makes 1 large free-form loaf
3 medium potatoes, or enough to make 1 cup mashed potatoes
1 package active dry yeast
2 1/2 cups warm water (110º to 115º, approximately)
2 pounds unbleached all purpose flour (approximately 8 cups)
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
1/2 tablespoon caraway seed
Scrub the potatoes and boil them in their skins until tender. Drain them, then peel and mash or put them through a potato ricer while they are still warm. Allow the potatoes to cool.
Dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup of the warm water, mix well with 3 tablespoons of the flour in a large bowl, and let this "starter" rise for 30 minutes. Add the remaining 2 cups of warm water, the salt and the caraway seeds, then add the remainder of the flour and the mashed potatoes and mix well. Turn out on a floured board and knead until the dough is elastic and supple and has great life to it, about 12 to 15 minutes. Shape into a ball. Oil a bowl, put the dough into it, and turn the dough to coat it with oil. Place in a warm, draft free spot for 1 to 2 hours to rise until doubled in bulk.
Remove the dough, punch down, and knead 4 to 5 minutes. Shape into a large round loaf, place in a buttered 12-inch oven proof skillet with rounded sides, and let rise for about 30 to 35 minutes. Brush the loaf with water, and then make a deep incision in the form of a cross in the center. Bake it in a pre-heated 400º oven for 1 hour, or until it is nicely browned and sounds hollow when tapped with the knuckles. (The baking time can vary, taking even as long as 1 1/4 hours).
- If you find the dough is not too soft, you might try letting it rise in a free-form shape on a cookie sheet sprinkled with cornmeal. Then slide it directly onto hot tiles to bake (see page 12).
- You may want more salt in this bread the second time you make it; I find that 2 tablespoons is not too much.