It had been a while since I used my sourdough starters, so I recently spent two consecutive weekends nursing them back to health and baking some bread. The first week, I made a no-frills slow-rise white bread, but last weekend I made something a little bit more exotic – sweet potato bread! The recipe I used is called “Pumpkin Bread” in the La Brea Bakery Bread cookbook, which admits to the intentional misnomer because “pumpkin bread” is more marketable than “yam bread”. (I remain utterly confused as to whether I’m technically using sweet potatoes or yams, but I’m going with my personal convention: dark orange = sweet potato, yellow = yam.)
This is actually the first time I’ve used the Breads from the La Brea Bakery book (I’ve probably had it for eight years or so!), partially because I have so many bread cookbooks (but I still really do need the ones on my Amazon wishlist!), and partially because I’ve finally become confident enough in my sourdough bread-baking to improvide freely where the sometime complex recipes don’t quite work for me (or even just to take a shortcut!).
This recipe, for example, called for roasted pumpkin seeds and wheat germ – I didn’t have those on hand, so I just ignored them. Also, my starter reched peak activity a few hours before I was ready to bake, so I took the amount of starter called for in the recipe and borrowed some of the water and white flour called for in the recipe to feed the starter and keep it happy until I was ready to use it.
My variation of the “Pumpkin” Bread went thusly:
1) 8 ounces active starter; add 4 ounces cold water and 4 ounces bread flour; let stand several hours at room temperature
2) Oven roast 2 medium sweet potatoes at 400 degrees F for one hour; cool, peel and mash; measure 10 ounces for use in the bread, make sure they are room temperature or cooler before continuing.
3) Combine 7 ounces whole wheat flour, 14 ounces bread flour, and one teaspoon ground cumin in a mixing bowl (you should also add one tablespoon salt to this mixture, but I forgot and had to knead it in later).
4) Combine starter mixture, 8 ounces cold water, and mashed sweet potatoes. Add flour mixture one cup at a time, mixing thoroughly.
5) When too thick to mix by hand, transfer to kneading surface and knead in the rest of the flour, adding more if necessary. If you forgot to add the salt earlier, sprinkle it over the kneading surface and work it in now (it’s non-ideal, but it works!).
6) Put dough in lightly-greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight (the book says 6-10 hours, but I think mine was refrigerated for about 14 hours and still turned out well).
7) Divide the dough into three pieces, deflate, and form into rounds; let rest 15 minutes.
8 ) Form rounds into ovals, then construct elaborate flour-covered proofing contraption to help loaves retain oval shape during final rise:
(Alternately, choose an easier shape if you don’t have small oval baskets). I set up my proofing area on my baking peel, covered with a sheet of parchment, for “easy” transfer to the oven. In reality, the loaves were a little too big for that and it wasn’t THAT easy, but I didn’t have to invert the loaves onto the peel before transferring to the oven. I did bake a corner of parchment into the bottom of the smallest loaf, but was easy to avoid parchment-ingestion, so no real harm done!)
9) Let loaves rise for 3-6 hours at room temperature, or 6-10 hours in the refrigerator if you have enough room.
10) Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F at least one hour before baking; I use a baking stone on the lowest rack of my oven. Slash the tops of the loaves, then transfer to the oven; lower the temperature to 450F and spritz the oven with water three times in the first five minutes of baking. After 20 more minutes, rotate the loaves if necessary, then bake an additional 10 minutes and remove from the oven. The loaves will be a lovely roasted orange color (Nancy Silverton, my Los Angeles baking hero, calls it “burnished brown”).
11) Wait patiently for the loaves to cool, then slice to reveal beautiful crumb, roasted cumin fragrance, and deliciously moist interior. For best results, lightly toast, then slather with butter and sprinkle with sea salt!
This is my third submission for YeastSpotting at Wild Yeast!