Reinhart's Potato and Rosemary Bread Bake-off:
One made with a Biga, the other with some Whole Wheat Motherstarter
One made with a Biga, the other with some Whole Wheat Motherstarter
Rosemary is growing in the herb garden. Potatoes are in season again. Time for a Potato and Rosemary Bread.
This is the next bread in the series of Reinhart loaves that I am baking, from his book "Whole Grain Breads". As with most of the recipes in this book, it requires a minimum of 2 days to make, using his 'epoxy' method of combining a soaker and a biga and some final dough materials.
It has been a while since I've made a Reinhart loaf. Once again I claim distraction: I've been baking other breads that have grabbed my attention. I have been putting off this particular recipe because it is important to get everything organized prior to making these loaves: I needed potatoes, and we've not been eating them lately. There seems to be so much more in the garden these days to consume.
Finally, I bought some potatoes in order to make this bread. But it has been so long since I've made a Reinhart recipe, I've had to go back to the book to reread the methods. And it was while giving this recipe the once-over glance again, I noticed that in the margins of the book, Reinhart says one can make this with a wild yeast motherstarter instead of a biga. So I decided that I would make it both ways -- one with a motherstarter, and another with the biga -- for comparison purposes. Mind you, each recipe is supposed to make 2 small loaves; so I would be left with 4 loaves at the end of this experiment.
I rebuilt my wild yeast whole wheat motherstarter with potato water the day before the bake-off. Reinhart doesn't say you are to use potato water in the motherstarter, but I had just enough potato water to try it.
The potatoes I used came from the store as a mixture of various interesting colours and kinds, all small potatoes. We had them for dinner a couple of days ago, and we saved the potato water and some of the small spuds. We had to hold ourselves back from devouring them all, because they were tiny and delicious. Nevertheless, I had enough in the leftovers to (barely) make 2 loaves.
I carefully labeled the soaker and the biga and motherstarter I was using, so I wouldn't get confused tomorrow when they all come together.
Just before bed I checked the newly refreshed motherstarter. My intention was originally to just leave it at room temperature overnight. But it had more than doubled, so I put it into the refrigerator. I would pull it out the same time I pulled out the biga -- two hours before I began baking.
I knew the wild yeast was going to be still viable, because I took the containers out of the fridge early; then, while getting the dog some breakfast, the gases blew the lid off the container.
I let the chickens out and gathered the rosemary from the garden. One requires quite a bit of it for this recipe, compared to the last Reinhart loaf I made that didn't need so much. And I was making 2 loaves.
I wasn't too sure about the strange colour of these potatoes: the purple potatoes in the mix had a very blue cast to them in this morning's light. I wasn't too sure how I'd feel about eating blue bread. Even though the colours (containing anthocyanins and antioxidants) are touted as beneficial. "Perhaps the colour will change in the dough," I thought to myself.
As usual, the initial mixing of the various components in the final dough is very surprising. I mix it with wet hands, and the squalchy ingredients suddenly bond and become firmer. It is really quite an interesting effect, and Reinhart should be commended for discovering or uncovering and simplifying this amazing biochemical ingenuity. He should be given an award, I thought.
However, the 3-4 minute kneading was, I felt, a bit too long. At 1 1/2 minutes, I felt that the dough had achieved all it was going to achieve. Further kneading made it simply more flaccid. I included more flour on the counter, and then more water on my hands, but the heat from kneading it just made the dough wilt. I was even not so convinced that the 5 minute rest would be beneficial to this dough. It had achieved no real gluten development, after that initial 1 1/2 minute mark, and it got worse after 3 minutes of kneading, and now it just wanted to blob sideways on the counter.
On the other hand, the sourdough version I made next was quite different. First of all, it smells alive. Both doughs are redolent of the rosemary, which remains very prominent; and I suppose there is a bit of starchiness of potato in the air that one smells too. But the wild yeast motherstarter is quietly sour, and it smells alive, and unique. When you mix it up, it bonds like the other dough but comes together even more quickly. I would not say that this dough ever got sticky like the other one. It remained moist, but the gluten was well developed. This dough was tighter and was able to withstand the 3-4 minutes of kneading. Furthermore, after 5 minutes rest, it did not succumb to gravity.
I let both doughs sit for a full 60 minutes, and I am not entirely convinced that they expanded to 1 1/2 times their original size (if it weren't for the picture evidence, I'd never have believed it). But I made batards out of both doughs, each one divided as per instructions, and I set them aside for another 60 minutes before preheating the oven.
I formed batards, as per Reinhart's instructions.
I worked on the sourdough last, but I did everything the same.
I decided to use the optional egg white wash for their tops, and I brushed this on just prior to placing them in the oven.
Now, I'll be the first to admit that I have problems moving a batard that has been nicely proofed in a couche into the oven onto a stone. Even at the best of times. But there is never a 'best of times' when I'm making a dough that is enhanced with potatoes and oil. I am challenged by any dough, but never more so than when the dough is so very sloppy as this.
Experts will tell me, no doubt, that I didn't knead enough, or that I overkneaded, or that I didn't have the proper hydration for the dough (too sticky or not sticky enough), and that I under-proofed it, or over-proofed it, or whatever.
