Thursday, February 04, 2010

Potato Bread.

I rather hastily by-passed the use of potatoes in bread yesterday, in my enthusiasm to enjoy potato cakes. Potato bread, I think, is deserving of a little more blog space than it has had to date. It was covered only briefly in a previous post in which I talked about Antoine-Augustin Parmentier, the eighteenth century French pharmacist, agriculturalist, and passionate advocate of that strange and suspect ‘new’ vegetable.

Parmentier had experienced first-hand the nutritional value of the potato while a prisoner of war in Germany, and on his return to France he campaigned vigorously for its adoption as a useful ‘bread’for the poor – the word ‘bread’ in this instance being a metaphor for food generally. Potatoes soon became a common addition to actual bread dough, of course – as we considered yesterday – its value here being to reduce the amount of expensive or scarce grain needed to make up a particular quantity.

A potato bread recipe developed by Parmentier himself (in about 1778?) is quite unusual in that it contains no flour at all. It must have been very dense indeed.


A method to make Potato-Bread without the admixture of flour.
By M.Parmentier, of the College of Pharmacy, Paris.
Take five pounds of dried starch, and five pounds of pulp; dissolve a suitable quantity of leaven or yeast in warm water the eve or night before. The mixture being exactly made, let it lie all night in the kneading-trough, well covered and kept warm until the next day; this is the second leaven; then add five pounds more of starch, and the same quantity of pulp, and knead it well. The water must be in proportion as a fifth part, that is to say, that upon twenty pounds of paste there must be five pounds of water. You must observe that the water be used as hot as possible.
The paste being completely kneaded, it must be divided into small loaves: this bread requires slow preparation, and the oven must be equally and moderately heated: it will require two hours baking.

An enormous number of recipes for potato bread - containing an enormous range of proportions of potato pulp or starch to grain - have evolved since Parmentier’s time. Here is the version from Eliza Acton’s The English Bread Book (1857)

Potato Bread.
This is one of the best varieties of mixed or cheap bread when it is made with care, as its flavour is excellent, and it remains moist longer than any other except rice bread; but the potatoes used for it should be good, thoroughly boiled, well dried afterwards by having the water poured from them, and then standing by the side of the fire to steam and be reduced to a perfect paste by mashing, or be rubbed quickly through a cullender or other coarse strainer. They should be perfectly mixed with the flour or meal while they are still warm; and after the addition of rather more salt than for common bread, the dough, which will require less liquid than wheaten dough, should be made up smoothly and firmly, and be managed afterwards like other bread but be baked in a more gentle oven. Seven pounds of potatoes weighed after they are cooked and peeled may be added to each gallon of meal or flour. Should it be necessary, from circumstances that cannot be controlled to use such as are watery, the moisture may be partly wrung from them in a warm thick cloth, before they are mixed with the other ingredients.


Quotation for the Day.

Even during the rationing period, during World War II, we didn't have the anxiety that we'd starve, because we grew our own potatoes, you know? And our own hogs, and our own cows and stuff, you know.
James Earl Jones.

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