Bread

The Unexpected Secret to Chewy, Bready Goodness

April 20, 2018

Come on, Let's Get Scrappy. All you need is a little inspiration and...stuff you already have!

Focaccia is one of the most satisfying breads to make at home—it’s low-risk (measuring ingredients is the hardest part) and high-reward (warm, chewy, homemade bread = enough said!).

And did I mention it's easy? There’s no kneading, just some mixing and a bit of wait time before you can start ripping off chunks of salty goodness. There’s only one way to make focaccia even better than it already is: by incorporating a kitchen scrap that ups the ante on tender bread texture (psst: it’s potato peels!).

Now, many cooks know that a little potato can go a long way in doing great things for bread by adding moisture and helping create a tender, chewy crumb. Cook’s Illustrated broke down the benefits in a recipe for potato rolls:

  • Super-Soft Crumb: When potatoes are boiled, the starch molecules swell. This interferes with the ability of flour proteins to form gluten, which means you get bread that's light and tender.
  • Moist Texture: M-word haters, my apologies, but there’s just no other way to describe it. “Potato starch granules are about five times larger than wheat starch granules and are therefore capable of absorbing at least five times more water, resulting in a moister crumb,” notes Cook’s Illustrated.
  • Longer Shelf Life: Bread rarely lasts for long in my household, so I’ll have to take their word for it, but it could help some of you to know that a potato-laden loaf can last a little longer than normal bread because “potato starch molecules hinder wheat starches from staling, thereby keeping the bread’s crumb soft for days.”
Photo by James Ransom

The good news is that potato peels provide all of the same benefits, in addition to great taste (after all, peels are where most of the potatoes’ flavor lives). I first learned that potato peels’ true destiny is in bread from longtime Food52er AntoniaJames. She shared years ago that she cooks her peels in about 4 times their volume of water until tender, then blitzes them with a hand blender, saving both the starchy cooking water and the blended potato peel mush for use in rustic artisanal breads. I wanted to use the starchy water and peels at the same time, so I cooked my peels in less water, then blended the peels right along with it.

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While you could use potato peels in any sort of bread, I thought they'd only add to focaccia’s already-pleasantly chewy texture. I started with Alexandra Stafford’s Overnight Refrigerator Focaccia as my base recipe. Stafford’s no-knead bread, and her recent cookbook, Bread Toast Crumbs, have taught me so much about bread baking, so I was thrilled when she recently shared a tweaked version of her base focaccia bread. With a heap of potato peels staring me down after I’d made a batch of creamy mashed potatoes, it was meant to be.

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Top Comment:
“Lindsay, sweet potatoes (and their peels) can be a nice addition to baked goods, but as they don't contain the same type of starch as white potatoes, the effects on the baked good are not going to be the same. It will be more like adding a drier variety of squash, and the cooking water will be watery...just slightly tinted orange!”
— Windischgirl
Comment

One note: hopefully it goes without saying that you should always wash (and scrub, when applicable) your produce before eating, but it’s especially important when you’re cooking with scraps, as by nature, you’re cooking with parts that are frequently discarded. And, when you’re cooking with scraps like potato peels, any lingering dirt will ruin the final result—a vegetable brush will help make sure it’s as clean as possible.

Any type of potato peels can be used in this recipe: Lightly-colored, thinner ones will virtually disappear, while darker-colored ones will freckle the dough. I didn’t test this with sweet potato skins, but my guess is that they’d work just as well, and they’d be especially fun to try in a sweeter bread.

I made this focaccia with both Yukon Golds and russet potato peels, and the results were equally delicious. I'd recommend eating it straight up, swiped through olive oil or hummus, or toasted and topped with avocado. I also followed Stafford’s suggestion and turned one round into a giant sandwich—doing so for your next potluck pretty much guarantees coming home with an empty plate.

Inspired by Potato (Peel) Focaccia, my mind immediately jumped to loaded baked potato skins, which is one of the few previously known ways for potato skins to shine (besides now, in bread!). So I made a version of the focaccia loaded with cheddar cheese, green onion, and bacon bits (notes on this version are within the recipe below). It's the perfect partner for a bowl of potato soup—which you just might have the potatoes on hand to make.

14 Comments

Woodrow M. April 23, 2018
I don’t always have potato peels when I am making bread. Any possibility that either potato flour or potato starch could add a similar benefit?
 
Author Comment
Lindsay-Jean H. April 24, 2018
Hm, I'm not sure, but if you don't have potato peels to use up, Alexandra's original recipe is fantastic as is! https://alexandracooks.com/2018/03/02/overnight-refrigerator-focaccia-best-focaccia/
 
Victoria M. April 23, 2018
Best dish to come out of the test kitchen this year!
 
Author Comment
Lindsay-Jean H. April 23, 2018
Oh my goodness what a compliment Victoria, thank you!
 
Jenni April 23, 2018
I’m wondering if the recipe can be adapted for a bread machine, it’s definitely a fantastic way to reduce waste.
 
Author Comment
Lindsay-Jean H. April 23, 2018
I would assume so Jenni, but I don't have one, so I'm sorry to say that I can't give you any pointers as to how to go about doing so!
 
Jenni April 23, 2018
Thank you for your reply Lindsay-Jean, I might very well have a bit of a trial, but I’ll wait a little while and see if someone else comes up with something 😊
 
Katie M. April 22, 2018
Lindsay-Jean, this crust was ADDICTIVE. Thank you for sharing it :)
 
KellieTru April 22, 2018
This is right up my alley. I’m in a mission to reduce my food waste drastically...I am doing much better in that regard and I love having a purpose for the peels. Awesome!
 
Author Comment
Lindsay-Jean H. April 23, 2018
So happy to hear that KellieTru, please report back if you try it!
 
Windischgirl April 21, 2018
I always, always save the potato water if cooking potatoes. It IS great in breads and adds a moistness and subtle flavor.<br /><br />It also makes a great vegetable broth for soups, adding a 'meatiness' without any meat. Only downfall is, potato water does not freeze well; freezing causes the starches to turn to sugar and the water becomes unpleasantly sweet.<br /><br />Lindsay, sweet potatoes (and their peels) can be a nice addition to baked goods, but as they don't contain the same type of starch as white potatoes, the effects on the baked good are not going to be the same. It will be more like adding a drier variety of squash, and the cooking water will be watery...just slightly tinted orange!
 
Author Comment
Lindsay-Jean H. April 23, 2018
Thanks Windischgirl, such helpful points, I appreciate it!
 
Joanna S. April 20, 2018
Love this! Can't wait to make it at home!
 
Cory B. April 20, 2018
This was so tasty!