Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Bay Area musings and a Chocolate Torpedo

Wonders never cease! Here I am in the Bay Area enjoying the delightful company and hospitality of my youngest son and his family for three weeks and first miracle, it's spring out, the magnolias and other early-flowering trees are in bloom and the birds are holding daylong concerts in the park (while snow is on the ground and in the forecast in the Northeast). Secondly, I take my 3-year old grandson to Costco and he snacks from almost all the tasting booths (something his Mom says he normally never does), even asking for doubles. Thirdly, while wandering the aisles with my smiling little fellow-shopper, I find at a decent price (albeit under a different label) the very same organic all-purpose flour which has become so expensive at Whole Foods back home that it is now out of reach, especially considering the daily quantities required to maintain a levain (the Costcos I know back East only carry bleached flour).
(the price is for 2 x 20 lbs)
Fourthly, I hit the local Trader Joe's and not only does it carry an (excellent) organic whole wheat cranberry-walnut bread I have never seen back East, but it sells an organic whole wheat miche au levain which isn't bad at all. A Gérard bread it ain't, for sure, but as miches go (never my favorite bread anyway), it holds its own, especially if used as a basis for tartines à la Poilâne (open-face sandwiches which can be hot or cold, savory or sweet):
Finally, I decide to put to the test the legend which says that the Bay Area is so teaming with wild yeast that bread almost rises by itself and try making potato yeast, a new (for me) leavening agent (recipe follows). True to the legend, the thing bubbles away almost right away, smelling more and more like beer as the hours pass and finally I get to bake with it (while the dehydrated levain nugget I have brought with me to the West Coast slowly comes back to life through TLC and basic CPR) and, lo and behold, I manage to produce the most dynamic bread I have ever made in my life. I am calling it a torpedo because of its shape and because of the boundless energy the dough seemed to hold in check while I was working with it. There was no way I could fit it in the 9x5 inch bread pan the recipe called for and frankly, it looked so determined to inflate no matter what that I am not sure which would have imploded first, the bread or the pan. So I ended up baking it free-form with no baking stone (there is none in the house) and hardly any steam (I had forgotten to heat up a pan inside the oven and no spray bottle was available) and, ladies and gentlemen, it rose anyway as inexorably as a phoenix out of the ashes (just a metaphor, there were no ashes in sight!). The crumb doesn't look like much, a fact that I mostly attribute to the shaping: the dough is supposed to be rolled jellyroll fashion and frankly I don't see why it should be. It would have done very well shaped as a batard and next time that's what I'll do. For there will be a next time. This bread is truly very good, not sweet (which I wouldn't care for), with a tender crumb, a soft crust (probably due to the milk) and an excellent flavor. I'm be curious to see what else I can make with this potato yeast. It obviously isn't levain but it isn't commercial yeast either (look at the cuts in the crust, they opened up much more than they would have on a simple yeasted bread). It is just an alternate leavening agent and it gets me thinking about what else I could use to ferment dough when I am in a mood for a change... The recipe comes from One Potato Two Potatoes, by Molly Stevens and Roy Finamore, a book which is choke-full of terrific and sometimes quite unexpected potato ideas. I had never read anything by Roy Finamore before but I own All About Braising by Molly Stevens and it is such an excellent book that I was sure I couldn't go wrong with the potato yeast recipe. The authors say that this yeast "is a snap to make" (which is a fact) and that it is "a little bit sweet and the tiniest bit sour" (which is true too). It keeps for about 2 weeks in the fridge but it cannot be fed.
Potato yeast recipe
Please note that these proportions will yield much more yeast than needed for the torpedo but because of the possible flavor and other benefits of the mass effect, I wouldn't try to go for a lesser amount. I would (and will) use the leftover in another dough. 380 g russet potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks 32 g medium coarse organic whole wheat flour (the authors use all-purpose but I prefer whole grain) 20 g molasses 10 g sugar 8 g coarse salt 3 g instant dry yeast (the authors use 1 tsp active dry yeast but I used what I had available)
  1. Put the potatoes into a small saucepan with 1 liter of cold water. Bring to a boil, cover partway; reduce the heat to medium and cook until the potatoes are just about falling apart. Drain, reserving the water
  2. Push the potatoes through a strainer or put them through a ricer into a bowl (I only had a masher and that's what I used but prior to using the yeast, I eliminated the clumps by mixing it with an immersion blender). Add the potato water and let cool to lukewarm
  3. Add the flour, molasses, sugar, salt, and yeast and whisk until smooth.
  4. Cover and let sit in a warm place for 3 to 6 hours. Depending on how old your potatoes are and how much liquid they absorbed, the yeast may be quite thick (mine wasn't). Bubbles may come quick or slow, and it will be an eerie looking thing (I am quoting the authors but it IS truly eerie to see bubbles come to the surface as if there a strange animal was breathing under the surface). The longer you let it sit, the deeper the flavor will be.
  5. The yeast can be used immediately or transfered to a plastic contained with a lid and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before using.
Chocolate Torpedo (a.k.a. Chocolate Walnut Bread)
60 g good quality dark chocolate, finely chopped (I used Trader Joe's Ecuador chocolate) 40 g sugar (I used slightly less than indicated in the recipe) 4.5 g coarse salt 0.8 g baking soda 260 g milk 238 g potato yeast 8.5 g vanilla extract 580 to 665 g unbleached all-purpose flour 120 g chopped walnuts (I roasted them in a 350F/177C oven for 10 to 15 minutes because I think they come more flavorful that way but it is entirely optional and the authors do not mention it)
  1. Combine the chocolate, sugar, salt, and baking soda in a bowl. Bring the milk to a simmer and pour it over the chocolate. Set aside to melt and cool, stirring occasionally
  2. Combine the potato yeast, vanilla and 330 g of the flour in a large bowl. Add the chocolate mixture and beat vigorously with a wooden spoon until very smooth. Cover with plastic wrap or a dampened towel and set to rise in a warm place (the warmest I could find was 70F/21C and it still worked fine) until doubled, 1 1/2 to 2 hours
  3. Work in 3/4 of the remaining flour, adding the rest as needed, to make a firm dough that isn't sticky, then turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic (the authors recommend using a standing mixer with a dough hook but I did it manually and it was no problem)
  4. Knead the walnuts into the dough. Put the dough into an oiled bowl, cover again with plastic and set it to rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour
  5. (At this point the authors say to punch down the dough and scrape it onto a lightly floured counter, roll it out into a 9-by-12 inch rectangle, then roll it up loosely starting at one of the narrow ends, to finally put it seam-side down in a 9-by 5-inch loaf pan). I am actually sorry I rolled mine out because I might have gotten a much more open crumb if I had just pre-shaped it loosely as a ball, let it rest for 20 minutes or so and then shaped it into a big batard. So that would be my recommendation. Then cover it loosely with plastic or a dampened towel and leave it to rise until doubled, about 40 minutes
  6. About 20 minutes before the end of the rising time, heat the oven to 350 degrees F/177 C
  7. When the oven is hot, dust the loaf with flour (if desired), make a few slits in the top with a very sharp knife and bake for 40 minutes (mine was so huge I actually baked it for 10 more minutes)
  8. Let cool completely on a rack before slicing. By then the chocolate aroma which will permeate your house will have you dying for a taste but I would strongly recommend resisting the temptation to cut into the bread while warm: it actually finishes baking as it cools down
  9. Enjoy!
The Chocolate Torpedo goes to Susan, from Wild Yeast for Yeastpotting.


