At the end of every month, like clockwork, there would be one single recipe that seemed to flood the blogosphere, appearing on every last blog until there could scarcely be a single person online who hadn’t tried it or at least heard about it. Challenging feats of pastry involving complicated techniques and precise measurements, baked goods that looked worthy for 5-star bakeries- It was a curious but drool-inducing phenomenon indeed. The masterminds who orchestrated these incredible creations called themselves the Daring Bakers, and once I knew their name, I felt as though it were only a matter of time before I joined them, even if my skills weren’t quite up to par. Sadly, there was one major issue standing in my way: Eggs and dairy. Of course I could easily circumvent their common ingredients as always, but with the Daring Bakers comes rules, and no substitutions are ever allowed. Disappointed, I sat quietly for many months, watching new challenges come and pass with envious eyes.
My silent voyeurism may have easily continued for yet another year had I not had a brief exchange with Helen, in which I let my jealousy of the other Daring Bakers slip. Much to my surprise, she informed me that the cult of bakers were changing their ways after having grown so substantially to almost 300 members, and now dietary restrictions could merit substitutions. Celiacs and vegans, rejoice! Pouncing on the opportunity and holding on tight, I immediately signed up, and here I am, ready to present the results of my very first challenge… Tender Potato Bread.
Chosen by Tanna, this recipe seemed like the perfect way to start in this talented group- A simple substitution of margarine instead of butter erased any morality issues, and the instructions seemed fairly straightforward. Having worked with yeast before and successfully producing tasty loaves with no difficulty, I thought that this one was in the bag. And then I got to work.
Where I ran into to trouble was the amount of potatoes- The recipe called for 4 medium potatoes, 8-16 ounces total, and after coming up with exactly 8 ounces from 2 potatoes, I thought, Oh, this is perfect! Exactly 16 ounces! But of course, I am no master bread maker, so perhaps I bit off more than I could chew. When it came time to incorporate flour into the watery mashed potatoes, I was astounded at how cup after cup of the strong wheat was soaked up as if it had never been added in the first place. After adding in 8 full cups of flour, I turned my dough out on to the counter… And oh my, did it want to rest on the flour instead! Elbow deep in dough, I had to call for my mom to toss in additional scoops of flour, kneeding (or at least squishing) furiously to continue mixing the ingredients. Growing larger by the minute but staying just as stubbornly sticky, my mom commented in a slightly fearful voice about how much dough I would end up with if this kept on eating up flour at such a rate! And so, unsatisfied with the texture but not looking to cause trouble, I started thinking about a final resting place for my blob. Dinner rolls were out of the question since they would keep on spreading and end up flat, and this seemed like a whole lot more than one loaf’s worth of material, so I had some help in pulling out the giant jelly roll pan (since I had dough all over my hands, arms, and torso by now) and went ahead with a focaccia.
Of course, it was so wet that none of my indentations stayed for long, but by now it was all about making it through the challenge alive, so pretended all was well and sprinkled the top with sea salt, garlic powder, and rosemary. Into the oven it went, and into the shower I went. Soon enough, a fragrant, savory aroma was wafting out from the oven…
And after all that, it actually turned out, a lovely, tasty slab of focaccia! Well okay, maybe not focaccia exactly, but a very nice flat bread indeed. Had a actually put my brain into use and went with 2 potatoes instead of the full 4, I’m betting that my textural issues would have all been forgotten. As you can see, it does have a fairly even crumb, but it’s far denser than what a traditional focaccia would sport.
Still, I think I would call this challenge successful- The bread ended up being cut into chunks and going into our Thanksgiving stuffing!
Here’s to the daring bakers and all of their beautiful breads; You should really check them out as well. I know I will… but I can’t wait for the next challenge!