Tender Potato Focaccia & Bread Rolls

Recipe from What's For Lunch, Honey?


4 medium to large floury (baking) potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks.
4 cups (950 ml) water, reserve cooking water
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
6 ½ cups to 8 ½ cups (1 kg to 1350g) unbleached all-purpose
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
1 cup (130g) whole wheat flour

Note: For the beginner bread baker it is suggested to use no more than 8 ounces of potato; for the more advanced no more than 16 ounces. I used approximately 9 ounces, which did not make the dough as sticky as it probably would have if I had used more.

Making the Dough (Directions are for making by hand):

Put the potatoes and 4 cups water in a sauce pan and bring to boil. Add 1 teaspoon salt and cook, half covered, until the potatoes are very tender.

Drain the potatoes, reserving the potato water, and mash the potatoes well. Tanna had suggested using a food mill for this, I always use my mill to make mashed potatoes as it gives the smoothest results. So, I too would suggest this.

Measure out 3 cups (750ml) of the reserved potato water. Add extra water if needed to make 3 cups. Place the water and mashed potatoes in the bowl you plan to mix the bread dough in. Let cool to lukewarm (70-80°F/21 - 29°C) – stir well before testing the temperature – it should feel barely warm to your hand. You should be able to submerge you hand in the mix and not be uncomfortable.

Add yeast to 2 cups all-purpose flour and whisk. Add yeast and flour to the cooled mashed potatoes and water and mix well. Allow to rest/sit 5 minutes.

Note about adding yeast: If using active dry yeast or fresh yeast, mix and stir yeast into cooled water and mashed potatoes and water and let stand 5 minutes. Then add 2 cups of flour to the yeast mix and allow to rest several minutes. If using instant dry yeast, add yeast to 2 cups all-purpose flour and whisk. Add yeast and flour to the cooled mashed potatoes and water and mix well. Allow to rest/sit 5 minutes.

I used instant dry yeast and simply whisked it into my flour. Sprinkle in the remaining 1 tablespoon salt and the softened butter; mix well. Add the 1 cup whole wheat flour, stir briefly.

Add 2 cups of the unbleached all-purpose flour and stir until all the flour has been incorporated. At this point 4 cups of the possible 8 ½ cups as suggested by the recipe have been used.

Turn the dough out onto a generously floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes, incorporating flour as needed to prevent sticking.

The dough was very sticky to begin with, but as it takes up more flour from the kneading surface, it becomes easier to handle. Scrape the dough off the surface using a scraper.

Keep adding flour until you feel the dough has the right texture. I personally only needed a little over 6 cups.

The kneaded dough will still be very soft and moist, but don't worry, leaving it on parchment or wax paper to proof and to bake makes it easier to handle. Place the dough in a large clean bowl and cover with plastic wrap or lid. Allow to rise for about 2 hours or until doubled in volume.

Flour the surface generously and then turn the dough out onto the surface. Knead gently for several minutes. It will be moist and still a little sticky.

Forming the Bread:
I decided to use half of the dough to make a focaccia and the other half to make rolls. I was able to get one medium sized focaccia (approx 10 x 15 inches) and 6 medium sized rolls with the dough

To make rolls:
Butter a 13 x 9 inch sheet cake pan or a shallow cake pan. Cut the dough into 6 equal pieces. Shape each into a ball under the palm of your floured hand and place on the baking sheet, leaving 1/2 inch between the balls. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for about 35 minutes, until puffy and almost doubled.

To make focaccia:
Flatten out the dough to a rectangle about 10 x 15 inches with your palms and fingertips. Tear off a piece of parchment paper or wax paper a little longer than the dough and dust it generously with flour. Transfer the focaccia to the paper. Brush the top of the dough generously with olive oil and topping (please see below). Cover with plastic and let rise for 20 minutes.

Baking the bread(s):

Note about baking order: Bake the focaccia before you bake rolls.

Note about cooling times: Let all the breads cool on a rack for at least 30 minutes before slicing. Rolls can be served warm or at room temperature.

For rolls:
Brush the tops of the rolls with a little melted butter or olive oil (the butter will give a golden/browned crust). Slash the rolls crosswise two or three times with a razor blade or very sharp knife and immediately place on baking sheet in the oven.

Just before placing the rolls in the oven, I sprinkled my rolls with a few black cumin seeds to give a delicious aromatic flavor. Believe me, the fragrance that lingered in the kitchen was simply gorgeous!

Bake rolls until golden, about 30 minutes.

Transfer the rolls to a rack when done to cool.

For foccaia:
Place a no edged baking/sheet (you want to be able to slide the shaped dough on the parchment paper onto the baking sheet and an edge complicates things). Place the baking sheet on a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 450°F/230°C.

Just before baking, dimple the focaccia all over again with your fingertips. Leaving it on the paper, transfer to the hot baking sheet. Bake until golden, about 10-12 minutes. Transfer to a rack (remove paper) and let cool at least 10 minutes before serving.

Focaccia Topping of my choice:
My topping consisted of some lovely roasted Piquillo Peppers, black olives, basil and coarse sea salt.

200 g of roasted peppers - cut into strips
Handful of Ligurian balck olives - coarsely chopped
Handful of basil leaves - chopped
Coarse sea salt

Simply layer the topping on the focaccia before allowing it to rest for 20 minutes (see above). After the focaccia has rested, dimple bread again and bake as mentioned above.

Alternative suggested toppings:
Simple topping: Olive oil, coarse salt, and rosemary leaves

Anchovy-Onion Focaccia:Top with onions slow-cooked in olive oil or bacon fat, a scattering of chopped anchovy fillets, and flat-leafed parsley leaves.

Important Notes
Conversion Chart for yeast:
1 oz/ 1 Tablespoon of fresh yeast = 0.4 oz/ 1.25 teaspoon active or instant dry yeast = 0.33 oz / 1 teaspoon instant or rapid rise (bread machine) yeast. (Reference: Crust & Crumb by Peter Reinhart).

Notes about Flour:
King Arthur Artisan Organic All-Purpose Flour is fairly new in the markets in the US and is advertised to be best for making European-style hearth breads with a protein level of 11.3%