  1. That bread looks so good! I've been wanting to try a potato yeast starter. This would be great for Valentine's day.

  2. I've never tried potato yeast. I love the crust of this bread, and with chocolat, it must be so delicious!

  3. $12 for 10lbs. bag of organic unbleached flour...that's not bad at all. Three or four years ago I was paying $36 for a 50lbs. sack of organic bread flour, and this was from another milling company. Interesting that the organic miche bread from Trader Joe's does not contain yeast or sourdough as one of the ingredients.

  4. @Cathy, yes, you are right, it'd be a great bread for Valentine's Day breakfast.
    @Mamatkamal, it is very good and it keeps much better than a regular yeast bread.
    @Carl, actually the $12 are for 2 x 10 lbs. So, yes, it is a pretty good price. Re: miche. I too was taken aback by the absence of the any mention of a leavener, then I figured out that levain is nothing but flour, water and salt and these ingredients are already listed. :-)

  5. Which Costco is that? I live in Sonoma County, where Central Milling is located, and I don't think our Costco carries it.

  6. It's this one: 4801 Central Ave Richmond, CA 94804.
    Maybe you could talk to the manager of your local Costco. If there is enough interest, he/she might decide to carry it too. Good luck!

  7. Wow, great bread and interesting yeast. I hope I remember to try this (I bookmark your recipes all the time and then forget to go back and try them out).

  8. This looks great. I have a question, though: does it really taste chocolate-ey? Whenever I make chocolate bread it ends up tasting like pumpernickel bread to me.

  9. Thanks, Mimi! I hope you make potato yeast. It is lots of fun.
    Thank you, Laura. It doesn't taste that chocolate-y (which is fine with me but one of my tasters said that he would have liked double the amount of chocolate, so you could try that...)

  10. Jolis pains et j'aime bien l'idée d'un Pain nommé Pascal(sur l'étiquette). Il faudrait que je lui en fasse un pile aujourd'hui, pour son anni :-)
    Coucou à tout le monde en CA.

  11. Coucou, Flo, merci de ta visite et bon anni à Pascal !



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