James Beard Award-winning Cookbook Author

Cornish Spamwich

Two stories today. One about the power of yeast and the other about a gift of food during World War II. Both come together in a sandwich.

But first, something pretty to look at.

When I first wrote about Cornish Splitters in 2011, I found them to be a quick and tasty yeast bread anyone could make for dinner. While visiting Hawaii soon after, I couldn’t resist filling the breads with Spam. It turns out Spam and Cornish Splitters are made for each other. More about that below.

Yeast demonstrates its power in Cornish Splitters, a terrific roll recipe from England. Mareth Gunstream, who got the recipe from her Cornish grandmother, generously shared it with me for my cookbook, A Baker’s Odyssey. They are unbelievably easy to make.

The dough is really a thick batter beaten briefly with a spoon, and it’s ready to bake in 45 minutes. When you want a yeast roll in a hurry, this is the recipe to use.

Spam is one of the most popular Hawaiian foods. Really. Just go into any supermarket in the state and you’ll find huge displays of the stuff in all sorts of flavors.  There’s even a Lite version.

I ate Spam for the first time in Shanghai at the end of World War II, supplied by the U. S. Army following the defeat of Japan. Food was in short supply, and the salty tasty meat—which required no refrigeration—made a lasting impression on this 5-year-old’s taste buds.

Soon after the war, we emigrated to San Francisco, and though the happy memory of Spam lingered, we feasted instead on all the abundantly available fresh meat and produce.

Now when I’m in Hawaii I make every effort to partake of the local food, and Spam is definitely a huge part of it. So I buy a can of the reduced fat version and fry up a thick slice to enjoy with my poached egg each morning.

For lunch one day I got the idea to make a Spam sandwich on a yeasty roll. After all these were originally called the Sandwich Islands, so why not now the Spamwich Islands? But I didn’t want to go shopping for the bread. My solution? Bake up a batch of Cornish Splitters.  Two packages of quick-rise yeast make the dough expand dramatically in 45 minutes.  Those hungry little yeast cells devour the starch and sugar at a pace that would put an athlete runner to shame.

Cornish Splitters

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (dip dry measure into flour and sweep off excess; 10 ounces)

2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces

2 packages (4 1/2 teaspoons) quick-rise yeast

2 tablespoons sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup hot milk (120˚ to 130˚F), whole or low fat

Put the flour into a mixing bowl and add the butter. Use your fingertips to break the butter up into small pebbly bits.  Mix in the yeast, sugar, and salt.  Add the hot milk and beat with a kitchen spoon to make a thick smooth elastic batter, 1 to 2 minutes.

Cover the bowl loosely with a towel and leave at room temperature for 45 minutes.  The batter will become very bubbly and will have risen visibly.

While the batter rests, adjust an oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 400˚F.  Coat a large cookie sheet (14 x 17 inches) or baking sheet (18 x 12 x 1-inch) lightly with cooking spray.  When the batter is ready, spoon 6 large gobs onto the prepared pan, spacing them about 2 inches apart.  Each blob of batter will be about 3 inches across.

You can cut off pieces from larger dough lumps with the edge of a spoon and add them to smaller lumps to even out the sizes.

Bake about 15 minutes, until the splitters are a light golden brown and spring back when pressed gently in the center.  Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.

For each spamwich, Cut two ¼-inch-thick slices from a block of Spam and sauté in a little hot butter on both sides to develop a crust. Split a Cornish Splitter with a serrated knife and spread both halves lightly with mayonnaise. Put a lettuce leaf on the bottom half, top with the Spam slices, and cover with the Splitter top.

E ‘ai kākou! (Let’s eat)


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