Sweet Potato and Rosemary Bread
I hear that Lulu Lemon makes a line of completely stretchy, comfortable but work appropriate pants now. I think I might have to invest in some, because the lure of an elastic waistband is getting to be too much for me. So far we have one Thanksgiving meal down the gullet, and hot on the heels of that leftover turkey gravy and mashed potatoes we’ll be feasting on another one. Add to that the leftovers which were packed to go home with us from Mike’s family celebration yesterday, plus what I’m sure we’ll be gathering up at my parent’s house later today, and it’s unlikely that I’ll want to go anywhere near poultry again until next Easter. But that’s for later. Right now, I’m still thinking that the only thing better than Thanksgiving dinner is TWO Thanksgiving dinners.
We made this bread to bring to Mike’s parent’s house on Saturday as one of our contributions to the feast. I can’t bring myself to show up at anyone’s house empty handed, particularly if they’ve gone to the effort of making a fabulous meal, but I’ve also been trying to train myself not to go over the top with volume. Mike’s mother (who I adore. It’s easy to see where Mike got his awesomeness from) cautioned us all via email, “There will be plenty of food, so there’s no need for anyone to overdo it…” I really tried. I decided to bring a loaf of fresh bread for the table and a batch of cinnamon scented caramel walnut ice cream to go with the pies. But then I remembered that Mike’s father was a fan of the prosciutto in the last appetizer we brought, so I also made a batch of truffled mascarpone and prosciutto rotolos. That’s still restraint, right? Almost? But…but then I started to panic that it seemed pretty chintzy to just show up with bread and nothing to slather on it, so about 20 minutes before we were due to leave I cobbled together a Brie en Croute with sundried tomatoes, marinated artichoke and pine nuts. Apparently that lesson about restraint hasn’t really started to sink in.
The main reason that I wanted to make a sweet potato bread, other than the obvious seasonality, was because I had a solitary sweet potato which would otherwise have continued languishing in the cupboard for another few weeks until I brought home some friends for it to have a Tater Tea Party with. And so the sweet potato got tossed in the oven along with dinner the night before, and after an overnight refrigeration it was cool, soft and perfectly ready to get mashed. I’m kind of a fan of anything which involves re-purposing leftovers or random food stuffs.
The one caution that I really feel I should warn you about is that this dough is a bit fussier than most because it’s so dang sticky. Many people find bread making to be daunting. I usually don’t, but that’s because I’m so used to the process. This wasn’t always the case. I will never forget one of my first attempts, a müesli loaf that I had bought about 7 different seeds and fruits to make. The yeast bloomed but then my dough never rose properly. At that point, I didn’t know what properly was supposed to look like. After vigorous kneading, 2 hours of proofing, a second kneading, a second rise and baking in the preheated oven, I had an absolutely müesless pancake of a loaf. It was denser than hard tack. I couldn’t even use the loaf for bread crumbs (the bastard tried to break my food processor) or even a bread pudding. It was a pretty devastating first try. But hey, when you fail the best thing to do is just roll up those sleeves and try again, right? Now that I’m at a point where I can evaluate my bread by feel, sight and smell, things have much improved. The results aren’t always perfect mind you, and once in a while I’ll still put out buns that make you want to yell, “FORE!!” The important thing is just not to get discouraged, and keep on trucking. Because when your bread turns out well? You feel like a rock star. That’s got to be worth something.
Back to the dough. If you’ve ever made potato bread, you know how it can be a bit dense and moist? Sweet potato bread is an entirely separate beast. The dough itself will feel lighter in the hand than a normal potato bread, but it will try everything it can to leak out between your fingers, superglue itself onto the one part of your cutting board that you forgot to flour, and completely seal off any jewelery that you were foolish enough to wear so that your fingers look like dough mitts. Just be patient, and don’t be afraid to keep a small bowl of flour handy for frequent dusting.
Sweet Potato and Rosemary Bread
Makes 2 baguette style loaves
- 1 large baked sweet potato (about 1.5 cups mashed)*
- 1 tbsp active dry yeast
- 1.25 cups milk
- 2 + 1 tbsp butter
- 1/3 cup maple syrup
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 1.5 tbsp salt
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- 3.5 cups all purpose flour + more to dust
- 1.5 cups whole wheat flour
- 1-2 large sprigs of fresh rosemary (2 tsp finely chopped) **
* I love sweet potatoes, whether they’re roasted, fried, mashed or baked. If you have an extra baked sweet potato in it’s jacket from dinner the night before, that’s far more convenient than baking a single sweet potato specifically for this recipe. However, it’s also a great way to use up some of the sweet potato mash from Thanksgiving – just watch the sugar you add to the recipe if you sweetened the side dish. In a pinch, if there are no leftover sweet potatoes to be had and it breaks your heart to imagine turning on the oven for an hour to bake one potato, you can sprinkle it lightly with water and microwave in a sealed container on high power for about 6-9 minutes, or until it’s soft and cooked through.
** If you don’t have fresh rosemary you can use 1.5 tsp of dried.
Peel the sweet potato and mash the flesh into a pulp.
In a heatproof bowl, microwave the milk and 2 tbsp of butter until the butter is just barely melted. Stir in the sugar and the maple syrup and then let the mixture cool until it’s warmer than room temperature, but not hot. The reason that you want to do this is kind of in three parts. You want to scald the milk because it will incorporate better into the dough and produce a lighter, chewier texture, which is important in this moist and hearty bread. You want to melt the butter so that it’s more easily dispersed, and the warmth will encourage the yeast to activate and multiply rapidly. However, you still want to be careful to cool the milk sufficiently (it should be about body temperature) because if you add the yeast to a piping hot liquid you’ll actually kill it off and the bread won’t rise. Don’t worry though, it’s not nearly as fussy as I’m making it out to be – just heat and then let it cool for about 5 minutes so the temperature comes down.
