How to Make Basque Sheepherder’s Bread

*Correction* In an earlier version of this post, I labeled this bread “taloa.” My attentive readers, who are much more knowledgeable than I am, brought to my attention that taloa is a completely different type of bread, more of a Basque corn tortilla than a loaf of bread. I apologize for the error, and I encourage anyone who has a recipe for taloa to send it my way so I can test it out.

An adorable old Basque sheepherder from Arizona explained to me in detail over breakfast at Centro Basco a few weeks ago how to make sheepherder’s bread.

I didn’t take any notes, as a lot of what he said went way over my head and I figured my readers weren’t actually going to dig a hole in the ground to bake their bread like the sheepherders would. Maybe some of you are that diehard, but I’m definitely not.

So I took the easy route and scoured the internet for Basque sheepherder’s bread recipes. I decided to try Buber’s recipe, because it seemed simple enough (only seven ingredients!) and because Buber is the boss of everything.

For the sake of proper attribution, everything in bold comes from Buber’s page directly. The recipe goes as follows:

3 cups very hot tap water
1/2 cup (1/4 lb) butter or margarine
1/3 cup sugar
2 1/2 tsp salt
2 pkg active dry yeast
9 to 9 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Salad oil

In a large bowl, combine hot water, butter, sugar, and salt. Stir until butter has melted; let cool to about 110 degrees.

This was fun, because I’d never melted butter with hot water before. Those sheepherders were some resourceful dudes!

Stir in yeast, cover, and set in a warm place until bubbly (about 15 minutes).

For some hella Basque style points, cover the bowl with some Basque linen.

Beat in about 5 cups of the flour to make a thick batter. Stir in enough of the remaining flour (about 3 1/2 cups) to make a stiff dough.


Turn dough out onto a floured board; knead until smooth and satiny (10 to 20 minutes), adding flour as needed to prevent sticking.

Now this is where you get really tired. The first ten minutes of kneading was fine. Fun, even. But the dough got harder and harder as time went on, requiring more effort on my part. Eventually I got hella flushed like I had just gone through some vigorous Sun Salutations. I started whining at the timer, pleading for the seconds to tick by faster.

In the end, I came out with this bad boy:


Place dough in a greased bowl; turn over to grease top. Cover and let rise until doubled (about 1 1/2 hours).

Finally, you get a break! And after the rest, you end up with this cool-looking thing:


Punch dough down and knead briefly on a floured board to release air; shape into a smooth ball.

The punching part was fun. Going back to knead some more, not so much.


With a circle of foil, cover the inside bottom of a 5-quart cast-iron or cast-aluminum Dutch oven. Grease foil, inside of Dutch oven, and underside of lid with salad oil.

Place dough in Dutch oven and cover with lid.

My dough didn’t end up very “satiny,” but it would have to do.


Let rise in a warm place until dough pushes up lid by about 1/2 inch (about 1 hour — watch closely).

It took longer than one hour (notice how it’s nighttime outside), but it actually did pop through the lid eventually.


Bake, covered with lid, in a preheated 375 degree oven for 12 minutes. Remove lid and bake for another 30 to 35 minutes or until loaf is golden brown.


Remove from oven and turn out onto a rack to cool (you’ll need a helper). Peel off foil and turn loaf upright. Makes 1 very large loaf.

breadExcuse me. “Very large loaf” is an UNDERSTATEMENT. I had no idea going into this (as I’d never actually seen taloa before) that the bread would take up the entire Dutch oven.

I guess it makes sense that a sheepherder would want to make lots of bread at once, since it takes quite a bit of time and effort to put this whole shebang together. But WOWZA.

In terms of taste, let’s just say that it’s a hearty, earthy kind of bread. It’s got a unique flavor that isn’t altogether unpleasant when eaten plain, but the bread was a million times better toasted with a little butter and jam. Oh my God. Then it was a knock out.

I had to freeze half of the loaf, but I’ve used the other half to eat toasted with fried eggs and to use as French toast for breakfast. In both cases, the sheepherder’s bread was a total hit.

If you’re willing to put in the time and muscle power this recipe requires, I think it’s definitely worth giving it a try. I wouldn’t bake it on a regular basis, but if you’ve got a lot of hungry people to feed, this could be the bread for you.

You can also check out these other recipes for Basque sheepherder’s bread to compare:

NPR has a recipe from a little cookbook called From the Sheepcamp to the Kitchen: Volume II.

Ben Plaza from Ontario, Oregon shares his recipe through the Oregon Historical Society. offers one.

And Euskal Kazeta shares a similar recipe.

If you give it a try, let me know how it turns out!

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Favorite Quotes from Domingo Ibarburu

Instead of picking a Basque proverb this Wednesday, I want to share with you my favorite quotes from the Elgarrekin theater troupe’s performance on Sunday. They presented the play, Domingo Ibarburu, written by Pantxo Hirigaray.

