the pan beneath the stone. Close door and do NOT open it for at least 5 minutes (**this is when the crust gets all steamed and chewy). After 5 minutes, add the last ice cube and close door again. Bake for 40 more minutes, or until loaf is registering about 205F (**for those of you baking at altitude, your cooking time may be MUCH shorter--we noticed ours was when we lived in Jackson). Let cool for 30 minutes.
After admiring you loaf for those 30 minutes, slice off a hunk, slather with butter and sprinkle a little salt on top for a piece that basically tastes like potato chips in warm bread form.