Add the yeast to the milk and put it aside to activate. After about 5-7 minutes the mixture should be frothy and teeming with yeasty activity.
Whisk the mashed sweet potato into the yeast mixture, and prepare yourself because this will look very similar to what you harfed up after one fateful night at the bar. Just steel yourself against that fact, and remember that it’s for the greater good: home baked bread.
Pull the needles off from your rosemary and discard the woody stems. Finely chop the herbs until you still have distinguishable greenery but it’s not long needles anymore.
In a large mixing bowl sift together the all purpose and whole wheat flours, salt and black pepper. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and stir them together with a hefty wooden spoon until your dough starts to come together.
Generously flour (using all purpose, not whole wheat) your work surface and turn the dough out. Remember that this is a fussier dough because there’s a lot of sticky moisture from the sweet potatoes which means a bit more work and frequent re-flouring of the board. This dough has a natural propensity for sticking. I estimate that I used almost another 1/2 cup of flour just turning out the dough and kneading it. The reason that I wouldn’t just add this extra flour in right away is that the dough could end up too dry and dense when the bread is baked. A wetter dough will encourage a quicker rise for the yeast and also provide nice air pockets and a hearty crumb to the bread. You want to work with just enough flour, repeating the sprinkle regularly to ensure that you don’t have a big doughy mess stuck to your board. You’ll also notice that despite the fact that the dough is cantankerous and clingy, the ball will still feel much lighter and almost pillowy compared to a regular whole wheat loaf.
Knead the dough with a fairly light hand for 5-10 minutes until the texture feels rather smooth and somewhat elastic. Shape the dough into a ball and turn it around in a large, lightly oiled bowl until it’s nicely coated. Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel and place it in a warm, draft free spot to rise for about an 1-1.5 hours.
When the dough has doubled in size, cut it in half. Flour your work surface again and work 1/2 the dough into a long rectangle, about 13″ x 9″…but no need to break out the measuring tape. Roll the dough up into a long cylinder and squeeze/pull gently until the loaf is about the same size as your baking sheets. Pinch the ends and tuck them under just slightly, squeezing again. Rolling the dough up will encourage the loaf to rise vertically as opposed to just spreading out.
Repeat with the other half of the dough.
Lay the two long loaves-to-be on a lipped baking sheet lined with parchment paper. The ridge of the baking sheet will help to make sure that your bread doesn’t expand in directions that it shouldn’t. Cover the dough loosely with a clean tea towel and leave it in a warm, draft free place for about another hour, or until the dough is airy and has expanded to roughly double it’s size.
Preheat your oven to 400ºF about 15 minutes before you’re ready to go with the bread, because you want it piping hot when the bread gets tucked inside.
Right before the bread goes into the oven, melt the remaining tablespoon of butter and brush the top and sides of both loaves. Using a short and sharp knife, cut diagonal slits straight up the bread, each one about 1/4″ thick.
Bake the bread in the center of your preheated oven for 18-22 minutes, or until the exterior has a rich, brown crust. To test for doneness, carefully turn the loaf over and rap lightly with your knuckles. If the bread is cooked it will sound almost hollow. If you get a muffled, thick sound when you rap but the top is nicely browned, tent the bread in tinfoil, reduce the oven temperature to 350ºF and let it continue to cook for another 5-10 minutes.
Please remember that a scant 20 minutes to cook a loaf of bread is not a long time, so keep a careful eye on it. After all that mashing, kneading and flouring it would be a shame to let your loaves burn. Keep a watchful eye, even if there are people in your midst who are trying to lure you out of the kitchen with temptations of crazy cat videos on YouTube, or the synthesized opening sounds of House which are barely perceptible in the basement.
Let the bread cool for at least an hour before slicing it. If I was a purist I would ask you, politely of course, to please let the bread cool fully to room temperature. However, I’m not a purist. I’m a realist. The smell of baking bread and the barely sweet herbal aroma wafting out of the oven drives me a little bit batty, and there’s no way that I’m going to wait 4 hours before digging in. Also, fresh warm bread with robust shavings of cold butter is truly one of the finer things in life.
As an added bonus, I’m just wicked enough to enjoy how you can lure fussy people into eating sweet potatoes AND whole wheat in one go, because bread fresh out of the oven is just truly that enticing. And….they also won’t notice unless you tell them. Don’t tell them.
Biting into this moist, rich and subtly sweet bread made the sticky hands and filthy floured kitchen seem like it was totally worth it. There’s something cathartic about being elbow deep in sticky dough, and I don’t think I could ever resent baked goods for that considering what a stress reliever they can be to make….and eat….
The baked loaves are best when eaten the day that they’re made, but even as day old it’s not so bad. If you have leftovers, however, there’s ample opportunity to use them up. You could;
- Cube the bread, toast it, and add a new flavor dimension to your stuffing for poultry or pork loin.
- Dry out the rounds and use them to top a hearty fall French Onion Soup.
- Toast the bread to make croutons for a nice fall salad with red lettuce, pumpkin seeds and gorgonzola.
- Grind up the stale pieces to make breadcrumbs for your holiday gratins.
- Whisk together some eggs and milk and pour this over layers of bread slices/cubes and sprinkled Swiss cheese. After a night in the fridge, strata is the perfect low maintenance crowd feeding breakfast food.
The only thing I like as much as fresh home baked bread is stale bread, so don’t let those efforts go to waste after a day sitting out on the counter top.
HAPPY THANKSGIVING, CANADA!!!