Why Potatoes are the Secret to Light and Airy Breads

Turn last night's leftover mashed potatoes into a pan of hot potato rolls.

Potato BRead
Photo: Katrin Ray Shumakov

We like them mashed, baked, roasted, and fried. We like them dressed in butter, sour cream, herbs, or ketchup. Potatoes are a mainstay side dish for weeknight meals and barbecue menus, but these starchy tubers are also important in baking tasty and tender breads, such as this Southern Living classic Potato Bread. The kitchen pantry holds many secret ingredients that can make baked goods even better – for example, mayonnaise is the key ingredient in this ultra-tender and moist Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake. So beyond being boiled and cut up into a picnic salad, the humble white potato is also a secret ingredient to light and airy potato bread.

Science plays a huge part in baking. If you have ever watched baking soda react and bubble up in a bowl of buttermilk, you know that a lot more goes into a pan of biscuits than just Grandma's love. Science is also involved in making potato bread, and the different actions/reactions between potato starches and wheat starches create four characteristics of an incredibly soft loaf of bread.

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Faster Rise

Potatoes are rich in potassium and, not only is that an important mineral to your overall good health (among other things, potassium helps regulate fluid balance, muscle contractions and nerve signals), potassium causes yeast to rise faster than it would with breads that contain only wheat.

Super Moist

The potato starches attract and hold more water than wheat starches and helps to increase the moisture content in baked goods. Potato flour, when combined with whole wheat, bread, or all-purpose flour, makes yeast dough easier to shape and handle.

Delicate Crumb

When potatoes are boiled, the starch molecules become enlarged, making it difficult for the proteins in the flour to form gluten. Too much gluten is the nemesis of light, airy breads and pastries.

Longer Shelf Life

As baked bread cools, starches begin to crystallize and trap water inside the crystals, causing the bread to harden and dry out. When bread contains potatoes, however, the potato starch molecules make it harder for the wheat starches to crystallize, keeping the bread fresh and soft for a longer period of time

Beyond the science, however, is the fact that potato bread has always been a favorite of Southern bakers simply because it is easy to make, an easy-keeper, and is one of the most delicious "white breads" you will ever make. Potato bread is also a creative way to use up leftover mashed potatoes or that last remaining spud from the 5 lb. sack.

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