One of the funniest characters spouted off advice quotes from his amatxi and aitatxi. These sayings started profound and got more ridiculous as the play went on. And they’re hella Basque in that they all involve food.

Here are the ones I took down:

“If you give flour to someone who’s not used to eating cake, he’ll make bread.”

“If there’s not a chance of having cake, you don’t care for cake. But if there’s a chance of having cake, you become a cake lover.”

“He who lacks cakes dreams of pies.”

“A bad baker can ruin the flavor of the best cake.”

“The bigger the cake, the more people there are that love the cake.”

“A cake that stays too long in the oven isn’t worth much.”

“If you put three cakes on top of a table, it’s difficult to decide which one to eat.”

Which line is your favorite?

Aita’s Piperade Recipe

Calling all cooks!  Do you have a recipe you’d like to see featured on Hella Basque?   Go to the About page and fill out a contact form.  Drop me a line with your ideas and recipes!  You will receive full credit, of course.

After my review of Piperade, a few of you wanted to know Aita’s piperade recipe so you could make your own. I finally got him to sit still long enough to explain his process to me.  I’m told his piperade has a lot more garlic than most, so keep that in mind when trying it out for yourself.

Aita’s Piperade

Servings: 4-5
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes

5-6 tomatoes
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
7 cloves of garlic, minced
4 Anaheim peppers, cored, seeded, and cut into chunks
2 oz. Jambon de Bayonne (ham)
1 Tbsp. sugar
Piments d’Espelette or paprika (optional)

1. Boil a large pot of water. Add whole tomatoes to boiling water and let boil until the tomato skins crack. Drain tomatoes and peel them. Place the peeled tomatoes back in the pot and mash with a potato masher. Heat tomatoes to a boil, then simmer until soupy, about 10-15 minutes.

2. In a frying pan, heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil on medium high. Fry onion and garlic until softened and browned. Add Jambon de Bayonne to pan and flash fry for 2 minutes.

3. In a separate frying pan, heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil on medium high. Cook peppers five minutes until tender, but before they go limp.

4. Add onion, garlic, Jambon, and peppers to the tomato pot. Combine with 1 Tbsp. sugar. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle in Piments d’Espelette or paprika for an added kick, if desired.


Aita & Lady

For a different variation, also check out Chef Mimi’s Piperade recipe.  It looks good too!

Top 5 Things Not to Say to a Boy’s Ama

Sticking with the theme of my post on Top 5 Things Not to Say to a Girl’s Aita, let’s show the amas out there some love.

1. I don’t want kids.

Related: I don’t want to give birth – ew. I’ll adopt or get a surrogate or have a C Section.

Ama wants needs grandchildren in her life. Maybe not now, but definitely some day. And if you’re not going to pop them out for her, then what use are you? Don’t even try to join the family. Ama cares more about her future career as a grandmother than your personal preferences.

2. I don’t cook.

Ama’s all about the food. She takes great pride in her cooking and makes sure her kids are well fed at all times. She wants someone who’s going to take care of her son, and a big part of that means cooking for him. She will question your care taking abilities and your very femininity if you don’t at least make an effort to cook.

The waves of feminism have come and gone in Ama’s book. You can have a career and all that jazz, but you’d better make sure you’re in the kitchen some of the time.

3. I’m not hungry.

Related: I already ate. I’m full. I’m on a diet.

Don’t come to Ama’s house if you don’t plan on eating. She will pressure you to eat, whether you want to or not. Ama respects a woman with a healthy appetite and an appreciation for her cooking, so leave the skinny jeans at home and accept everything she offers you.

Even if it’s just to taste, eat what she offers you. It’s about more than just the food. Her feeding you is a gesture, a welcoming into her home and heart, so don’t blow it.

(Thanks to Fred Alfaro for this suggestion.)

4. I’m not Catholic.

While being in charge of the family’s nutrition, Ama is also the spiritual leader of the family. She’s the one who made sure everyone said their prayers, went to Catechism, cycled through the Sacraments, and attended church every Sunday. So she’ll be damned if she’ll let you come in and wreck her hard work.

While your religious beliefs may not affect her son’s, they sure will play a big role in how you raise those future grandbabies. It’s true that not all amas are super religious, but even the less strict Catholics of the bunch might still have a strong opinion when it comes to the grandchildren’s religious upbringing. Be prepared to fight that battle.

5. I love tattoos, piercings, and rough unprotected sex with your son.

Just kidding. Well, sort of. If you love tattoos and piercings, Ama will probably just assume the last part of that sentence to be true. After all, good girls don’t like tattoos and piercings. Only kinky, dirty girls are into that stuff. American girls.

So if you have any tattoos and piercings, I’d recommend not flaunting them on your first visit. Keep them covered up as best as you can until you gain Ama’s trust and respect in other ways.

What are some things your ama wouldn’t want to hear?