Go to any Basque restaurant and you are sure get bread that tastes pretty much just like this sheepherders bread recipe! This is as close to traditional as it gets. If you were to cook it over coals or in a sheep wagon stove then it would be the real deal!
I have been making this sheepherders bread since I was probably about 7. Growing up we had a ranch cook named Mario, he made the best bread! The flour was (and still is today) kept in a giant drawer at floor level. So he would sit on the floor, scoop flour into the bowl and knead and knead and knead the bread. I was of course fascinated by this technique and had to try it myself. So I got a big bowl, put a bunch of duck eggs a whole lot of flour and who knows what else in it and kneaded until it looked like bread. I threw it in the oven just like Mario did and somehow it turned out to be slightly edible, according to my grandma at least...
Obviously my bread making skills have come a long way since that very first try at 7ish years old and this recipe surely does not contain duck eggs! I've tried to make this recipe as simple as bread can be and even though the first read of instructions may seem complicated, it really isn't that hard! You got this!
If you try it - let me know what you think!
- 3 cups hot tap water
- 1/2 cup butter (softened is best)
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 3 tsp. salt
- 5 tsp. active dry yeast
- 10 cups flour
- About a Tbls. olive oil
- In a LARGE mixing bowl stir together water, sugar, salt, and butter. Stir until butter is melted
- Add in the yeast, stir gently, and then cover and let sit until the mixture is really bubbly. About 15 min
- Stir in half of the flour (about 5 cups) in to the bowl until you have a sticky dough, at this point you will want to begin kneading (instead of stirring) in most of the remaining flour until you get a stiff dough. ** Reserve about a cup of flour for kneading. Continue kneading the dough for about 10 min or until dough is smooth.
- Oil your mixing bowl, add the dough back in, cover and let sit in a warm place for 1-2 hours. It should double in size!
- While the dough is rising you can prepare your large cast iron/dutch oven by rubbing the bottom and sides with a little bit of oil. You can also use 2-3 bread pans.
- After your dough has risen, punch it down with your fist (the best part) knead again on a floured board for 5-10 min.
- Now, at this point you can either put the straight in to your dutch oven/bread pans or let it rise one more time in your mixing bowl! This is really up to you and how much time you have available. If you choose to let it rise a second time in your mixing bowl repeat step 4, if you want to go straight to the baking pan proceed to step 8.
- Place dough in your oiled dutch oven or split up and put in the oiled bread pans. Cover with a towel and let it rise for 45 min. (Be sure it does not rise too much here)
- Pre-heat your oven to 350F
- After 45 min, score your dough, rub the top with oil or butter, and put in to the oven uncovered for 50 min. The loaf should sound hollow when it is tapped and be perfectly golden brown.
- Remove from the dutch oven and let it cool for at least 30 min before enjoying! (I know, waiting 30 min is the hardest part! But it continues baking in that time, so it is important to wait)
- This recipe will make 2 large loaves or 3 smaller loaves if you want to do smaller quantities instead of using the large dutch oven.
- If you using bread pans, you will need to slightly adjust your baking time. Keep an eye on it, but I would recommend about 45 min.
- I recommend doing the 2nd rise if you have time! 3 total rises has given me the best results. But I have also done just 1 rise and it has still turned out delicious.
- Be sure not to use to hot of water, because it could kill the yeast.
- If your mixture doesn't bubble in the beginning it likely means your yeast is no longer active- so I would not proceed!