The genius behind Hot Bread Kitchen is threefold. Founder Jessamyn Rodriguez 1) decided to create a space dedicated to making bread. This is fairly self-explanatory. Bread is perfection. Chewy, salty perfection. And in a world filled with sad, soft, cellophane-wrapped grocery store bread that can barely stand up to butter, let along sandwich fillings, we need all the real bread we can get. 2) For said bread-making space, Rodriguez hires low-income, immigrant and minority people, often women. HBK then provides these employees with proper culinary skill that they can take on to future places of employment within the food industry. 3) The employees of Hot Bread Kitchen share their own bread making secrets from their heritages and homelands (Moroccan m’smen! Indian naan! Persian nan-e quandi!)
These brilliant aspects of Rodriguez’s company and more are apparent from the Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook. Unlike a traditional cookbook of recipes with a bit of copy, HBK’s book is more like a coffee table book that happens to teach readers to make breads from around the world.
The book is divided into sections: unleavened flatbreads, leavened flatbreads, tortillas and more, lean breads and roll-ups, Challah and beyond, filled doughs from around the world, quick breads and holiday breads, and (my personal favorite) what to do with leftover bread (a problem I rarely find myself experiencing, but the ideas were so creative!) If you’ve found yourself saying, “gee, my grandma/aunt/mother used to make all her bread from scratch and I never do that, I should try!” this is the book for you. Start with soft lavash and make your way to a Chilean empanada.
As if the book didn’t cover an expansive enough topic, it also includes recipes for culturally appropriate dishes to serve alongside your breads –not that there’s anything “wrong” with putting peanut butter and jelly on a tortilla– but why not try your hand at chilaquiles? Or make a Bangladeshi-style vegetable dish packed with fenugreek, nigella, black mustard, and fennel seeds to accompany your homemade chapatis? Also, the Challah French toast grilled cheese with peaches hellllo. And once I master Bahn Mi baguette dough, I plan to make the pork belly Banh Mi with “the works” recipe, contributed by HBK’s former farmers’ market manager Thuy Nguyen.
Which brings me to one of my favorite elements of this book: peppered among the recipes are Baker’s Profiles, which detail short stories of current and former Hot Bread Kitchen employees. Women who have baked for HBK have gone on to work for well- known NYC bakeries like Amy’s Bread, larger companies like Whole Foods, and even started their own shops.
The first recipe I made from this cookbook was a torta, a Dominican corn bread baked in a skillet. A sweet, buttery bread I’d just as soon eat with a slick of chocolate frosting for dessert as I would crumbled into chili. This recipe was contributed by Rodriquez’s mother-in-law, and is incredible. I don’t own an 8-in cast iron skillet, so I made my torta in ceramic dish, though I imagine a regular cake pan will work just fine too (it’s just not as fun to plunk that down on the dinner table as it is with a more *rustic* skillet)
Torta (from the Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook, makes 1 8-inch loaf)
1 cup AP Flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup minus 2 tablespoons whole milk
9 tablespoons unsalted butter
Preheat the oven to 350º F. Put an 8-inch cast-skillet in the oven to get hot.
Whisk together to the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.
Whisk together the eggs and vanilla in a separate bowl.
Warm the milk and 8 tablespoons of butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring every now and then, until the butter is melted. While whisking, slowly pour the butter and milk mixture into the flour mixture. Mix until smooth. Whisk in the egg mixture.
Take the skillet out of the oven and add the remaining tablespoon of butter. It should melt immediately. Tilt the skillet to spread the butter over its surface. Pour the batter into the skillet. Bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes.
Let cool completely before inverting torta from the pan and slicing.