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Bear Paw Bread

This pueblo bread originated in the Rio Grande area of New Mexico and has always been made in the shape of a bear's paw. It is crusty, easy to make, delicious to eat, and most impressive in appearance! This recipe can easily be halved; it can also be frozen, well wrapped, for up to three months.

2 cups hot water
2 teaspoons solid vegetable shortening, lard,
    butter, or margarine
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 packages (about 2 tablespoons) active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water (110 degrees F)

Place the 2 cups of hot water, shortening, honey, and salt in a large bowl; stir to melt shortening.

Dissolve yeast in the warm water in a small bowl. When liquid in the large bowl has cooled to room temperature, stir in the yeast mixture. Add flour 1 cup at a time, beating well after each addition. After 8 cups have been added to the dough, place the remaining 2 cups on a board and turn out dough over flour. Knead dough until smooth and elastic, 10 to 15 minutes.

Place dough in a lightly greased very large bowl, turning to grease top of dough. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise about 1 1/2 hours, or until doubled in bulk. Turn out on a floured board and knead again for about 3 minutes.

Grease 4 (9-inch) pie pans or 2 baking sheets. Divide dough in quarters and form each piece into a flat circle about 8 inches in diameter. Fold each circle almost in half, allowing the bottom to extend about an inch beyond the top. With a sharp knife, slash the dough twice, cutting through both layers of dough, about halfway back to the fold. This will form three separated sections - the bear's paw. Place each loaf in a greased pie plate, or on a baking sheet, curving the folded side in a crescent shape. Separate the slashes. cover loosely with a towel and let rise until doubled in bulk.

Heat oven to 350 degrees F and place a shallow pan of hot water in the center of bottom rack of the oven. Place loaves on the top rack. Bake about 1 hour, or until lightly browned and bread sounds hollow when tapped.

Makes 4 loaves.