Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Pan Cubano (Cuban Bread)
Although I definitely haven't committed to making bread from every country in the world (in fact, every time I think of it, it seems to be a crazier idea). But I've noticed that ever since my friend David suggested this as a project, I've been drawn to any recipe with pan, pane, brood, pain, or brot in it. Luckily, I don't know how to recognize the word for "bread" in Russian, Arabic, or a host of other languages, so I haven't gone crazy. So far.
There are a couple of things about this bread that are unique, at least to me. First, it's made with lard, instead of butter or oil. The word on the label is actually "lard," not "ard." I checked all the dozen or so containers of lard to look for one that didn't say "ard," but I searched in vain. Apparently Clancey's printer doesn't do ls.
When I read the recipe for Cuban bread more closely, I saw that the recipe is actually for pan de manteca (lard bread) instead of pan de agua (water bread). Apparently pan de agua is more commonly sold in bakeries, but since I'd already bought the manteca, I was certainly going to use it.
Most of the 4 tablespoons of melted lard is mixed in the dough, but a bit is put on the top of the dough when it's put in a bowl to rise.
It's an enthusiastic riser, and takes only about an hour for it to double in size. Its second rise, done after it's shaped into loaves, is only 5 to 7 minutes--really a rest rather than a rise.
Unlike a ciabatta with poolish, say, this bread has no pre-ferment and short rising times, which makes it a good recipe to know about when you have a mid-afternoon urge to make bread and you want it for dinner.
Another thing that makes this bread unique is its decoration with bay leaves, tucked in the slashes. If you don't have bay leaves, you don't have to run out and buy a jar--they're not essential to the success of the bread. But if you have them, you might as well use them, especially if you suspect that they've been lolling around on your spice rack for years and it's probably time to replace them with leaves that smell like bay.
But the most unique thing about this recipe by far is that it starts in a cold, but steamy, oven. That's right--no preheating. Just a pan full of boiling water. For some reason, starting the bread in a cold oven makes it so steamy that the door is covered with condensation and you can't see in the oven. I'd love to know why the Cubans, unlike everyone else in the history of bread, decided to start theirs in a cold oven. Maybe this is just an eccentric recipe, but I'd rather think that there's a good story behind this method.
At some point in the afternoon, it occurred to me that if I had two loaves of Cuban bread, I should use at least one of them to make Cuban sandwiches. I sliced part of a loaf in half (sans the bay leaves), spread mustard on each half, and layered ham, roast pork, baby Swiss, and sliced dill pickles on the bottom half.
I was going to use my almost-never-used panini maker, but I read someplace that a true Cuban sandwich should never be made in a panini maker, so I put it on a griddle and weighed it down with a heavy pan. Then I put another heavy pan on top of the first one. Then I put my tea kettle on top of the second heavy pan. Definitely not authentic, but it worked, although I don't understand why the panini maker is verboten.
This sandwich was so good, and so easy to make--assuming you have all the necessary ingredients, it goes together in no time. It's an odd combination of ingredients, but it works. I like to picture the same Cuban grandmothers who decided to bake bread in a cold, steamy oven, also standing around arguing about what to put on the bread. I think that they couldn't agree, so they each just shouted out their favorite food: Mustard! Pork! Cheese! Then they stuffed it in their just-baked bread, heated it up, and ate it. They were in hog heaven. Or, as they say in Cuba (maybe), paraíso de los cerdos.
Posted by Marie at 8:07 PM