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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Food Transformations (AKA Creative Use of Leftovers)

Would you guess that this gorgeous loaf of sourdough bread is actually a transformation of a couple of leftover sweet potatoes?


I've always been what I like to call a "creative re-purposer" of leftover food, but ever since I received the gift of some 75 year old sourdough starter last year, I've been experimenting a lot with baking, and I've discovered that the process is actually quite amenable to using up all sorts of leftovers.

Items which can be felicitously incorporated into a loaf of bread include (but are not limited to):

rice, white or brown

oatmeal, instant or steel cut, sweetened or not

mashed potatoes

cooked polenta

cheese scraps - the bits and pieces that are getting a little bit hard. Grate it first.

yogurt - my kids often seriously over-serve themselves with yogurt and frozen blueberries or raspberries. This can be scraped right out of their bowls into the batter. Don't worry, you're going to bake it at 375 degrees for an hour.

fresh herbs - I don't know about you but I can always find a third of a bunch of parsley or a couple of green onions that are not quite looking their best anytime I open the crisper drawer. I am extremely picky about fresh herbs when I plan to scatter them over a finished dish, but considerably less so for applications like cheese sauce or herb bread.

refried beans or hummus

Obviously, some of these items work better for sweet breads and others for savory ones. This bread I made today is a sweet bread. I had two leftover baked sweet potatoes, and although I had never tried it before, I could imagine a kind of delicious sweet egg-bread (a la challah or brioche) made from them. As it turns out, I left the bread to rise too long and so it isn't very sweet, but it's still delicious.

And actually, my taste-vision is still alive, because I just had a stroke of genius. Never believe that leftovers can only be used once! Food is eternally reincarnated. My sweet potato bread will rise again in the form of french toast with maple syrup!

Sweet Potato Sourdough

Make a chef with a cup of sourdough starter, a cup of flour and a half to three quarters cup of lukewarm water. Beat well. Leave overnight at cool-room temperature in a VERY large bowl.

In the morning, smash your sweet potatoes in a medium bowl. Add a cup of sugar, a teaspoon or more of cinnamon and three eggs. Lay out in front of you the VERY large bowl with the chef in it (which should be big and poofy), the sweet potato mixture, and a bag of flour (whole wheat, white, or some of each. I like to use about half and half.).

Add the sweet potato mixture to the chef and beat with a wooden spoon until fairly well incorporated. Dump in a few cups of flour and keep beating until you pretty much can't anymore - the dough will clump up around the spoon. Scrape dough off spoon and get ready to knead. I knead right in the bowl, myself. Just keep dipping your hand into the bag of flour (white and wheat alternately, in my case) and knead until the dough gets sticky. Then dip up some more flour.

Since I don't measure at all, I really can't help you with that. Hopefully you've made lots of bread before and can recognize the smooth, silky, almost bouncy feel of good dough. This particular dough will be a little bit slack and sticky. That's okay.

When you think it's at the right place, let it rise in the oven with the light on for an hour. As I discovered, this dough rises quickly because of the sugar. When nearly doubled in bulk, remove and knead very gently and quickly for a minute or two and turn out onto a baking sheet. Slash the top with a knife. Let rise for another fifteen minutes while you preheat the oven to 375.

Bake at 375 for 45 minutes to an hour, rotating once. Bread is done when deeply browned and makes a nice thumping sound when lightly whacked on the bottom. And when you have floated off to heaven on the scent emanating from it.

Eat with lots of butter and a mug of hot chocolate. Don't blame me when you've eaten the whole thing.


4 comments:

Olive said...

Oh Aimee ! I can smell that bread from here. It looks super too.

I have a lot of trouble when I try to make bread, it always turns out like a frizbee. (just in case a frizbee is called something different in US it is a flat plastic disc that children hurl through the air, to each other) but you make it sound so easy.

WeekendFarmer said...

NICE : )

Aimee said...

Olive,
do you use yeast or sourdough? If yeast, dry instant or cake? If sourdough, you just have to make a chef and let it develop for at least twelve hours. (A chef is just a cup or so of your starter plus equal parts flour and water) If you do that, you just about can't go wrong. With sourdough, the main mistake is trying to rush it. It won't be rushed. I've made a lot of frisbees, too. If yeast, make certain it a) isn't expired, and b) isn't dead. You can kill it by using too-hot water to proof it. Also the rise time is important - too short and it';s dense. But if you let it go TOO long it will also be dense - because the yeast uses up all the sugar and then dies, collapsing on itself. Usually about an hour to two hours is right, depending on room temperature.
Don't give up - homemade bread is so satisfying!

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