I love the very idea of a meal wrapped up in a neat package of bread. Anyone who has been following my blog recently will have noticed than I am on a pocket bread binge—Chicken Curry Pasty, bierock, better bierock, California Fusion guo kui. Today, I decided on a Cal-Mex Fusion taco bun.
A wheat bun did not seem right for a taco. However, using nothing but corn flour would make for a very dense bun, because corn does not have the gluten necessary for a raised yeasted bread. I decided to turn my bread recipe into a corn bread, by substituting one cup of flour with cornmeal. Doing this I could have the best of both worlds.
Karl’s Pocket Tacos
2 tsp. active dry yeast
½ cup warm water
2+ Tbs. sugar, separate uses
3+ cups flour, AP
1 cup course corn meal
½ tsp. salt
½ cup butter, separate uses
1 cup milk
1 Anaheim chili
1 Jalapeño chile
1 Poblano chile
1 green bell pepper
1 lb. ground beef
1 cup yellow onion, diced
2 Tbs. bacon grease or corn oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tomato, finely diced
1 Tbs. tomato paste
½ cup cilantro stems
1 cup fresh cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
½ cup onion, diced finely
1. Put the yeast in the warm water with a good pinch of sugar. Stir and let it proof for 10 minutes.
Tip: If your yeast is good there should be a good head of foam covering the mixture after this time. If there is not, discard and buy new yeast.
2. Sift the flour, corn meal, salt, and two tablespoons of sugar together several times to get an even distribution of the ingredients.
Tip: I prefer to use Quaker corn meal, because it has more body than some others on the market. Corn flour is ground so finely that it loses all texture.
3. Add ¾ of the stick of butter into the flour and mix it into the flour.
Tip: This is six tablespoons of butter. You may melt it before adding it to the flour or—what I have been doing lately—freeze the butter and grating it into the dry flour. Freezing the butter beforehand makes grating the butter easier and less sticky.
Note: The butter binds the proteins in the flour preventing some of it from forming gluten and produces a softer bread.
4. Warm the milk slightly and scramble the egg into the milk.
Tip: You do not want the milk hot enough to start cooking the egg, you just do not want it to be cold from the refrigerator.
5. Make a “well” in the flour and add the yeast water and milk/egg mixture.
6. Pull the flour from the sides of the “well” into the wet ingredients.
7. When the flour in the bowl is well mixed, there is no dry flour apparent, cover the bowl with a sheet of plastic wrap and let the dough rest for ten minutes.
Note: The corn meal needs more time to absorb the liquid than the wheat flour. If you go directly to kneading your dough, you will have to add too much extra flour t keep it from sticking to your hands.
8. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured smooth surface.
Tip: Put about half a cup of flour on the board.
Note: The butter tends to make the dough less sticky and but with the corn flour you may need a little extra flour to knead the dough.
9. Knead the dough for 10 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic.
10. Add one tablespoon of melted butter to the bowl you mixed the dough in and rub the top of the dough ball in the butter.
11. Turn the dough over and cover the bowl with a smooth, clean, damp, kitchen towel. Place the bowl in a warm place for one hour.
Tip: If you use a terrycloth towel, the dough might stick to it as it rises and be hard to remove.
12. Put the hamburger in a mixing bowl with the soy sauce, one tablespoon of the spice mix and the baking soda. Let the meat marinate for 30 minutes.
13. Rinse the peppers and place them on a lipped baking sheet.
14. Roast the chilies and green pepper 3-4 inches away from the heating element. Turn the chilies about every five minutes until they are well charred on all sides.
15. Remove the chilies from the oven and put them in a plastic bag until they are cool enough to handle.
Tip: The plastic bag continues to steam the chilies and makes it easier to remove the tough skins.
16. Skin and seed the chilies and dice them finely. Reserve the chilies until later.
17. Form the meat into a single large patty and fry it in a large sauté pan with 1-2 tablespoon of grease or oil until both sides are well brown.
Tip: If there is still some raw meat in the center of the patty it is not a problem. The meat will be cooked a second time when the buns are baked.
Note: This is a Cook’s Illustrated browning technique. If you brown the meat in small bits you ended up with hard pebbles when they finally became browned enough to enhance the flavor. By browning the meat in a large patty you get the flavor provided by the Maillard reaction, but still leave most of the meat tender and juicy.
18. Without cleaning the pan, sauté the onions until they are starting to pick up some color, about 5 minutes.
Tip: Use the liquid released by the onions to deglaze the pan.
19. Pull the vegetables to the edges of the skillet and add the garlic. Continue to sauté until fragrant, about one minute, and then stir them into the onions.
20. Pull the vegetables to the edges of the skillet again and add the tomato, tomato paste and cilantro stems. Sauté the tomato until it darkens, about two minutes.
21. Add two tablespoon of taco seasoning to the pan and stir the onions into the tomato and cilantro. Continue sautéing for one minute more.
Tip: If using McCormick’s Taco Seasoning, use the rest of the package.
22. Add one quarter cup of liquid and the chopped chilies to the skillet and continue to cook. Stir to mix and simmer for 5 minutes.
Tip: You may use water, beer, or wine as the liquid.
23. Break the beef patty into small bits and add it to the skillet. Stir to mix and simmer for 5 more minutes.
24. Remove the pan from the heat and set it aside to cool.
25. After ten minutes, stir in the fresh cilantro and raw onions.
26. Punch down the dough and divide it into portions.
Tip: How many portions you make with your dough is your choice. I found that dividing the dough into many small portions produces a lot of snack sized buns, but they are thin walled and not enough to be a meal by themselves. I have found that dough—made with four cups of flour—is perfect for making 12 “full meal” buns.
27. Divide the dough into 12 portions and pull in the sides into to make 12 dough balls.
Tip: This is a raised dough that depends on gluten sheets for its “lift.” When you cut your dough, there will be an outside surface—smooth—and several “cut” surfaces—covered in bubble holes. Stretch the outside surface around and push the cut sides into the center of the balls. Lay the balls down with the crimped side down.
28. Take a dough ball with the “crimped” side up and roll it into a disk about 7 inches in diameter.
Tip: Before today, I have always rolled the dough into an even flat disk. When I formed the buns, I pulled the outer edges into the center and inverted the bun so that the thicker crimped side was on the bottom. The bread layer on the top of the bun was very thin when I made them this way. Today, I rolled the disk into a 5 inch dish and then rolled out the outer inch and a half out to make the 7 inch disk. This left a two inch circle of thicker dough in the center of the disk tapering down to the thinner edges. This made for a more even distribution of the bread in the final bun.
29. Place a third of a cup of filling in the center of the disk.
Tip: The meat mixture in the pan is fairly loose. I found that by using a spatula and a ⅓ cup measure I could pack the filling down and place it in a tight packet in the middle of the dough. This made it easier to wrap the dough around the filling.
30 Pull the edges of the dough over the filling and twist then together.
Tip: Pick up the two opposite edges of the dough and pinch them at the top with one hand. Pick up the other two edges and bring them to the top. You will have four folds of dough sticking out from the sides. Pull each of these to the top, in turn and pinch and twist them together. Lay the bun on the counter sealed side down and cup your hands around it and gently rotate the dough to further twist the seal. Use your hands to gently form the dough into an even “bun” shape.
31. Lay the finished bun on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper.
32. Brush to tops of the buns with melted butter.
33. Let the buns rise for 20 minutes.
34. Bake for 30 minutes in a preheated 375º F oven.
Tip: Rotate the tray after 15 minutes, so that they cook evenly.
35. Transfer the buns to a wire rack for 10 minutes to cool and eat warm or cold.