[ Currently Eating: Homemade Bread n Stuff ]
Hi hi hi. I’m on a Cheesebread Mission.
I’ve been like this for several months now. Baking up Bread and Cheese. And Bread. And Cheese. And Bread. And a few Jalapeño peppers thrown in. More Cheese and Bread.
It all started about 25 years ago. Ever since I was a young cheap eats brat, my parents had been taking us on trips from Los Angeles north to the Mammoth / Yosemite area for camping nearly every year. This is a 400 mile or so drive. For you east coasters – that’s probably going through at least 3 or 4 states, but here in California it’s just a long drive through the same state.
Anyhow, one of our favorite stops along the way has always been Erick Schat’s Bakkerÿ up in Bishop, CA. We would always pick up some of their Original Sheepherder Bread (introduced into the Owens Valley area during the Gold Rush), and my absolute favorite was the Jalapeño Cheese Bread variety.
The bread is fairly dense but has a chewy quality. It’s not made up of air like a lot of other artisnal breads. The cheese is not distributed through the bread evenly. Rather, there are enormous clumps of orange cheese and peppers in the middle. In fact, there is a gigantic cavity in the center of each flat loaf of bread where all the cheese has accumulated. The entire loaf is extremely heavy because of all the cheese inside of it.
For years now, I’ve been wanting to try and make this type of bread at home because it was too long to wait an entire year to get some. The key came within the past few years or so when I discovered “No-Knead Bread” which was made (in)famous by Jim Lahey in a NY Times article. As I got more confident with bread, I decided to go on a mission.
That mission is to make cheesebread similar to Schat’s.
Now, it’s no big deal to make a cheesebread. I see Vermont Cheese Bread this and Hong Kong style Cheese Topped Buns that.
No, no, no.
I want the cheese to be a big fricken block inside the bread. Crowd Cheer: When I say “bread”, you say “cheese”. I want a big ass cavity (oh, the jokes) inside the bread with the cheese and jalapeños sticking to the walls. I don’t want the cheese integrated into the bread like most recipes insist on.
Needless to say, I’ve had a difficult time. But through experiments, I’ve got it almost right. I think the problem is that not too many people actually WANT a bread to turn out like this. Thus, I haven’t seen many recipes for the cheesebread I’m trying to make. The other problem is that I’m not a very good baker to start with.
I’ve gotten close – but I’m still on my Cheesebread Mission. What I’ve got in my favor is that I’m an obstinate, stubborn SOB.
I have a feeling that a huge part of the failures so far have to do with trying to do this at home where my oven is just passable at best. The other part may be that I’m not adding in the correct percentages of everything (or even have the wrong ingredients), and also, I’ve resigned myself to using a Silpat on a cookie baking sheet. No pizza stone, etc.
Here’s one of the latest incarnations of the Faux-Schat’s Cheese Jalapeño Bread. It actually looks pretty good – this is the closest I’ve gotten. The top of my bread is more smooth, while I know the Schat’s one is rugged looking. The melted cheese has caused a large cavity or two to open up inside the bread. I gave up using an egg-based type of bread for now. I’ve been sticking to a really basic boule type recipe. For the record, here is what I’ve done so far.
Jalapeño Cheese Bread
3 1/4 cups unbleached white flour
1 tbsp active dry yeast
1.5 – 2 tsp kosher salt
1 cup hot water
1/2 cup cold milk
1-2 tbsp melted butter, plus more for brushing
1/2 to 1 cup shredded cheese (your choice)
2-3 sliced fresh sliced Jalapeños
I’ve been using either sharp cheddar or jack cheese since I believe that’s what Schat’s uses. I also use fresh Jalapeños, but I think you may be able to use those pickled slices in jars that go on nachos.
Get a large bowl, with a plastic loose fitting lid. Add hot water, milk, melted butter into the bowl and mix. Then add the yeast. Let it sit for awhile, it should foam a bit. IMPORTANT – you’ll kill the yeast if the liquid is too hot. It should be lukewarm, a little above body temp. If it’s too hot, wait awhile to add the yeast.
Next dump the flour and salt into the mixture. You can use your hands, but I like to use a rubber spatula to mix to start, then switch to wet hands. Get it all mixed, it should be kinda wet and sticky. If not, add more water. If too wet, add flour. Cover it, let it rise for about 2 to 2.5 hours in a warm place.
Sprinkle the top lightly with flour. Get some flour on your hands, it helps. Take out the dough (you may need to use more or less dough depending on the size you want) and cloak it. What the fricking hell is cloaking? While holding the dough in your hands, take the top of the dough and stretch the surface down to the bottom, rotate it a quarter turn and do it again. The idea is to have a smoother top surface while the bottom is more bunched up. I think that’s the idea anyhow.
Ok, then place on a wooden cutting board that has some flour on it. Get a rolling pin with some flour on it. Roll out the dough into a sort of oval. Or, you may just be able to stretch it with your hands instead. You might need to wait a bit because the dough will return to its normal shape. Sprinkle the cheese on top of the dough – you want good coverage but not an excess of cheese. Then evenly distribute the peppers over the cheese. Roll up the dough gently, and tuck the ends in underneath.
Put it on a Siplat (or other silicone type baking sheet) on top of a cookie sheet. Dust the top with flour, cover with plastic wrap and let it rise for about 1.5 – 2 hours.
Twenty minutes before you’re ready to bake, get the oven to about 400 degrees. I’ve had trouble with the temp and time, so you’re going to have to play around with it. Basically, put the cheese bread on the cookie sheet into the oven and bake for about 25-40 minutes. Around 5 minutes before you’re done (whenever that is), take some remaining shredded cheese and sprinkle it on top of the loaf.
When the loaf is done, take it out and brush it with melted butter. Let it cool, for an hour at least. When completely cool, store it in a ziploc bag.
Problems I’ve had so far are many. Early on, I found that cutting cheese up into cubes and incorporating it into the dough is not the way to go. You end up with tiny pockets of cheese, which is nice, but not a large cavity of cheese and peppers. You should shred the cheese and layer it on top, then roll the dough up. This creates a sort of spiral of cheese cavity in the middle. I believe having all that cheese clumped together is important in cavitation – the steam from all the cheese and peppers makes the large hole in the middle.
Egg based cheesebread have not worked as well for me, though I’m not entirely sure if Schat’s uses eggs in theirs. You may have to vary the amount of yeast and water as well to get a good rise.
I’d be interested to hear if anyone has tried to make this exact type of bread before. Remember, I’m not interested in cheese interspersed within bread – it HAS to be a big gigantic hole in the loaf with cheese and peppers in it.
One last thing – OMG do NOT touch your eyes while handling Jalapeños. It is TEH Painful…