It takes several weeks for me to test the recipes from a bread book since there is only so much bread three people can eat, especially if one is a very picky eater, and the other two view bread as a relatively small component of a healthy diet. But I have lots and lots of bread books, and if I am ever going to get through them I had better get to work. This first bread post features breads from the Southwest: Beth Hensperger’s Breads of the Southwest: Recipes in the Native American, Spanish, and Mexican Traditions and Flavored Breads: Recipes from Mark Miller’s Coyote Cafe by Mark Miller and Andrew MacLauchlan with John Harrisson.
At some point, perhaps right in the middle of the bread machine craze, I became something of a bread purist: bread equals flour, salt, yeast (ideally from a carefully tended sourdough starter), and water and anything else is at best a distraction. I never fully embraced this position, as I still made challah, and would go further afield when guided by a baker I trusted, such as the incomparable Nancy Silverton in her Breads from the La Brea Bakery, but this was still my starting point. Thus, although Breads of the Southwest had been on my shelf for quite a few years, I thought that it was just full of breads with gratuitous add-ins, and so had never really examined it. Flavored Breads was the source of my all time favorite muffin recipe, as well as a recipe for whiskey scones that I made occasionally, but I had never before explored the yeast breads in the book. I now know that I should have cracked open these two books a lot sooner, as we have been eating some very good breads in the last month or so.
I know the Southwestern United States only through books. The general impression I have is of a mixture of austerity and richness: the desert with a deep blue sky above. This is reflected in the breads from this region: from the simplest corn tortillas to the many ingredients of three kings bread. And yet the tortillas have their own richness, a depth of flavor not to be found in the store bought tortillas we find in Midwest groceries, and the fruits in three kings bread are dried fruits, with simply the essence of, say, pineapple or papaya. Beth Hensperger gives us these breads in Breads of the Southwest. She covers old and new traditions, flat breads and fat breads, corn breads and wheat breads, baking powder and yeast breads. Being the experienced cookbook author and bread baker that she is, her instructions are clear. The recipe headnotes will often try to place recipes in historical and cultural contrast, although there is much that Beth does not say about “Indian Fry Bread” (page 55). For the complicated history, symbolism, and nutritional aspects of fry bread, check out this article from the Smithsonian.
“French-Style Mexican Hard Rolls” (page 71) appeared to be a plain and unexciting recipe. I was expecting something rather challah-like, although the bread had no eggs (except for the glaze) and used butter, not oil. I must have underestimated the effect that eggs have on bread, because what I ended up with was quite different from my challah. These rolls had a pleasant flavor, but what I liked the most was the almost perfect texture, just the right combination of chewy and soft. My rolls did not much resemble the ones in the book’s photograph, since my dough was much wetter than it was supposed to be, but these were still really good rolls. I think these rolls might be ideal for a bánh mì sandwich (on my mind since Jacqueline Pham’s Bánh Mì is one of my newest cookbooks).
“Taos Pumpkin Bread” (page 51) was a very tasty bread, with a dense grain but easy to slice. The two loaves use only half a can of pumpkin, leaving the problem of what to with the rest of the pumpkin; the solution to this problem appears later in this post. Adding to the flavor was toasted cornmeal and piloncillo (Mexican unrefined cane sugar). You could obviously just use regular brown sugar, but these unrefined sugars have way better flavor. I used a combination of white whole wheat flour and white flour, instead of just the white flour called for. I also used a lot less total flour, and still had a very firm dough.
I could not close this book without trying a tortilla recipe. Years ago I acquired a tortilla press, but had never used it; as one might expect, when I was finally ready to make tortillas, I could not find the press. Even without it, “Blue Corn Tortillas” (page 33) turned out quite well. Fresh, just made tortillas are superficially similar to store bought tortillas, yet still so far removed in space-time. Fresh tortillas add a whole new dimension to Southwestern food (or to any cuisine in which tortillas appear). The recipe for blue corn tortillas in Breads of the Southwest calls for four parts (by volume) blue cornmeal, three parts yellow cornmeal, one part flour, and a little bit of salt mixed with water. Let the dough rest an hour, then press, pat, or roll out into rounds. I rolled the dough between two sheets of plastic wrap. Cook on a hot, ungreased skillet. My first tortilla was perfect, but subsequent ones stuck a little. Perhaps my dough was too wet, or perhaps a little bit of grease in the skillet would not have been out of order. Ideally, you want to use masa harina para tortillas, cornmeal treated with lime.
The breads in Flavored Breads are Southwestern in that they are served at Mark Miller’s Coyote Cafe in Santa Fe. Many of the breads do, however, use Southwestern flavors and ingredients: corn, of course, and chiles, pine nuts, and pumpkin, for example. Many others, however, have nothing to do with foods of the Southwest. We have juxtapositions such as “Killarney Irish Oatmeal Bread” coming right after “Zuni Pepita” bread. Some of the flavors are a little forced, and would be better on rather than in bread, “Rhubarb Ginger Lemon Bread” being one such example. But this book was influenced by bread machine mentality, in which creativity in bread making is judged by the weirdness of ingredients that can be thrown into a loaf. Another bread machine influence is the completely useless sidebar on most of the recipes giving “Bread Machine Instructions”. Still, a lot of the flavors work.
