Growing up in a highly compact community of other Cubans, it's difficult to not be nostalgic of the aromas one ties to childhood such as fresh baked Cuban bread.
I recall as a child, standing on a long line on a Saturday morning at Artemisa bakery in West New York, NJ for an opportunity of perhaps...just maybe acquiring a couple of loaves of bread. It was that popular in the nearby towns. There were other very good Cuban bakeries in Hudson County, but for bread - Pan de Manteca (mantequilla) or Pan de Agua this was THE place.
This bread is no ordinary bread, contrary to what you see at first glance. It has two characteristics that make it unique. The key ingredient is the lard, yes I said LARD, as in rendered pork fat, which makes it really soft. The second thing is that a palm leaf is traditionally used to make the split down the loaf. Baking Cuban bread at home is no different and getting the right balance right is an accomplishment onto itself. Cuban bread consists of few simple ingredients flour, water, yeast, lard, a little sugar to activate the yeast and salt. Simple right??
Combining these simple ingredients together in exactly the right way is the objective The final prize is a loaf with a crisp crust on the outside and an airy, lightly textured inside. This delicious bread is perfect for Cuban sandwiches or just eating plain with butter or better you can spread garlic with butter inside and use a panini press. Make yourself a Cafe con Leche and you know what I'm talking about! Dale!
1.5g active dry yeast
118g warm water
62.5g all-purpose flour
7g active dry yeast or 1 package
7g white sugar
195g warm water
11g fine salt
375g all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon cornmeal
Water to spray tops of loaves
Step 1 (Day 1)
Combine warm water, yeast and ⅓ of the flour in a bowl or measuring cup. Whisk the starter until well blended. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
Step 2 (Day 2)
Place 1 package active dry yeast and 2 teaspoons sugar in a mixing bowl. Pour in the warm water. Let rest 15 minutes to ensure yeast is alive (bubbles will form on surface). Add softened lard and salt to bowl; add half of the remaining flour. Mix until all ingredients are incorporated and dough forms a sticky ball. Add the starter. Add the remainder of the flour as needed.
Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead until dough comes together in a firm ball, adding additional flour only if needed. Dough should be soft and supple with just a bit of tackiness on the surface.
Place dough in a bowl and coat surface with a flour dust. Cover bowl with a damp kitchen towel and place in a warm spot to rise. Let rise until at least doubled in size, about 2 hours.
Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and sprinkle with a little cornmeal.
Transfer dough onto lightly floured surface. Lightly press the dough into a rectangle with your lightly floured hands. Divide dough in half and press and shape each half into a long 1/2-inch thick rectangle about 12 inches long. Roll up tightly starting at the long end to form a skinny loaf. feel free to stretch the ends and tuck so it remains even. Flatten a bit.
Transfer each loaf to the prepared baking sheet and dust with a bit of flour. Cover with a light, dry towel and let rise until doubled in size about 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Now here is where it differs from a traditional method, Traditionally you would use the stem of a palm leaf here to create that iconic dent, but you can also use a lame - Cut a 1/8-inch deep slit down the top of the loaves or use a sharp knife or razor. Mist loaves lightly with water - use a water bottle if you have.
Place pans in pre-heated oven, on the middle rack.
Continue to bake until loaves are golden brown, about 30 minutes. Transfer loaves to cooling rack and let cool to room temperature before slicing. No really, let it cool down!
How long does it last?
It's so tasty that it might only last one day!
Keep it at room temperature for up to 24 hours.
Freeze for longer storage.
Store it sealed tightly in a zip-top bag to retain its moisture.
Do not refrigerate, as it will make it go stale quickly.