Making ham and cheese bread

Everyone who grows up in Taiwan knows this style of bread -- golden brown on the outside, slightly sweet, soft, and incredibly tender on the inside. This is why I was a bit shocked when I first encountered European style bread with the hard crust and chewy interior. There are reasons to like both styles. But the Asian style bread is very popular and indeed versatile for many variations. It can be used to make savory treats like this one with ham and cheese. But more often it is used to encase red bean paste, sweet ground peanuts, and other sweet stuffings. There are quite a lot of different recipes for this dough, but the main ingredients always include flour, yeast, sugar, water, butter, and milk powder. Not sure why the milk powder, but it is a common ingredient in Asia. Many of the recipes call for "starters" or pre-ferment, which basically requires the making of some of the water and flour and yeast 1-2 hours in advance, before adding the rest for another cycle of mixing and proofing. I'm seriously too lazy to do that. From what I can gather, the use of pre-ferment makes better texture, the bread stays fresh for longer, and flavors might improve a little bit. Well, I wanted to just mix it all up and wait for the proofing in one swoop. So I basically substituted the recipe with the dough recipe for Challah bread (from the Best Recipe by Cooks Illustrated). It's got almost the same ingredients, and I just used milk to replace water. The result is not half bad!

starting ingredients: grated Gruyere cheese; black forest ham, proofed Challah dough


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