Using vegetables in baking

Over recent weeks I’ve been experimenting with vegetable-themed baking, and, returning to baking and bread-making, have been exploring ways of using starchy vegetables in bread and pastry. Denis has a gluten allergy and makes pastry using mashed potato (we’ll post about this another time), so the practice is not entirely unknown to us.

I returned to my bible of bread-making, Elizabeth David’s English Bread and Yeast Cookery, (the Penguin 1979 edition) and read up on the use of potato. She talks of potato bread being associated with times of grain shortage or times of economic necessity and of 19th century writers advocating it as the best bread for toast. Apparently it makes moist, light toast that holds the butter very well!

David suggests a bread recipe from Our Daily Bread (Richard Tames, 1973; Penguin) might be from war-time; described as a ‘cheap recipe’ the proportions are 1lb each of flour and potatoes; the potatoes are boiled after peeling, which would make them mushy as they would absorb water in the cooking. The potatoes were then added to the flour with no additional liquid and baked as round loaves. I haven’t used this proportion, but might give it a try.

Another vegetable bread referred to by Elizabeth David, is Pumpkin Bread. This account is from The Family Magazine:
‘To make bread that will keep moist and good very long

Slice a pompion, and boil it in fair water, till the water grows clammy, or somewhat thick; then strain it through a fine cloth, or sieve, and with this make your bread, well kneading the dough; and it will not only encrease the quantity of it, but make it keep moist and sweet a month longer than bread wetted with fair water only’.
The Family Magazine, London, 1741

Quoted in Elizabeth David,1979, English Bread and Yeast Cookery, Penguin; London p.292.

So, to our experiment.
Vegetable Bread

Using Elizabeth David’s Potato Bread recipe p.288 as the base:
To 1lb of strong white bread flour, the proportion of potato is 1/4lb mashed v.smoothly, completely dry, used while warm.
We used 1/4lb cooked (baked and skinned beetroot), Sanguina, which is very red as it’s name indicates. Beetroot added to the dry flour in a food mixer and blended to a dampish mix.
Other ingredients:

1/2oz fresh bakers yeast or 1/4oz dried yeast
1/2pt milk and water mixed in ratio 1:2, warmed to blood heat ( you can’t feel the temperature when you dip your finger in the liquid – same temperature as your blood!)
minimum 3/4oz salt

Metric measures
450g white flour
120g potato
15g/10g yeast (fresh/dried)
300cl milk/water
20g salt
Use a tin with 1.5 litre capacity

Warm the sifted flour in the oven
Activate the yeast in 1 or 2 tbsp warm (blood heat) water for approx 15mins.
Mix the dough, leave it to rise after initial kneading, covered in a cool place for approx 4 hours – vegetable bread does take longer to rise than usual because of the density created by the vegetables.
Knock dough back, knead well, shape and put into a 2.5-3 pt tin; cover with a damp cloth and leave until the dough reaches the top of the tin.
Bake in a hot oven 425oF/220oC/gas 7 for about 45 minutes – take care not to allow the crust to get too dark or hard. It is finished when the loaf sounds hollow when tapped with your knuckles

We used a round, deep cake tin approx 6”x4” (15cmx10cm)
We used Maldon sea salt and found 3/4oz was too much; have used 1/2oz in subsequent loaves.
For the loaf above we sprinkled with poppy seeds before baking.
Cover the dough with a damp cloth while it is rising the 2nd time to prevent a hard skin forming. This will inhibit the loaf from rising when it’s put in the oven and result in a tough crust.
I think any vegetable could be used as a substitute in the same proportions; however, we have concluded that potato bread is the most successful; parsnip and carrot are quite distinctive, but other variations are curiosities and don’t warrant repeat.
January 1st 2012, Brighton

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