Friday, January 4, 2013

Bear Paw Bread

#TwelveLoaves January 2013: Clean Slate

It's a new year, a new month and a new #TwelveLoaves baking challenge.

"Bake a bread, yeast or quick bread, loaf or individual. January #TwelveLoaves is all about a clean slate. After the holiday indulgences, we are starting the year with simplicity. If you’ve been wanting to bake with whole grains and other flours, this is the month to try something new! Share with us your favorite basic bread recipes. Let’s get baking!"

All right! an excuse to bake bread - as if I needed an excuse. For years I've been intrigued by the notes about Bear Paw Bread, a loaf attributed to the pueblo Native Americans in New Mexico. Baked in adobe ovens, not sizzled in lard like Navaho Fry Bread, Bear Paw Bread is reported to be crusty, easy to make, delicious to eat and impressive in appearance. Loaves are shaped to resemble a bear's paw... really? Google and Yahoo failed me: a search yielded not one single image of Bear Paw Bread, although pastry Bear Claws were well represented. 

When in doubt, follow directions. So, on the first loaf I slashed the dough twice, as directed, to form a paw shape... hmmm, that didn't look much like a bear's paw. The second loaf sported three slashes... better, but bears have more toes than that. Check out the impressive claws on the grizzly bear from Red Bluff Bay - those claws were impressive when viewed from my kayak!

This recipe produced a simple/basic white bread loaf, with a potentially interesting appearance. Shaping better loaves will take more practice, but the bread was flavorful enough to ignore its funny appearance. The crust was crunchy, the crumb open enough to soak up butter quite readily, and the first loaf disappeared quickly (always a good sign).   

I relished the bread fresh, still warm from the oven, slathered with butter and sprinkled with a few grinds of sea salt. RL enjoyed his first slices buttered and covered with cherry jam. On day 2 the toasted BP bread was a delicious base for melted cheddar, a scattering of Rogue Creamery Blue crumbles and even a slather of whipped pecan/honey/orange zest butter. 

Pueblo Bear Paw Bread
Makes 2 loaves, recipe can be doubled

1 cup hot water
1 teaspoon butter
½ teaspoon honey
¼ teaspoon salt
1 package active dry yeast (1 heaping tablespoon)
¼ cup warm water (110F, 45C)
About 4-5 cups all-purpose flour, divided

  1. Place the hot water, butter, honey and salt in a large bowl and stir until the butter melts. Cool to room temperature.
  2. Dissolve the yeast in the warm water in a small container. Add to the large bowl of cooled water/butter/honey/salt.
  3. Add 3½ cups of flour, 1 cup at a time, beating well after each addition. After 3 ½ cups have been added, turn out onto a board. Knead dough until smooth and elastic, 10 to 15 minutes, adding the additional ½ to 1 ½ cups as needed. (Today’s batch only required a scant 4 cups of flour in total.)
  4. Place dough in a lightly-greased large bowl, turning to grease the top of the dough. Cover with a moist kitchen towel and let rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 to 1½ hours. Turn out onto a lightly floured board and knead again for about 3 minutes.
  5. Grease 2 9-inch pie pans or a baking sheet, or use a silpat. Divide dough in half and form each piece into a flat 8-inch circle. Fold each circle almost in half, with the bottom extending about an inch beyond the top. Use a sharp knife and slash the dough twice (more!), cutting through both layers of dough, about halfway back to the fold. This will form three separated sections – the bear’s paw. Place each loaf in a greased pie plate or onto the baking sheet, curving the folded side in a crescent shape. Separate the slashes. Cover loosely with a towel and let rise until doubled in bulk.
  6. Preheat the oven to 350F (175C) and place a shallow pan of hot water in the center of the oven’s bottom rack. Place the loaves on an upper rack. Bake about 1 hour, or until lightly browned and the loaves sound hollow when tapped. 
Now check out the other #TwelveLoaves recipes for January 2013.


  1. I think the effort to shape these into Bear Paws is fantastic! Glad you linked up to Twelve Loaves. I hope to cook along again next month. Holly

    1. Thanks, Holly. Twelve Loaves is a terrific motivation to explore new recipes or tweak old favorites (and find new food blogs to inspire me).

  2. You had me at warm bread with blue cheese crumbles!

  3. where did the original American Indians get the yeast? How about the original recipe without the yeast, also, if you shape the dough into a circle then cut in half and cut three fingers you get the original paw,


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