I cannot figure out where I found this recipe, but it is at least 30-35 years old. I probably clipped it out of a magazine or newspaper since this was before internet access. As usual, it has been modified a bit over the years and adapted to family tastes and preferences.
I decided to research a bit more about Zuni Bread because other cultures are always interesting. The Native American culture is rich in tradition, tragedy, strength, resiliency, and honor. Cooking traditions and variations of recipes are impacted by generations-old family techniques, ingredients, as well as the personal preferences and skill of individual bakers.
USE OF WOOD-FIRED CLAY OVENS
I was amazed to find that there are 19 different Pueblo nations in New Mexico, and they all have different versions of Zuni Bread. The one consistency is the use of wood-fired outdoor clay ovens. I would love to build an outdoor oven for bread and pizza, but have not done that yet, so my Zuni bread is baked in a regular old indoor oven. The version I present here is in the shape of the rising sun, but there are many different shapes including elephant toes, bear claws, bread with horns, and simple rounds or buns.
All of the Zuni bread recipes I found are masterpieces of simple, straightforward ingredients. Most use all-purpose flour, yeast, a bit of salt, a little fat and some water. Some add additional flavor with cornmeal, molasses, buttermilk, seeds and even sourdough starter. My version has cornmeal and molasses in addition to the basic ingredients. Just wait until you smell and taste it!
Bread baking does take time, but not that much labor. You just have to spend a few minutes mixing and kneading, and then do something else while the dough rises. Shape the bread, then do something else again while the loaves rise. Bake and eat!
PROOF THE YEAST
When I am ready to start bread dough, I sprinkle yeast and a touch of sugar in the bottom of a bowl. Then I run warm water from the tap and check the temperature on the inside of my wrist. It should feel “comfortably cozy” and warm, like milk from a baby’s bottle. Stir the measured water into the bowl with the yeast and sugar. Sugar helps quickly activate the yeast, so you should be able to see the yeast activating and foaming in 5-10 minutes.
Then I stir in the rest of the ingredients, and part of the flour. I always hold back the last couple of cups of flour, because it is easier to get the other ingredients well blended before the last of the flour makes the dough stiff and hard to stir. Then I add the remaining flour about 1/2 cup at a time. When the dough starts to form a nice round and starts clearing the sides of the pan, it is time to stop adding flour. Knead it on a lightly floured surface until smooth and resilient, about 10 minutes. You know you have kneaded enough when you can poke a finger in the dough and the dough springs back to fill up the hole. If you have a heavy duty stand mixer, you can do all of this in the bowl of the mixer using the dough hook.
Most recipes suggest greasing a new bowl to put the dough in as it rises. I just use the same bowl I mixed the dough in because the inside is usually cleared of flour from the mixing/kneading. Spray it (or a new bowl if you’d like) with cooking oil spray, put the dough in the bottom, then turn it over so it is slightly coated with oil. Cover it all tightly with cling wrap. Let it rise for the first time, until doubled in size-about an hour or so. Punch the dough down in the middle to deflate it and release the air so you can form it into the shape you want.
Next step: divide the dough in half, sprinkle the counter lightly with flour, and roll the dough into a 9-inch circle. Fold it slightly off center, then use scissors to make four cuts from the outside edge towards the folded middle. Spread the cuts out slightly to form the rising sun.
LET IT RISE AGAIN
Let the dough rise for the last time, about 45-50 minutes, lightly covered. You can use a clean, dry, cotton dishcloth (no terry cloth unless you want to pick lint out of your beautiful dough), or spray cling wrap with cooking oil spray and lay it over top.
When almost completely risen, preheat the oven, and bake the bread for about 30-35 minutes or until golden brown. Let the bread cool on a wire rack before slicing and eating. This bread has enough substance so it can be sliced while still slightly warm.
- 1 package yeast
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 2 cups warm water
- 1/4 cup oil, preferably olive oil
- 1/4 cup molasses
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 cups yellow cornmeal
- 3-4 cups all-purpose flour
Dissolve yeast and sugar in warm water. Let it sit until it starts to foam and activate, 5-10 minutes. Stir in oil, molasses, salt and cornmeal. Add 2 cups flour and stir until well combined. Continue adding flour until a soft dough is formed and knead until smooth and elastic. Place in a greased bowl, turned over to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 to 1 and half hours.
Line a sheet pan with parchment paper, or spray lightly with cooking oil spray and sprinkle some cornmeal over the pan.
Punch dough down and divide in half. Shape one piece into a smooth ball, then flatten it into a 9” round. Fold slightly off center so top edge is about 1 inch from bottom edge and place on prepared pan. Make four cuts about from the outside curved edge about 2/3 of the way toward the fold. Repeat with other half of dough; cover lightly and let rise about one hour. Bake at 375° about 30 to 35 minutes or until golden.
Let cool on a wire rack before slicing.