The Effect of Using Different Types of Potatoes on Irish Freckle Bread Quality (Update #6)

Look, I’m going to level with you. This experiment did not yield the quantitative data typical of a food science project. Instead, my main goal during this bake was to see if using different varieties of potatoes in a classic yeasted loaf would change any/all of the qualitative aspects of the bread itself. I used russet potatoes, yellow potatoes, red potatoes, purple potatoes, and sweet potatoes to make my five trials of Irish Freckle Bread, and the reason I structured my experiment in such a way was to help those bakers at home who have limited grocery means or who just don’t want to make another trip to the store during any given day. I wanted to see if a very specific type of potato was necessary to achieve the lightness and subtle sweetness of the Freckle Bread (named for the raisins inside that look like little dark “freckles”), or rather if any potato-like food laying around the house would do. This quality-based experiment was one structured on equal parts thrift and curiosity, and I knew from the moment that I started boiling the potatoes that I would be in for a very colorful and fun day of baking.

Potato time!

Potato time!

A baker's work is never done and always fun :)

A baker’s work is never done and always fun :)

To start the day I woke up early and went to Whole Foods to get all different kinds of potatoes before going back home and cooking my five varieties each in a separate pot of boiling water. The cool part about Bernard Clayton’s Freckle Bread recipe is that it calls for a cup of potato water reserved from the cooking process, and in this experiment some of the potatoes turned that water very interesting colors! The purple potatoes turned the water blue, while the sweet potatoes turned the water an orangey color. Therefore, I hypothesized that I would be left with three breads of a similar pale/white color (as russet, red, and yellow potatoes are all a typical yellowish/potatoish color inside) and two breads of fun different colors (one blue and one orange). Another part of my hypothesis was that all potatoes except sweet potato would produce a very similar quality of freckle bread (in terms of taste, texture, etc.), while sweet potato would create a sweeter and denser loaf that would not resemble a classic Irish Freckle Bread.

Blue water in the purple potato pot?!

Blue water in the purple potato pot?!

A colorful bake to make the day bright!

A colorful bake to make the day bright

After the potatoes were boiled and mashed, and the water reserved, I mixed together flour, mashed potatoes, potato water, yeast, sugar, and salt in five different bowls and let the mixtures rise for an hour and a half. Then I added in eggs, melted butter, raisins, and more flour before kneading the dough for ten minutes and shaping it for a second rise, this time in loaf pans. I popped the loaves into a 375 degree F oven to bake for 30 minutes, and was left with ten beautiful freckle breads! Luckily, this beauty came with unexpected results that confirm the fact that almost any potato can be used in Clayton’s New Complete Book of Breads Irish Freckle Bread recipe to achieve very similar and uniform quality. There was only a slight color change on the sweet potato loaf (a deep orange tinge) and no color change on the purple potato loaf relative to the other breads. Also the taste was pretty much the same across loaves, even in the sweet potato bread that looked a little different. That being said, the sweet potato did seem to lock in a moisture that the other breads lacked, making it a favorite of my family. I would encourage home bakers to throw a sweet potato or yam into their freckle bread for an interesting twist in color and texture that comes along with the same great tender-sweet taste.

A cluttered counter is a happy counter

A cluttered counter is a happy counter

I need a knead

I need a knead

Final touches on the sweet potato dough

Final touches on the sweet potato dough!

Happy with my potato mystery solved but unhappy with my inability to collect any quantitative data, I moved on to thinking about experimental error. The biggest one in this project was that the amounts of potato were not all the same across trials. Since Clayton’s recipe calls for “1 potato,” I took some baker’s liberty in trying to even out the amounts of potato that I used for each batch of dough. I used a ton of tiny purple potatoes and only one massive sweet potato, and still the amounts of this key ingredient were definitely not as closely controlled as I would have liked. Other than that, there were my classic errors of not mixing/rising everything in the exact same receptacle and slight timing incongruities. Despite these mistakes, however, I still ended up with ten very similar tasting/textured loaves, cementing further the key point of this experiment that you shouldn’t fret if you don’t have the perfect potato at home. I, Jonny Malks, bread scientist and Semi-Pro WordPress Influencer, am here to tell you that, much like with interpersonal relationships, you don’t always have to go searching for “the one.” Often the potato (or person) that you are looking for can be right in plain sight, just inside the pantry.

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Comments

  1. mbcmgill says:

    This is such an interesting project! Though a purple colored loaf would have been fun, I’m glad to know that I can sub any kind of potato in this recipe and still receive similar results. As someone who loves sweet potatoes, I would definitely give them a try if I make Irish Freckle Bread. Happy baking!

  2. skapila says:

    I absolutely adore this experiment! I love how methodological you were in the baking process, how clean your kitchen space was, and how you took note of how even the smallest changes in the baking process may have affected your results. Just like you, I wish you had documented the exact weight (g) in potatoes, in order to figure out what ratio makes the perfect loaf. I had never heard of freckle bread before reading your post, but it looks delicious! You write very well, this post was articulate, interesting, and a very entertaining. Good luck with your future bread science!

  3. jmmalks says:

    Thank you so much!

  4. jmmalks says:

    I would DEFINITELY recommend baking some freckle bread. I can post a picture of the recipe I used here as well if you’d be interested.

  5. iawilliams says:

    Thanks for introducing us to this recipe! I had never even heard of Irish Freckle Bread before. I will definitely have to make it! I noticed that you kneaded the dough for 10 minutes after the first rise – is the time of kneading important? In most of the breads I’ve made, I have kneaded the dough for amounts of time that long only before the first rise.