My version of “Spiced Autumn Pumpkin Muffins” (page 39) has evolved over the years. This is a fairly uncomplicated muffin with pumpkin and pumpkin pie spices. I have always added the optional pecans, chocolate chips, and orange flavoring. I use white whole wheat flour instead of white flour, and use walnut oil instead of unspecified “vegetable oil”. The biggest change that I have made, though, is to reduce the amount of pumpkin from one can to half a can. The reason for this is that I almost always make these muffins to accompany a very easy chili recipe that uses only half a can of pumpkin, and so I adapted these muffins to use the other half of the can. The chili recipe, which involves opening six cans and a jar, has an incredibly high taste to trouble ratio. When I used to teach at The School That Shall Not Be Named, before I left home I would mix up the dry ingredients and (separately) the wet ingredients for the muffins, open and combine the necessary cans for the soup, and leave everything for Alan and Shay to finish when they got home an hour or so before I did.
“Honey Highland Scones” (page 45) is another recipe that has long been in my repertoire. The distinguishing feature of these scones is the Drambuie. The scones are quite heavy, and one of these scones would make a good prototype for Terry Pratchett’s “Scone of Stone“, bread beloved by dwarfs. The recipe directions are for 12 to 15 tiny scones. I prefer to double the recipe for eight good sized scones.
“Chocolate-Cherry Sourdough” (page 147) is inspired by Nancy Silverton’s bread of the same name, but her recipe results in a much better bread. The recipe in Flavored Breads calls for no sugar, and I do not think that this is a typo since sugar is mentioned in neither the ingredient list nor the directions. Danny, who takes a Spartan approach to food (no butter on bread, no dressing on salad), liked this bread with no sugar, but I think that the chocolate needs a little bit of sugar.
“Mission Fig Rye Sourdough” (page 154), or “Figgy Rye” as I call it, was a great bread. I think that dried fruits go really well with rye; I went through a phase when I had to have a toasted and buttered slice of raisin rye every day. Although I did not care for the figs in Smitten Kitchen‘s challah, figs are much more compatible with rye.
Both of these breads, the chocolate cherry and figgy rye, use a sourdough starter, instructions for which are in the cookbook. These starters use commercial yeast, which is a lot easier than trying to coax wild yeast to start growing. They also call for milk, although I think spring water would have made a better liquid. But I followed the directions in the book, and got some very nice loaves.
The “Gorgonzola Blue-Vein Bread” (page 176) was quite decadent, with over half a pound of blue cheese to go with less than four cups of flour. I used Point Reyes blue cheese, which was not cheap, but oh so good. Plus, this cheese even has a hechsher. The bread dough was really soft, and so I put it in four mini-loaf pans. We ate one, froze two, and gave one away.
Adapted from Beth Hensperger, Breads of the Southwest
2 teaspoons yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
1½ cups water
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons butter, softened
2 cups flour
Dissolve the yeast in the sugar and water in the bowl of a heavy duty electric mixer. Mix in the flour. Cover the bowl and let the sponge sit for one hour.
Add the salt and butter to the sponge. Add the flour gradually while mixing with the paddle. You may not need all the flour. When the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. switch to the dough hook and knead for several minutes. The bread dough should form a ball around the dough hook, but still be quite soft.
When you decide that the dough is sufficiently kneaded, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the bread rise at room temperature until doubled. Alternatively, put the dough in the refrigerator to rise slowly overnight.
When you are ready to form the rolls, break the bread into twelve balls. Take a ball, flatten it, and roll up. Then roll up again in the perpendicular direction. Place all the dough balls seam side down on a parchment lined baking sheet, and cover with a kitchen towel. Let the rolls rise until doubled in size.
Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins
Adapted from Mark Miller and Andrew MacLauchlan with John Harrison, Flavored Breads
21⁄2 cups white whole wheat flour
1⁄3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1⁄2 teaspoon ground allspice
1⁄4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1⁄2 teaspoon ground ginger
1⁄2 cup pecans, chopped
6 ounces chocolate chips
1⁄2 cup walnut oil
1 cup milk
1⁄2 can pumpkin
1 teaspoon orange extract
Preheat the oven to 375º. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners, or butter it.
Mix together the dry ingredients: flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices. Mix in the pecans and chocolate chips. Mix together the wet ingredients. Combine the dry and wet ingredients, being careful not to overmix. Scoop the batter into the muffin cups (I use an ice cream scoop), and bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Cool on a rack, but be sure to eat one while the chocolate is still soft.
Chile from 6 Cans and a Jar
Adapted from Crescent Dragonwagon in Vegetarian Times
1 15 ounce can garbanzo beans
1 15 ounce can kidney beans
1 15 ounce can black beans
1 15 ounce can cannellini beans
1 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
1⁄2 can pumpkin
1 16 ounce jar salsa (tomatilla salsa recommended)
Rinse and drain the beans. Combine the beans with the rest of the ingredients and one salsa jar of water. Heat until hot. You may need to add salt. I like to eat this topped with chopped avocado and cheese.