Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Elizabeth David's potato bread

"Any human being possessed of sufficient gumption to track down a source of fresh yeast - it isn't all that rare - and collected enough to remember to buy at the same time a pound or two of plain flour, get it home, taking a mixing bowl and a measuring jug from the cupboard, and read a few simple instructions can make a decent loaf of bread."
So wrote Elizabeth David in Queen magazine in 1968, railing against the dearth of 'decent bread' then available for sale in England. For the most part, I agree with her about breadmaking being simple and enjoyable - which was why I was so disappointed when her Potato Bread didn't turn out so well.

Elizabeth David's potato bread

Bread is the theme for this month's Random Recipes challenge and after a few off-piste experiments of my own lately (honestly, beetroot bread IS really good), I was thrilled to land on 'At Elizabeth David's Table' when randomly selecting the recipe. This is a really beautiful book, compiled by Jill Norman (David's long-time editor), a kind of Technicolour dreamcoat version of the original humble paperbacks.

However, I think the recipe for potato bread needs a little tweaking because it's almost inedibly salty. (I'm sorry, Mrs David, but it is!) Being an obedient follower of both Elizabeth David and Dom of Belleau Kitchen, I stuck to the recipe very faithfully, but next time I'd halve the salt.

I won't try to ape Elizabeth David's inimitable recipe-writing style here, but here are the basics. She uses "a minimum of 20g salt" - I suggest 2 tsp is ample. Saltiness aside, it's lovely bread.

125g mashed potato (about 1 medium potato), warm and dry
500g strong white flour
1 1/2 tsp dried yeast
20g salt
150ml warm water (use the potato cooking water, if you remember)
150ml warm milk

Put the flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl (or the bowl of a freestanding mixer). Add the potato, rubbing it in as if it were butter. Alternatively, use the paddle attachment on your mixer. Add the warm milk and water and mix well, then, knead until soft and springy (or use the dough hook). Grease the bowl with a little oil, then return the dough to it. Cover with a teatowel and leave in a warm place to prove until nearly doubled (David says this will take 'rather longer' than usual, possibly because the salt is doing its best to slow down the yeast).
Knock the dough back and knead lightly, then shape and put into a well-greased 1.5 litre loaf tin. Cover again with a damp cloth and let rise until the dough reaches the top of the tin (about 30-40 minutes).
Bake at 220C for about 40 minutes, 'taking care not to let the crust get too browned or hard'.

Are you an Elizabeth David fan? Which is your favourite of her books?

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  1. A notorious task master that Mrs David but I'm sure that over the years salt acceptability has changed. It could have also been down to the type of salt as 20g of table salt is much heavier than 20g of kosher salt. I use a lot of salt in bread making as it really does add taste but never 20g. I must say though that it does look stunning! Thanks so much for the entry xx

    1. Yes, I thought 20g was a bit excessive! We are fans of salt in this house but even so!

    2. What? 20g is heavier than 20g?

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  3. Shame about the salt - one of my favourite breads is nigella's potato bread - always comes out soft and lovely - have never got into elizabeth david though I admire and fear from afar

  4. I really have to get myself an Elizabeth David book! The potato bread looks beautiful even though it was touch salty. I always end up with about 13grams of salt in my bread mixture, never being quite brave enough to fill the tablespoon.

  5. That is a truckload of salt! I would not like to be the person to tell ED this though, as she is very forthright about the amount she uses - in English Bread and Yeast Cookery she says that although she uses more salt than is often called for, less makes for an insipid loaf.
    I remember the excitement when her Bread book came out in 1977, the first new Elizabeth David for several years. I have all the books she wrote in her lifetime except the Ices one, and I love all of them, especially French Provincial Cooking which was the first one I read. My mother-in-law-to-be had a copy (I don't think she ever used it!)and I pored over every word during a long wet weekend. What joy to then discover she had written several others. My favourite ED line is from Summer Cooking, regarding garnishing: "you are after all preparing a meal. not decorating the village hall" I often say this to myself these days, now that I am one of those same bossy matrons she was no doubt addressing.

  6. Eek, that sounds like way too much salt. I only use 1 tsp to 500g flour. I think it's the old fashioned bakers. Lots of my older recipes seem to use quite a bit more. Your loaf looks perfect though and I like the inclusion of potato - keep meaning to try it in cake.

  7. The rule of thumb is 2% salt to the flour so half that amount would be right. Perhaps she was accounting for salting the spuds ? Who'd want to argue with ED though.

  8. Looks like a great loaf - I am definitely giving this one a go - I am intrigued by the potato. Our taste for salt maybe has altered over the years and I find that a lot of asian recipes I have to cut the salt content by half. I will beware and heed your instructions where the salt is concerned. As I said lovely looking bread.


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