A delicate crispy crust with billowy soft dough on the inside, Cuban bread is a drool-inducing force to be reckoned with. When my grandmother would come to visit us on Saturday mornings, she always brought three loaves, knowing that we would descend on them like vultures finding road kill in the desert. There’s no greater morning breakfast than a hot cup of cafe con leche with toasty buttery bread for dipping.
It is the only bread on the planet worth a damn as far as I’m concerned and most certainly the only one worthy of being used in our cuisine. You just can’t make a proper Cuban sandwich without it. You could try, but it would taste like garbage. The only bread I’ve found that comes even a little close to Cuban bread are Portuguese water rolls. Sadly, I haven’t been able to find them outside of Connecticut.
My tia–abuela(great aunt) Nena worked in a bakery from the time she arrived from Cuba until she died in the early 90s. She was the loveliest and most proper Cuban lady and a beast in the kitchen. Lucky for me, she left a notebook full of recipes for pastelitos and the bread.
The bread gets hard as a rock from one day to the next, so it needs to be eaten within the day/ It never really lasts that long, though. Since there are two hour-long rising periods, it is a test of patience. In the end, worth every minute.
Additional recipe notes: I’ve seen other recipes in my research that say to bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Can’t attest to it but you may want to experiment. If you don’t have a mixer with a dough hook, you can also do this the old fashioned way. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Pound the dough ball down and knead by hand until the dough is smooth and elastic, about ten minutes.
Questions, comments, suggestions? Let me know in the comments.
- 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 1/4 cups warm water
- 2 cups bread flour (see instructions)
- 2 cups all-purpose flour (see instructions)
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1/4 cup lard (melted in microwave)
- 2 tablespoons warm water (to brush on loaves before baking)
- Grease a large bowl, and set aside.
- Take a small bowl and dissolve the yeast and sugar in 1/4 cup of warm (110 degrees F) water.
- Place the bowl in a warm place and let it stand until it starts to foam and double in volume, about 10 minutes. If it doesn't foam and bubble, you have some bad yeast!
- Meanwhile, melt 1/4 c lard in a microwaveable container for 90 seconds on high or until fully melted.
- Place the water/yeast/sugar mixture in the mixing bowl of a stand mixer.
- Add the rest of the warm water and the salt. Using the dough hook, mix on low speed until blended.
- In a separate bowl, measure out 2 cups of each kind of flour and sift together well.
- Gradually add the flour mixture, a little at a time, to the wet ingredients in your mixer -- mixing constantly.
- At the same time you are adding flour, gradually pour in the melted lard. Keep adding a little flour and a little lard until all of the lard is added.
- Continue adding more flour -- A LITTLE AT A TIME -- until you make a smooth and pliable dough.
- Try to add just enough flour to make the dough elastic -- just as much as necessary so that the dough hook barely cleans the sides of the bowl. Too much flour and your bread will be too dense! You will use approximately 3 1/4 cups of sifted flour to bring the dough to this point.
- Save any leftover flour mixture for rolling out the dough.
- Now let the machine and the dough hook go to work kneading the dough. Set the mixer on low speed and knead for about 3 to 4 minutes, no more! Your dough will be fairly sticky at this point.
- (If you don't have a mixer with a dough hook, see notes below)
- Shape the dough into a ball and place it into that bowl you originally greased at the start.
- Flip the dough ball a few times to grease it up on all sides. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and place in a warm place.
- Let the dough rise until it doubles in size -- about 45 minutes to 1 hour.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board, using the leftover flour from earlier.
- Sprinkle some flour on the dough and use a rolling pin to roll it out.
- Sprinkle more flour on the dough and turn it over a few times as you roll it out, to keep it from sticking to the rolling pin. The added flour at this rolling stage should take care of most of the stickiness of the dough.
- Roll the dough up into a tightly rolled long cylinder, with a slight taper at both ends. Wet your fingers and pinch the loose flap of the rolled dough into the loaf, making a tight seam.
- Grease a baking sheet and sprinkle lightly with cornmeal.
- Place the loaf diagonally onto the baking sheet, seam side down. Dust the top with a little extra flour and cover very loosely with plastic wrap.
- Place in a warm spot and allow the loaf to stand and rise once again until it is about 2 1/2 times its original size, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.Your loaf will spread out quite a bit as it rises; this is what it's supposed to do. It should be as long as the diagonal of your baking pan.
- Preheat oven to 450º F.
- Place a pan of water on the lowest rack of the oven.
- Use a sharp knife to cut a shallow seam down the middle of the top of the bread, leaving about two inches of uncut top on each end of the loaf.
- Brush the top of the loaf with water and place in your preheated oven on the middle shelf.
- After about 5 minutes of baking, brush some more water on top of the bread.
- Bake the loaf until it is light brown and crusty -- about 12 to 18 minutes.
- Since oven temperatures vary, keep an eye on it.
- And there you have it!
- If you don't have a mixer with a dough hook, you can also do this the old fashioned way. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Pound the dough ball down and knead by hand until the dough is smooth and elastic, about ten minutes.