So, what, I ask myself, makes the Hungarians such pro’s with potato bread? How is it different from any other potato bread? I happen to know a nice little hungarian woman named Charlotte. She is a sweetie that I got to know a little better on our group trip to Italy last year. But not well enough to know about her reputation with bread. Apparently I am the only one who hadn’t tasted her beautiful, soft and delicious loaves of potato bread. It made me curious though. So I did some research. I found out how poor the Hungarians were at one time, so much so that they were cutting non-food stuff into their flour in order to make it stretch further. Apparently when potatoes arrived in Europe from the new world, they tried cutting boiled mashed potatoes into the flour for bread too and surprise-surprise! It makes it taste better, last longer and stay moister. Win-win-win.
Charlotte promised to share her recipe with me, but in the meantime, I have made 5 loaves on my own. Above is a picture of one of mine. It is made with flour, salt, water from the boiled potato and yeast, with a potato mashed up added. I bake them in a dutch oven to provide steam and give it a crispy crust.
Well guess what! I now have ‘the recipe’. And here is what is in Hungarian Potato Bread. “flour, salt, potato water and yeast. With a boiled, riced potato added”. So it’s not really in the ingredients, but in the details. (although I have other potato bread recipe that includes butter, milk, sugar, etc. that is clearly not the “Hungarian” way.)
Charlotte’s loaf was huge, soft and light with a delicate soft crust. She thinks it is in the ricing of the potatoes. And that well may be. The only tool my petite kitchen does not have is a potato ricer. Dang.
But another way it is different is that she lets the shaped loaf raise on a baking sheet in the cold oven. She then turns on the oven and lets it bake with a cold start. Hers comes out a dark brown and with a soft crust. But the recipe does not indicate her brushing something over the loaf to help develop the browning. Hmm. Does this mean I have to try a loaf with her “cold start” method? The ricing is not possible without the tool to do so. I just mash mine with a hand-held mixer. But I do not add anything to it like I would in regular mashed potatoes.
I can’t live without knowing why! Why is her so different?
In the meantime, here is the recipe for Hungarian Potato bread
- 1 lb. peeled potatoes cooked in 1 1/2 cups water
- 6-7 cups bread flour
- 5 tsp yeast (or 2 envelopes) in 1/2 cup warm water
- 1 Tbsp salt
- 1 Tbsp caraway seeds (optional, I have never tried them, not a fan)
Cook the peeled and cut up potatoes in the water until tender. Save the water! Let potatoes cool. In the meantime, in a large bowl, whisk the flour, salt and seeds if using.
Mix 3 Tbsp of flour with 1/2 cup warm water and yeast. (Make sure the water is not over 110*F). Cover and let sit for about 20 minutes.
Rice (or grate or mash) potatoes into the large bowl with the flour. Add the cooking water. Mix with Danish whisk, wooden spoon, or mixer. Add water as needed to make a soft pliable dough. You don’t want it so sticky that it won’t let go of your hands, nor so dry that it has no tackiness to it.
Let rise until double, about 1 hour. (I spray oil on it and cover with plastic wrap or a loaf bag that I have slit up the side and end to make a more durable plastic cover).
Press gently down and either shape 1 large freeform loaf or cut in half for 2 smaller balls. I wish I could describe how to shape the balls of dough so the ‘skin’ is taut and you have ‘tucked’ it in all around the edges to help it rise nicer. Place the loaves or balls or whatever on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Cover and let rise again about 30 minutes.
Now my friend puts the loaf on a pan in a cold oven and turns it on to 400*F, leaving it in until it is done. I usually heat up the oven first. Then, right before I put the bread in, I cut slits in it, either with the tips of a scissors held at about a 20 degree angle to the bread (snip, snip, snip), or with a sharp knife, cut a couple slits in the top, only 1/4″ deep or less. Maybe sprinkle a fingerfull of flour over the top for a rustic look. Or you can spritze it with water just as it goes in (without the flour topping), or leave it plain.
Bake until it reads at least 180*F and up to 200*F, which will take, depending on the size of your loaves, 25-45 minutes and it will be a golden brown.
Let cool a few minutes at least, slice on in and enjoy!