Raw Potato bread – First World War bread experiments

I have been trying to get as many details and information about how they were made and what went into them, as I can.

On top of the extraction rate increase throughout the period:

1916 at  76%
1917 at 81%
1918 at 92%

It would seem that the incorporation of other flours into the Government Regulated (GR) flour was of 10%. As mentioned in a previous post this caused a few problems as people would not know what specific flours had been added, thus being unable to predict how the dough would act and what hydration levels to use. It would seem this caused further issues to bakers as by law they had to sell bread of a specific weight, but not being able to predict how much water would evaporate during baking and furthermore during the 12h after (as it became illegal to sell fresh bread) meant that they could be found selling under or even overweight loaves.

Another addition that became mandatory by law was that of potato flour. So far I have not found a reference of how much potato would have been added to the final dough so I’ll be adding 15%.

It seems that it was not easy for bakers to obtain the machinery needed to prepare the potatoes in order to be able to use them in bread*, so I will work with a mix of grated, raw potato and potato flour to achieve those 15%. I am going by the assumption that bakers were expected to convert potatoes in something that could be added to bread and, from all my readings so far, the best way to do this would be cooked and mashed. But as by all indications that makes for some fluffy and delicious bread, and reports of war bread were of a product anything but that, I’m opting to mix it in the least bread-friendly ways.

The responsibility for finding a way to create palatable and saleable bread of the right weight and with approved ingredients was the bakers’* and I am hoping that today I managed to achieve that.

*Professor Karen Hunt was kind enough to share some papers on the topic of WW1 Bread that were part of her work in preparation for her book Staffordshire’s War, recently published by Amberley.

Formula used:

Wholemeal stoneground flour – 50%
White Wheat flour – 30%
Corn Flour – 5%
Rice Flour – 5%
Potato Flour – 10%
Grated raw potato (washed but unpeeled) – 5%
Water – 65%
Yeast – 2%
Salt – 2%

I chose to add the 10% foreign grains as rice and corn flour, as none of these have gluten and thus will make the loaf more challenging to make and hopefully more in line with the descriptions of war bread. I’m hoping to get more authentic formulas, with actual indications on foreign additions, but for now I continue with the experiments. Two loaves were made, one cut open the same day it was baked, the other one will be cut into at least 12h after. The loaves came out with a nice crumb and rise. The taste is somewhat unusual but nothing that would be unpleasant to eat.

Update on day 2: more than 24h after and the bread is still pretty good… I have managed to make an interesting bread but completely failed at achieving a loaf like the description on the Herts Advertiser of 19 January 1918 on the quality of the bread:

‘Can small loaves be re-pulped like paper? I ask because in very truth I purchased one which an axe would glint. It was as hard as marble, uncuttable and almost unchippable. I took it back and wondered what would be done with it in these waste-not days’ **

**Quote and reference kindly provided by Dr. Julie Moore, History Department,
Research Fellow AHRC ‘Everyday Lives in War’ First World War Engagement Centre.