Hey. I merely followed Reinhart's instructions.
Because I was baking 4 loaves, and only 2 would fit on my stone, I also preheated another stone that had broken into 2 pieces some time ago. One half would fit on the rack beside my newer stone, and the other half would fit beside the pan on the lower shelf.
Getting the bread in there was difficult enough. There is no way these floppy doughs would transfer into the oven via a peel. Uh-uh. It would be like tossing jelly. They were too oozed, too fragile, too limp. So I transferred them carefully to some parchment paper, and then used the parchment paper to gently put them on the top stones. So far, so good.
But getting the last one onto the lower half stone, I ran into a problem. There wasn't room, so I pushed a bit with the peel as I tugged with one hand… ugh. I had a dough transfer failure. This loaf slouched, skidded, and slid snakily. As I tried to correct it, my wife was at that moment asking me what I wanted for lunch. She was making soup, and blah blah blah. I got distracted. My fault, I know. If I was short with her, it was because I was busy.
I got the dough somewhat man-handled into place on the bottom stone and set the timer. I did forget to lower the temperature from 425 to 350 for about 15 minutes, but I might be okay with that, because the oven door was open for so long, it probably dropped the temperature quite a bit.
"Dropped the temperature?" you say. "Surely the door to the oven wasn't open that long, was it?"
Well, I opened it again, not long after placing the dough on the lower stone. Because I was getting everything together to turn the loaves at the 20 minute mark, (remember Reinhart's rule, mise en place?) and I thought to myself, "Where is the other oven mitt?" while at the same moment my brain was registering the thought, "What the hell is that smell?"
So I opened the oven and out poured the smoke. There was the lost oven mitt, in flames! I quickly threw it into the sink which as luck would have it, was filled with dishwater (I clean up as I go). That doused the flames, but then the fire alarm went off. Of course there was smoke, you smoke-alarm: I'm dealing with it, but now I also have to deal with you. So I got the smoke alarm turned off and the smoke dissipated, and the oven mitt cooled enough to toss in the garbage, and I was starting to think whether I should eat this bread, since it probably has smokey asbestos from the flaming oven mitt all over it. And I grabbed the camera to document all this fun.
And all the time I was blaming Reinhart, for designing a recipe for a dough that is so flimsy it is impossible to put into the oven. "He should be strung up by his thumbs," I thought.
You can see my point, can't you? It's all his fault.
I ate some soup with my wife.
"Do you smell gas?" she asked.
I shook my head no. The only thing I could smell was the remnants of a flaming oven mitt. I knew that was what she smelled too, but I didn't want to discuss it just now...
Four flat loaves, 2 with a biga on the left, 2 misshapen loaves on the right made with sourdough
The End Result
The loaves made with the wild yeast motherstarter were not proofed as long as the other (there is a difference of about 15 minutes), but they were the ones that ripped apart, and oozed sideways the most. They were also the ones I manhandled the most, too, though.
I hate these loaves. They just sagged under their own weight. There was no oven spring. On the other hand, even though the house smells a bit like baked glove, the loaves also seem to have a faint scent of cinnamon -- which is very strange, since it is not an ingredient.
I left them in the cooling oven another 12 minutes or so, off the parchment paper, before turning them out to a rack to cool. As usual, these look exactly NOTHING like Reinhart's loaves in his book. I figure, that is his fault, too.
There is very little difference in taste between the two loaves, despite their difference in appearance. Both have a somewhat mild sour taste, and both smell of cinnamon. My wife says that this is something in the potatoes -- although it is not something that she put there. Part of the chemical makeup of the potatoes, for some reason, resembles cinnamon to the olfactory senses.
In the first taste-trial of these loaves, I had them side-by-side alone, with butter, and with cheese. That sounds like a lot, but these slices are very tiny. The loaves are terribly flat. They taste okay, but nothing special. There is a hint of blueness in the crumb, but it is no longer so pronounced.
See the blue potato chunks in the crumb of the bread?
I can't see myself ever making these loaves again.
Notes to Myself
- Get a new pair of oven mitts.
- Never, ever, EVER make this recipe again.
- I still think this particular bread failure is Reinhart's fault. (Oh, but I still think he deserves an award of some kind.)
- If you do make this again, someday, consider that it doesn't require as much kneading as he says it does. When the dough is moist but not sticky, stop overworking it. And don't overproof it, but get it into the oven before it sags all over the place.
- Consider this: does it actually need to be kneaded, does it actually require a proofing stage? What if you just put it into the oven right away? What would be different? Not a lot, I bet. Except the loaf wouldn't be as saggy. Proof it in a tin, why don't you? And then just bake it. Skip the batard idea, it merely frustrates you.
- Figure out a way to move sloppy dough onto a hot stone without destroying it or your household items
- Don't, whatever you do, try to make 4 batards at the same time again. Retard the dough if you must, but don't try to bake 4 at once on a stone that will only house 2.
- In case anyone doesn't realize it, I am just kidding around about blaming Reinhart. Poor guy: he's an easy target for blame.