Sweet potato bread might just be the softest bread you'll ever make.
It's January, and already life rushes over me with the single-mindedness of a river heading for a waterfall. I thrive on being busy, but after the holiday chaos, I just want to fall into a sofa by the fire, tuck my legs under a warm quilt, and watch the weather. And eat warm bread fresh from the oven.
Winter in the Mountains
This might sound ho-hum to you, and I get it. But in the mountains, weather is a spectator sport where we watch the forces of nature battle it out like ancient gladiators in the coliseum. This week is one of those times.
Massive snow storms closed the winding mountain road connecting our village to Reno (aka Civilization) due to avalanches. School schedules and services we take for granted - like getting food to our local stores - was in disarray. And we all visit a community Facebook page to get the latest, most accurate information, before venturing out. It really does take a village. And social media.
Yesterday, I forged down Interstate 80 to the Bay Area shortly before it closed in both directions due to mud/snow slides and downed power lines. Imagine driving through a car wash at 45 miles an hour for 2 hours, surrounded by trucks and cars in the same car wash. They're driving much faster than you. Your frantic windshield wipers whips against pounding rain. Strong winds sweep rivers of water across the highway, and huge chunks of snow calve from steep walls of rock. I felt like I was in a car commercial for SUVs.
Hours later, I was through the worst of it, and pulled into a parking lot. While rain pellets bounced off the windows, I relished my dry cocoon of a front seat, and dug into my provisions. Crisp apple slices, a hunk of Jack cheese, and this Sweet Potato Bread slathered with butter. I sunk my teeth into its softness and found Nirvana . I'd made it through the worst of the storm safely, and this was the most satisfying meal I could imagine at the moment.
Sweet Potato Bread
This bread doesn't scream sweet potatoes, in fact I doubt you'll taste them at all. But they do lend an orange-gold color to this beautiful loaf.
Sweet potatoes add a pillowy softness to any bread - I've made sweet potato biscuits, and they're the softest biscuits I've ever made. They also add great moisture to the bread, requiring less butter when making it. I'm sure that extra moistness is what softens the texture.
This is a great way of infusing a vegetable into something your kids will love. Sweet potatoes add fiber and many nutrients to this bread.
High Altitude Baking
When baking at high altitudes, the challenges are the extreme dryness of the air, the difference in air pressure and cooking/baking times. Dryness affects the texture of breads, cakes, cookies, etc. A lower air pressure equates into needing less leaveners such as yeast, baking soda and baking powder.
Here are the changes I made to the original recipe in Rose Levy's classic book, the Bread Bible:
For the sponge, I reduced the flour from 4 ounces to 3.4 ounces. Additionally, I increased the water from ½ cup + 1 tablespoon to ½ cup + 1 ½ tablespoons.
For the flour mixture, I adjusted the flour from 6.3 ounces to 5.3 ounces, and reduced the instant yeast amount from ¾ teaspoon to ½ teaspoon. I wanted to add a little more moistness to the bread since I'm at 7100 ft, and increased the butter from 4 teaspoons to 2 tablespoons.
As a note, you don't always need to reduce the flour amounts, as it contributes greatly to the stability of a baked item. But since I was aiming at a soft, moist bread, I reduced anything that would add to the dryness of the bread.
Sweet Potato Bread with Honey
Dough Starter (Sponge)
- ¾ cup (3.375 ounces) + 1 Tablespoon all-purpose white flour, (I use King Arthur)
- ½ cup + 1 Tablespoon slightly warm water, 70 - 90˚F is ideal
- 2 teaspoons honey
- ¼ teaspoon instant yeast, I use Fleischmann's Rapid Rise
- 1 medium sweet potato, unpeeled
- 1 ¼ cups (5.625) ounces all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons dry milk powder, I used Bob's Red Mill
- ¾ teaspoon instant yeast
- 1 ½ tablespoons unsalted butter, softened (I used Kerrygold)
- 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt, or 1 teaspoon table salt
- Combine all of the Sponge ingredients in a large bowl, and whisk thoroughly until smooth. It will be the consistency of a thick batter. Cover with plastic while you make the Flour Mixture.
- Bake the sweet potato until tender. I bake mine super-quick in about 6 - 8 minutes in the microwave oven.
- In a separate smaller bowl, combine the following Flour Mixture ingredients - flour, milk powder, and yeast - and thoroughly whisk so that the yeast is evenly dispersed in the dry ingredients. Using a large spoon, sprinkle this dry mixture over the top of the Sponge, and cover with plastic. Do not whisk or otherwise combine at this point. Set the bowl in a warm area of the kitchen to ferment for a couple of hours. I always heat a cup of water in my microwave oven, slide it to a back corner, and place the bowl in the microwave. The sponge will bubble up through and around the dry mixture covering it.
- Scrape the sponge and dry mixture into the bowl of a standing mixer, fitted with a dough hook. Add the butter and ½ cup of the mashed potato (it will likely be the entire potato). Mix into a dough at low speed until the flour is moistened, and forms a rough ball. Cover with plastic and let it sit for 20 minutes.
- Add the salt and knead with the dough hook at a medium speed until the the dough is smooth and shiny.
- Oil a bowl, scrape the dough into the bowl, and cover with plastic. Set in a warm area of the kitchen free of drafts to allow the dough to rise and double in size (about 1 ½ - 2 hours).
- Gently scrape it onto a lightly floured work surface, and smooth the dough out into a rectangle. Fold the dough as if you are folding a business letter. Turn the dough 90˚ and fold again like a business envelope. You'll end up with a thick packet. These folds are important for developing structure in the finished bread. Return it to the oiled bowl, cover with plastic, and return it to a warm area of the kitchen free of drafts. Let the dough double again in size, about 1 ½ - 2 hours.
- Preheat the oven to 400˚F 1 hour before baking the bread, and set the rack you'll use at the bottom of the oven, or one rung up from the bottom. Place a baking stone on the rack.
- Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work space, slightly flatten into a rectangle, and fold into a business envelop one final time. Tuck under the ends so that a loaf is formed. Butter a loaf dish, and place the dough in the dish. It won't fill it yet. Cover with plastic, and allow to rise one final time. It should dome above the sides of the loaf pan.
- Slide the loaf pan onto the baking stone and bake for 5 minutes. Lower the temperature to 375˚F and continue to bake for 15 - 20 minutes, or until the temperature probe inserted into the middle of the bread reads 190-200˚F.
- Unmold and cool on a wire rack before eating.
Looking for more bread ideas? Check out my Wimpy Vegetarian Breads board on Pinterest!