Wisconsin is a state that prides itself on cheese, cheese production, and cheese loving. So, it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that a fan favorite snack at a famous famers market in Madison, Wisconsin is bread baked with chunks of cheese inside. Managing Producer Sally Swift talks with Tucker Shaw, from America’s Test Kitchen, about the spicy, cheesy treat and how to make it at home. You can bake the Cook’s Country recipe for Spicy Cheese Bread. As Tucker suggests, be sure it set some aside for grilled cheese toast the next day!
Sally Swift: I have been thinking about farmers markets lately, and there is one in Madison, Wisconsin that is just beautiful. It surrounds the capitol and it’s been there for years. I have heard that one of the things that people buy all the time at that market is this cheese bread. You guys have done a little work on it?
Tucker Shaw: It’s true. As with many farmers markets, thousands of people go every week to look over the tomatoes and lettuce, but they line up for this cheese bread in Madison. Our food editor paid a visit to the Dane County Farmers’ Market a couple of years ago and he brought back these stories of this spicy cheese bread that’s served by Stella’s Bakery, a stall in the market. Just hearing him talk about it, we knew it was something we had to investigate a little bit more.
Photo: America's Test Kitchen
SS: I am quite certain I have never had good cheese bread. Tell me what you guys did to duplicate this recipe. What’s the key?
TS: This bread looks like a big, round loaf. Rather than grated cheese that’s baked into it, it’s got these pockets of cheese, so when the bread is warm, you pull it apart and you get these melty, oozy gorgeous bits. It also comes with a healthy dose of red pepper flakes, so you also get this spiciness that makes you want to take another bite. When you go to the farmers market you get a whiff of bread and you wander around the market the rest of the day tearing off a piece and eating it. We thought that this is great if you’re in Wisconsin, but this kind of experience should be shared with the rest of the country. So, as we often do in this country, we take inspiration from this original recipe, then find a way to not exactly duplicate it, but to get something that is inspired by it and sort of hits all the same buttons.
SS: What do we need to do?
TS: To start, this is a great bread if you’re not an experienced bread maker. We published the recipe a couple of years ago and it’s taken a life of its own; people still talk about this bread. It’s a very simple dough to work with, similar to a challah dough, so it’s rather soft. You basically take flour, sugar, yeast, and salt, warm water, eggs, and butter, and stick it in your stand mixer; let the stand mixer do the kneading work for you. Leave it in there kneading away from 8 to 10 minutes.
SS: I’m surprised by the sweet part.
TS: It’s not too much sugar, just enough to give it a little bit of a sweetness. It’s almost hard to detect when you eat it, but it does even things out a little bit. You’ve kneaded your bread and put it in a greased bowl and, of course as with any bread, you’ve got to walk away for an hour or so to let it rise. And then you’re going to take it out and you’re going to roll it into a rectangle and punch it down. This will help release some of the air that’s come in there, because you don’t want huge air pockets in this bread. You want it fairly close structure so it’ll hold onto the cheese that you’re about to add. You sprinkle over the top huge cubes of provolone and Monterey Jack cheese, and a good spoonful of red pepper flakes. You then take this rectangle, roll it into a log, and spiral it into a cake pan. The cake pan is the key to holding this beautiful round spiral shape. The dough will rise – and then also bake – in the cake pan. Once you’ve spiraled it in there, you don’t have to take it out until it’s finished and ready to eat.
SS: And you just pop that right in the oven. It sounds great. I can just imagine that toasted.
TS: It’s so good. First of all, if you have any left over, which, depending on how many people are in the house, is unlikely. When you slice this the next day and toast it in the oven – I’m not sure I would put it in the toaster depending on how much you love your toaster – it’s almost like a self-contained grilled cheese sandwich. You’ve got the cheese, you’ve got toasty bread. It’s all ready to go for you. If you haven’t baked bread before, please do it because you will fancy yourself a bread baker after doing cheese bread.
On each episode of The Splendid Table we visit with the test cooks at America’s Test Kitchen to discuss a wide range of topics including recipes, ingredients, techniques and kitchen equipment.