I’m a huge fan of corned beef hash. In fact, whenever I wander into Red’s on a Saturday morning afternoon after having had too much fun the previous night, I get excited when I re-remember that corned beef hash is their Saturday specialty. But as I was looking at the heaping pile of leftovers from St. Patrick’s Day, I thought there must be something else to do with the delicious corned beef and potatoes besides throwing them onto a griddle until they brown up. And what about the flavorful broth leftover from cooking the beef, potatoes and cabbage? There’s gotta be something better than cabbage soup! And then it came to me: prosciutto bread.
You see, several months back, I came across an Italian prosciutto-cheese bread recipe that sounded so delicious, I wanted to make it right then. But then I forgot about it. Until now. If Italians can have prosciutto-cheese bread, what’s keeping us (semi-) Irish from having an equally delicious cured-meat-and-cheese bread of our own? And thus Irish corned beef and cheese bread was born – and let me tell you: this bread is amazingly yummy. From the sweetness of caramelized onions and the saltiness of corned beef to the comfort foodiness of melted cheese, this bread snuggled its way into my tummy – and into my personal cooking traditions for St. Patty’s leftovers.
What’s not to like? There’s salty meat, caramelized onions, and secret tunnels of oozing cheese running throughout. And folks, this bread is easy, as far as breads go. It takes about 5-10 minutes of prep-work, and then you let it sit and do it’s rise-collapse thing. In other words, it’s basically knead-free (okay, you do need to knead it for a minute or two just to mix the dough a bit; but I did my kneading in-bowl, so it was brief, painless, and mess-less!). And for the lactose intolerant and melted cheese-phobes out there, it’s also delicious without the cheese, but make sure to compensate for lack of cheesiness by amping up the other ingredients – or substituting some new ones of your own preference. See? It’s a flexible, infinitely variable bread too! You’ve got to love that.
I halved my original recipe because I was mildly terrified that I – being under-the-weather, craving only bread for the past 4 days, and not having any plans for guests to come over – might end up eating all four loaves in less than 24 hours. You could also be even more authentically Irish by using real Irish cheddar cheese (I just used some extra-sharp stuff I had on hand). Feel free to substitute more corned beef for less potatoes, more corned beef for less cheese, or sauteed mushrooms (or cabbage? how authentic of you!) for some of the caramelized onions. Pretty much anything goes, as long as the ultimate quantity of add-ins is roughly equivalent and it’s all chopped into small enough pieces. But I’d leave in at least half of the caramelized onions because, well, they’re caramelized onions – and, beyond that, they’re probably what’s keeping the bread delightfully moist inside.
Corned Beef Hash and Cheese Bread
Makes 2 1-pound loaves
1 packet of yeast
1/2 c. plus 1/3 c. warm stock reserved from cooking corned beef (or water), approx. 110°F
3 1/4 c. all purpose flour
1/2 to 3/4 c. corned beef and potatoes, diced into 1/4-inch pieces and cooked (e.g., leftover from a St. Patty’s Day feast or from corned beef hash)
1/2 c. red onion, diced and caramelized
1 1/2 tsp. thyme
2 Tbsp. butter
1 1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 c. sharp cheddar, diced into 1/4-inch pieces
cornmeal and flour for sprinkling
1 c. hot water
Whisk yeast into 1/2 c. warm stock (or water), and set aside for 15 minutes.
Pour flour into large bowl, and make a well (i.e., a little bowl-shaped area in the middle of the flour to pour in the other ingredients). Add yeast/stock mixture, corned beef, potatoes, caramelized onions, thyme, butter, and salt. Stir with a spoon to form a dough, adding a little bit of the remaining 1/3 c. warm water at a time (as needed; if you add too much water, you can just add a touch more flour until the dough gets back to being more of a dough and less of a sticky mess). Add cheese, and stir again briefly to mix it in. Knead briefly until smooth (Note: cheese, corned beef, etc. will obviously still be chunky).
Cover dough (but not airtight – using a towel is fine), and allow to rest at room temperature until the dough rises and collapses (i.e., flattens on top a little), approximately 2 hours.
Dough can be used immediately, or you can refrigerate the dough in a lidded container (but not 100% airtight) and use it over the next 7 days.
When you’re ready to use the dough, line the baking sheet with a silicon baking mat (you don’t have to, but makes for easier clean-up and for more even heating/baking if you’ve got really old baking sheets like mine). Then sprinkle the baking mat (or the baking sheet directly) with a little bit of cornmeal – maybe 1 Tbsp. per loaf.
Dust the surface of the dough with a sprinkling of flour, and tear off a 1-pound piece (i.e. grapefruit-sized). Dust with a little more flour, and shape it into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all sides, rotating a quarter-turn as you go. (Basically, the drier surface dough goes to the bottom, and the previously unexposed dough becomes the new outer top layer for the dough’s crust.) Set shaped dough balls on the prepared baking sheet, and allow to rest and rise for 1 hour if using refrigerated dough or just 40 minutes if using fresh, unrefrigerated dough.
15 to 20 minutes before baking (depending on how long it takes your oven to heat up), preheat oven to 450°F, and place an empty boiler tray on a lower shelf where it will not interfere with the bread.
Sprinkle the loaf with flour (approx. 1 Tbsp.). Using a serrated knife, slash a tic-tac-toe pattern into the top of the loaf. Slide the baking sheet containing the loaf into the oven. Immediately pour 1 c. of hot water into the broiler tray on the lower oven shelf, and quickly close the oven door (this will create steam, which gives you a yummy crust on the bread). Bake for 27 to 32 minutes, or until loaf is browned and firm. Allow to cool on a rack for at least 5 minutes before slicing or munching.
This bread stays pretty moist for 2-3 days when stored in an airtight container, but you may want to reheat in the oven to bring back some of the original crustiness.