Monday, 9 July 2012

WW Bread... Success!!!

The exclamation in the title can only be fully understood if you have actually tried baking a whole wheat loaf and cried out in desperation at the resultant gummy leathery mass dense enough to make you wonder why wheat is not used as a construction material. I strongly urge you to once venture that masochistic recipe in order to sufficiently appreciate this loaf.

In the indian context, there isn't much of a choice in wheat flours. Traditionally there just two kinds: the good, nutritious and more expensive "atta" (whole wheat flour) and the bad, unhealthy, relativity cheaper "maida" (bleached cake flour). Atta is milled by stone grinding the wheat beans to produce a very hygroscopic (water absorbing) sticky flour which is ideal for making most unleavened flat breads of India. Unfortunately this method of milling does not render the flour suitable for leavened yeast breads.

After some amount of experimentation and rummaging through several complicated recipes, I figured out this bread recipe that worked. I am somehow not a fan of bread recipes that call for too many additives like milk, butter, eggs, dough enhancers and what not. For me bread is basic and is made of just flour, water, yeast and salt. For the whole wheat loaf however, this is as basic as I could go. There are just two additives to the mentioned ingredients: mashed potatoes and olive oil.

Disclaimer: This is not an ideal bread recipe if you have never baked any loaf of bread earlier. We are talking at least 60% hydration here. Some beforehand practice with easier dough is called for.

So you now have the ingredients, here are the proportions for one 8.5"x 4" loaf
2 1/2 cups Whole wheat flour (atta)
1/2 cup mashed Potato
2 tbsp Olive oil
1 tsp active dry Yeast
1 or 1 1/2  cups Water (difference explained below)
Salt to taste
White flour (maida) for dusting and shaping

The mashed potatoes are obviously the first job. So just cook and mash one medium-large potato, you will be good. Mash very well. You can even over cook the potato. There should be no lumps. A cheese grater would be a good idea if you don't have a potato ricer. Alternatively add to the flour about 1/3 cup instant dry potato flakes that you get in the supermarket. Amount of water depends on which option you choose for the potatoes: 1 cup water for cooked and mashed potato and 1 1/2 cups water if using instant potato flakes.

If you don't trust your yeast, proof it before use. Add all the ingredients except the white flour in a pot and begin kneading. I would not dare attempt kneading this with my hands. Atta and mashed potatoes! It doesn't get stickier. So you stick one hand in and then the other, then its too sticky, you add flour.. oh too dry..add water..oh what a mess.. more know the vicious cycle. So no, please use a hand mixer with a dough hook. Knead on medium speed for a good five to seven minutes. You will see the gluten desperately trying to develop but in vain as the enzymes in the wheat slash the strands formed. You will not get a smooth ball like you would with white flour and don't wait for it. The dough will be a little shaggy. When done kneading, scrape the sides of the pot with a spoon to get the dough together in one mass and let it rise in a warm place. 60 to 90 Minutes; expected volume: double the original. If you are doing an overnight loaf, cover with a plastic bag/ shower cap and pop into the fridge the night before for a cold rise.

Once doubled get ready to shape the dough. Dust your work area really generously with the white flour. Apply well on both your hands as well. Use a spatula to deflate the dough and scrape it out as one ball and plop it on the dusted work area. Pat the dough with your flour covered hands. Don't work your way into the dough. Just stay at the surface and use the flour to help you handle the dough without sticking. Form an oval shape with as much tension as you can and place into a well greased loaf pan. (Again, don't expect the tightness you will get with white flour). Cover with a shower cap and keep aside while you clean your work area.

The second rise should be just until you see the loaf crowning: 20 to 30 Mins. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Make your signature slashes and bake in the middle rack for 30-35mins. Checking for done-ness of breads is different than for cakes. Don't stick a knife in instead knock the crust of the bread and the sides of the pan with a spoon and listen for a hollow sound. That means it is done. Loosen the edges with a knife and turn it out on a board. You should have this...

.. which upon slicing (only after it cools completely) should give you this...

A finer look at the crumb....

Toasted on a pan with some butter and shredded basil leaves.

Disclaimer 2: This is also the first time I am getting this right. I noticed that the life of this loaf due to the  extremely wet mashed potatoes is fairly less. Try and use up within 24 to 36 hours. It will keep for two days and a little more if using instant potato flakes. This is not a snack kind of bread. It is fairly substantial, so a loaf of this size would provide for a meal of sandwiches for three people.


  1. Hi, Got the link thru your blog from Priya's fb posts! Keep up the gorgeous posts.

    But why potatoes? I mean having (only) read bread recipes, milk, eggs, buttermilk sound like more often used ingredients.

    Just curious.

    1. HI Rashmi,
      Thanks for the comment. Whole wheat flour is not suitable for making sandwich bread which has be easy to slice. Loaves made with only whole wheat produce a very dense and gummy crumb. For even a marginally supple loaf you need to do atta and maida 50-50. Potato does the trick. It provides the starch that maida does.