Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Starting an Herb Garden

My lone germinated rosemary

The kitchen in our new home has a window box for growing plants.  As a cook / baker my thoughts immediately went to herbs.  I have a fairly limited understanding of herbs and so I have started fairly basic. Two weeks ago I planted 3 sweet basil, 3 purple basil, 3 rosemary and 3 chive plants.  All three of the sweet basil came up, two of the purple basil came up, 2 of the chives came up and only one of the rosemary germinated.

I have planted more seeds with the objective of having at least 3 of each of the plants. If I am successful I will share these wonderful plants with my friends.

I also hope to learn what other herbs I should consider planting.
Left to right; sweet basil, purple basil, and chives

Monday, February 20, 2012

Rustic Potato Bread

potato bread
For Christmas my wife gave me the book; "The Secrets of Jesuit Breadmaking by Brother Rick Curry.  Brother Curry has baked for 30 years and shares his wisdom in a fairly no-nonsense approach. I have started working through the book to get an idea of what kind of great bread the Jesuit Brothers have. As it turns out they eat pretty much the same bread we do, they just happen to be exceptional bakers.

The first recipe I started working with is potato bread.  Potato bread is a white bread that is very soft inside and has a wonderfully crisp crust.

Difficulty: Easy
Duration: 2.5 hours
Makes a couple of loaves


1 peeled potato
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup skim milk
2 1/4 teaspoon yeast
6 cups white (unbleached / unbromated ) flour
1 3/4 cups warm potato water


Peal and chop potato.  Boil for about 15 minutes, the potato should be pretty soft.  Separate about 1/2 cup of the potato water into a cool glass so that the temperature is lowered considerably. You want this water to be warm enough to activate the yeast without killing it. Yeast starts to die at about 120 degrees Fahrenheit.  Ideally the water would be about 90 degrees or so.  Combine this potato water with the yeast and set aside.

Combine potato, salt, sugar and butter. Add 3 tablespoons of the milk and mix until pureed.  I used my food processor to quickly puree these items.  Once pureed add remaining milk. Even though Brother Curry only has one arm, I believe he uses a spoon and makes his puree by simply vigorously beating the potato mixture.  

In a large bowl mix yeast / potato water with the potato puree and add 3 cups of the flour. If remaining 1 1/4 cup of potato water has cooled sufficiently ( should be able to hold your finger in it ) add it and the remaining  flour slowly to the bowl. The dough is probably a bit much to handle with a spoon so I turned it out onto the counter and mixed by hand.  Brother Curry's recipe only calls for 3/4 cups of potato water total. I found it was not nearly enough, but be careful as I may have mis-calculated somewhere along the line. 

Kneed dough for 7-8 minutes. Add flour if the dough is sticky. This dough should be very soft on the edge of being sticky.

Coat dough ball with cooking spray, place in a large bowl and cover bowl with plastic wrap. Place bowl in warm place (90 degrees is ideal).  The dough should double in size within about an hour.  

Dough ready for final rise
Remove dough from bowl and kneed for a couple of minutes. Shape two loaves into nice round balls and place on a large baking sheet.  I prefer to coat pan with corn meal but you could use parchment paper or cooking spray.  I cut three slices into the top of the dough for a nice look. I also added a sprinkle of flour.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and allow dough to rise for 30-40 minutes.  

Bake bread for 40 minutes.

That's it! Enjoy! I know we did.

What a great texture on this potato bread