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I Just Wanna Stay In and Bake, But I Don’t Know How

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Local Communities, Milwaukee Living

I will be the first to admit, though I love to cook, I am a horrible baker. I have whipped up the occasional loaves of banana bread, which have also proved useful as door stops. So, what can a person do when they really want to have a nice piece of homemade bread served steaming hot and not made from the frozen, pre-packaged tubes, rolls, or loaves peddled at the grocery store? This is where I was introduced to the world of Native American fry bread. Fry bread was born out of desperation. Over a hundred years ago, when the indigenous tribes living in Arizona were forced to relocate to New Mexico, they found themselves in a new land lacking their native foods. The American government provided them with canned staples, including flour, sugar and lard. These became the main ingredients of fry bread. Each tribe has a different recipe. Some are sweet, most are savory, and all are great additions to any meal.

 

Making the dough for fry bread is easy and does not require many ingredients or much prep time. Because of its simplicity, many underestimate its flavor. Some recipes use baking soda as the leavening agent, one friend of mine has a recipe handed down from her grandmother using yeast, and another friend uses beer! No matter how you put it together, this bread is so delicious that if you take a chunk fresh out of the skillet, put it on a plate and place the plate on top of your head, your tongue is going to slap your brain out trying to get at it! Really and for true! Fry bread can be served as a dessert topped with honey and powdered sugar, cut into wedges for dipping into gravy or salsa, or by itself to fill out the evening meal around the campfire in the deep, dark woods.

 

This recipe is made with all-purpose flour and baking powder, creating a very simple fry bread with no extra fat or eggs. It makes four small fry bread loaves and can be scaled up for more loaves.

 

Ingredients

 

  • 8-inch cast iron skillet
  • 1 cup vegetable oil, lard shortening (deep enough for frying)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons double acting baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt, preferably non-ionized
  • 1/2 cup milk (I use dehydrated milk in my camping recipe)

 

Steps to Make It

 

  1. In a deep, 8-inch cast-iron skillet or heavy saucepan, heat the oil until your deep fry thermometer reads 350 degrees F, or hot enough to make a drop of water dance . Another way of checking is to place a kernel of popcorn in the oil, and it will pop when the oil reaches 350 to 360 F.
  2. In a mixing bowl, stir together the dry ingredients of flour, salt, and baking powder. Gradually add the milk and mix with your hands until the dough holds together. The dough is sticky but easy to work with; keep your hands and work surface well-floured.
  3. Drizzle 2-3 tablespoons of oil over the dough to keep it from drying out. Cover and let the dough rest for 2 hours. Since we are using baking powder, the dough will not rise, but it does need to rest. Knead 3 or 4 times on a floured surface. Do not knead the dough too much or the result will be bread that is hard and tough.
  4. Divide the dough into 4 equal sized chunks and form each into a ball.
  5. Roll each ball of dough with a rolling pin (or use your hands for a more traditional feel) into a circle that's about 1/4- to 1/2-inch thick. Adjusting the thickness of the dough will result in different uses. When making tacos, start with a very thin dough (less than 1/4 inch). Pressing a deep indentation into the center of the dough will prevent it from turning into a hollow ball.
  6. Fry each loaf in hot oil until the dough reaches a nice golden brown on the bottom and puffs up, about 20 to 25 seconds, then flip and fry on the other side for 10–20 seconds more. Set aside to drain. Cover the fried bread to keep it warm while frying the remaining loaves.

 

Tips

 

  • Choose a cooking oil with a high smoke point. Some, such as extra-virgin olive oil, will smoke before it reaches a temperature between 325 to 400 Degrees F, which will result in the bread tasting burnt. On the other hand, refined avocado oil (considered a healthy alternative) has a smoke point between 480 to 520 degrees F.
  • If planning ahead for a camping trip, put all the dry ingredients into a quart sized zip lock plastic bag. Remember you are substituting dehydrated milk for fresh milk. The plastic bag provides a convenient container for mixing the batch of dough. Consider using lard to fry the bread. A can of lard is easier to pack on the trail or in the canoe. Lard is the traditional oil for making fry bread.
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