published Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013

Side Orders: Baking bread brings out folks' best

Several loaves of multigrain bread from Niedlov's Breadworks are set up on a crate at the Brainerd Farmer's Market in Chattanooga.
Several loaves of multigrain bread from Niedlov's Breadworks are set up on a crate at the Brainerd Farmer's Market in Chattanooga.
Photo by Alyson Wright /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

What is it about the smell of freshly baked breads that brings out a primal instinct in us to say “Ahhh…”?

I wasn’t at all surprised to discover a recent survey that found shoppers were more likely to alert a random passer-by that the person had dropped something if, at the time, they were also passing a bakery giving off the enticing scent of baking bread.

The results, by researchers at the University of Southern Brittany in France and published in the Journal of Social Psychology, determined that certain smells can trigger a more positive mood, which leads to a greater degree of altruism toward strangers. What smell could be better than bread baking? Not much, according to Colleen Mahn, who works in the bakery at the Bluff View Arts District.

“People walk in all the time with the biggest smiles on their faces,” she says. “They always tell me that they just want to stand here all day and smell the bread.”

But they do more than stand there and smell it. They buy it, too, and as gifts, not just for themselves.

“People make special trips over here so they can travel with our breads and take them as gifts to friends and family,” says Alou Niangadou, the district’s executive baker.

Whitney Turner, retail manager for Niedlov’s Breadworks on Main Street, agrees.

“We have a great clientele here at Niedlov’s and, a lot of time, it’s almost as if they’re taking their first breath of the day when they come in and smell our bread baking,” she says. “I think it puts people

into a better mood, and there is a better tendency for altruism. Our pastries, croissants, muffins and cinnamon rolls add to the effect.”

So would having more bakeries in our city would cut down on the amount of crime on our streets? Just a thought.

And, when it comes to making bread, I discovered a secret ingredient years ago — potato water. The idea came from a recipe for potato rolls using potato water, but no mashed potatoes or yeast. Unfortunately, I kept all my recipes in an old box which was thrown away. I couldn’t have been more disappointed. So for years I kept my eyes peeled for a matching recipe and found one at www.thekitchn.com. There’s something about potato water that makes bread very moist and full of flavor. Better yet, you can mash the potatoes and have them for dinner. The potato water can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours.

To make potato water, wash and peel two or three potatoes, cube them, then put them in a pot filled with just enough water to cover the spuds. Boil them until they’re soft — about 20 minutes — then remove them from heat and drain the potato water into a liquid measuring cup.

I made two batches of potato rolls with the recipe, one immediately and one after the dough had been covered in the refrigerator for 24 hours. The ones made the second day were better.

Potato Water Rolls

1 cup boiling potato water

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup butter

2 tablespoons warm water

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1 package dry yeast

2 eggs, beaten

4 to 4-1/2 cups flour

Milk, cream or egg yolk, to glaze (optional)Mix the boiling potato water, 1/2 cup sugar, salt and butter and let cool until tepid and just warm to the touch. In a small separate bowl, mix the warm water, 1/2 teaspoon sugar and yeast and let it sit for about 10 minutes or until foamy.

In a large bowl, combine the potato water mixture and the yeast mixture. Add the eggs and 2 cups of flour. Stir well, then beat in 2 more cups of flour. Beat well and don’t knead it or it will be very sticky. Cover and refrigerate, up to several days.

When you want to bake them, shape the dough into balls and place side by side in a greased 9-by-13-inch pan. (If you are baking these immediately after making the dough, you may need to add 1/2 cup more flour to get the dough thick enough to handle. But don’t add too much; the dough is extremely sticky and should be.) Coat hands lightly with flour to roll, or use a spoon to roll lumps of dough. Let rise covered until doubled. You may want to brush with milk or cream before baking, or a mixture of egg yolk and milk or water to create a shiny roll. Bake at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes, depending on size of rolls.

Contact Anne Braly at abraly@timesfreepress.com.

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