Posted on : 06-12-2009 | By : Cindy | In : Maori kai, My idiot-proof recipes, Traditions
Here’s my question: Is it possible to make a wholemeal version of rewena paraoa (potato bread) that looks and tastes good? For the past month I have been experimenting. Rewena comes from the Maori word for potato – rewa, and paraoa means bread in Maori. Before Europeans arrived in New Zealand there was no potato, flour or sugar. Kumara, a type of sweet potato, was one of the main carbohydrate or energy sources for Maori. But this tropical plant was hard work to grow in New Zealand’s cool climate. Potatoes are different. Just throw them in the ground and they pretty much grow anywhere – my type of plant. So it was no wonder the potato soon took over from kumara as the staple food.
I figure the rewena recipe developed as most recipes do – by using the ingredients at hand – in this case potatoes, white flour, sugar and salt. I’d love to know how it started. Perhaps someone accidentally left a pot of boiled potatoes sitting in the sun for a couple of days and noticed that it had fermented. It wouldn’t have looked too great but maybe they recognised the yeasty smell and decided it could be made into bread. If anyone knows the true history, please let me know.
There’s just one problem with this delicious traditional sour-dough bread. It’s made with white flour and is usually eaten slathered with butter or jam. I love it with honey. Wouldn’t it be great, I thought, if I could use the traditional yeast-free fermenting technique to make a healthier type of rewena. I have been making small loaves so I don’t waste ingredients if it fails. I’ve tried using kumara instead of potato. I prefer potato although most people wouldn’t notice much difference.
First I chop a potato into small pieces, so it cooks quicker, and boil it in about two cups of unsalted water. I tried one cup like some of the recipes say but it almost boiled dry. I’ve been using red potatoes lately but will try other varieties to see which works best. I still haven’t figured out whether it’s better to use a waxy variety (high moisture, low starch) or a floury variety.
Next I mash the potato and when it’s cooled a little I add a teaspoon of sugar and about 1/2 cup of flour. Lots of the recipes add more flour to make a thick paste but I prefer a mixture more like pikelet batter. Place in a bowl or large jar, cover and put in a warm place. I can’t use the hot water cupboard so just sit it in a sunny spot. It takes 24-48 hours to start bubbling. We’ve had a few lovely humid days lately which has been great for speeding up the process. It should smell sort of sweet/sour/yeasty.
Next I put one cup of white flour and two cups of wholemeal in a bowl, add 1/2 teaspoon of salt and tip in the ‘bug’. The traditional way is to keep about a tablespoon of the ‘bug’ and add either a teaspoon of sugar or some potato water on alternate days. I haven’t bothered to do this for two reasons. I don’t think any of my ‘bugs’ are good enough to keep and I don’t want to boil potatoes every second day. For families who eat potatoes most days, as they would have done in the past, it’s no problem to tip the leftover potato water into the ‘bug’ jar to feed it.
Most recipes use one teaspoon of salt but I deliberately halved it to make it healthier – and to help it rise as salt tends to inhibit rising. I tried adding a tablespoon of honey to one batch but couldn’t taste much difference. For my next trial, I’m planning to add some dried fruit and chopped walnuts.
Knead the dough for 10 minutes, adding more water if needed. Place in a greased bowl, cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled. Mine doesn’t always double! Pat into a loaf shape, place on baking paper on a tray and bake at 180C (350F)for about 45 minutes or until it sounds hollow when tapped on the base. If the dough hasn’t risen as much as I think it should, I put it in the oven as soon as I turn it on so it gets a final heat burst during cooking.
I’m the first to admit I am no expert bread maker but the family do gobble up this wholemeal version of rewena so I must be doing something right. Give it a go. I’d love to hear your stories and suggestions.