I noticed a few weeks ago that a new food blogging group had formed – the Bread Baking Babes. They tackle a new type of bread each month and then blog about it and encourage readers to give it a shot within the following week to become a Bread Baking Buddy. The first month of BBB was hosted by Baking Soda over at Bake My Day! and the introductory bread was the Maggie Glazer’s Royal Crown’s Tortano, which is a rustic bread and a signature of the Royal Crown Bakery in Brooklyn, NY. I’m not sure if I’m a “Buddy” since it took me more than a week to make this, but I wanted to thank Mary over at The Sour Dough for being patient with me as I asked a ton of questions through email, and also for posting a bunch of pictures of the process. These helped me tremendously, and in hind sight I should have done the same, but if you attempt this bread definitely check out Mary’s post to get an idea of what the dough should look like at each stage.
My first attempt to start the preferment didn’t go very far, as after I woke up I realized that nothing really happened and my yeast was probably bad (the jar had been around for quite some time). I went to the store and got some brand new yeast and started over. I can’t tell you how glad I am that I stuck with it, because aside from being an amazing loaf of bread, I also got to experiment with a different type of dough and new techniques.
To say that this was a wet dough was putting it mildly! I have never seen dough actually look like a liquid mass before coming together. I crossed my fingers that I was moving along the right way and was so excited after each step to realize that was was supposed to happen was indeed happening. I am going to include my thoughts/comments/tips throughout each section of the recipe, since that’s easier than trying to summarize it all here. One thing I do think that I need to work on is my slashing. Perhaps my knives aren’t sharp enough and I need to get a razor? This happened with the French bread as well – the slits were barely noticeable and didn’t open up. Any tips from you bread geniuses out there??
Overall thoughts on this bread… FABULOUS! It turned out exactly the way I imagined it should. The crust was crisp and crunchy, and the inside warm, chewy, and full of big air holes. I can’t tell you how proud I am of this bread and of learning many new things in the process!
For the Pre-Ferment:
1/4 tsp instant yeast
1 cup water 105 - 115 degrees F
2/3 cup unbleached bread flour
1 small potato
For the Dough:
3 3/4 cups unbleached bread flour
1 3/4 cups plus 3 Tbsp Water, including the potato water if desired, lukewarm
2 tsp honey
1/4 cup packed Potato puree
1 Tbsp salt
1. Make the Pre-Ferment: Stir the yeast into the water in a glass measure and let it stand for 5 - 10 minutes. Add 1/3 cup of this yeasted water (discard the rest) to the flour and beat this very sticky starter until it is well combined. Cover with plastic wrap and let it ferment until it is full of huge bubbles and sharp tasting, about 12 hours. If your kitchen is very warm and the pre-ferment is fermenting very quickly, place it in the refrigerator after 3 hours of fermenting. In the morning, remove it and allow it to come to room temperature 30 minutes to an hour before beginning the final dough.
2. Prepare the Potato: For efficiency, you may want to prepare the potato the night before. Quarter it, then boil it in water to cover until it can be easily pierced with a knife tip, about 20 minutes. Drain; if desired, reserve the water for the dough. Press the potato through a ricer or sieve to puree it and remove the skin. Store it in a covered container in the refrigerator. You will need only 1/4 cup puree.
3. Make the Dough: By Hand: Use your hands to mnix the flour and water into a rough, very wet dough in a large bowl. Cover the dough and let rest (autolyse) for 10 - 20 minutes.
Add the pre-ferment, honey, potato, and salt, and knead the dough until it is smooth, 5 - 10 minutes. It will start off feeling rubbery, then break down into goo; if you persist, eventually it will come together into a smooth, shiny dough. If you do not have the skill or time to knead it to smoothness, the bread will not suffer. This is a tremendously wet and sticky dough, so use a dough scraper to help you but do not add more flour, for it will ruin the texture of the bread.
By Stand Mixer: With your hands or a wooden spoon, mix the flour and water into a rough, very wet dough in the work bowl of your mixer. Cover the dough and let it rest (autolyse) for 10 - 20 minutes.
4. Fit the mixer with the dough hook. Add the pre-ferment, honey, potato and salt and the mix the dough on medium speed for 15 - 20 minutes, or until very silky and wraps around the hook and cleans the bowl before splaterring back around the bowl. This dough is almost pourably wet.
5. Shape the dough into a ball and roll it in flour. Place it in a container at least 3 times its size and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let it ferment until doubled in bulk and filled with large air bubbles, about 4 hours. Using plenty of dusting flour, turn the dough 4 times in 20 minute intervals, that is, after 20, 40, 60, and 80 minutes of fermenting, the leave the dough undisturbed for the remaining time. Do not allow this dough to over ferment or forment to the point of collapse, for the flavor and structure of your bread will suffer.
6. Turn the fermented dough out onto a well floured work surface, round it and let it rest for 20 minutes. Sprinkle a couche or wooden board generously with flour. Slip a baking sheet under the couche if you are using one for support. Sprinkle a generous amount of flour over the center of the ball. Push your fingers into the center to make a hole, the rotate your hand around the hole to widen it, making a large 4 inch opening. The bread should have about 12 inch diameter. Place the dough smooth side down on the floured couche or board and dust the surface with more flour. Drape it with plastic wrap and let it proof until it is light and slowly springs back when lightly pressed, about 1 1/2 hours.
7. Immediately after shaping the bread, arrange a rack on the oven's second to top shelf and place a baking stone on it. Clear away all the racks above the one being used. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
8. Unwrap the bread and flip it onto a floured peel or a sheet of parchment paper. Do not worry about damaging the bread as you handle it; it will recover int eh oven as long as it is not overproofed. Slash it with 4 radial cuts in the shape of a cross. Slide the loaf onto the hot baking stone and bake until it is very dark brown, 40 -50 minutes, rotating it halfway into the bake. Let the bread cool on a rack.