I am sorry to beat you over the head with Cuban cuisine again, but I can’t get that bewitching bread out of my mind. Since I returned from Florida, I have been trying to make a decent loaf of Cuban bread with middling success until I stumbled across the secret: lard. Who knew?
Three Guys From Miami knew. That’s the name of a blog written by a trio of laid-back Florida guys who like to cook Cuban food. How laid back? Their Cuban bread recipe includes a break for beer on the patio while the bread rises and one carps, “Why didn’t we just pick up a loaf of bread at the bakery?” For all their humble charm, the guys aren’t just casual cooks — they have a TV show and cookbooks as well as the website icubano.com.
The Cuban loaf produced with their recipe has a delicately crisp crust, more fragile than a French baguette, and a soft, very slightly sweet crumb. It’s the Cuban bread I remember from Florida.
I am reproducing their short recipe and long, explanatory instructions with just a few edits for conciseness. I found their ramblings helpful. I have put my deviations in parentheses.
1 tbsp. active dry yeast
2 tsp. sugar
1 1/4 cups warm water
2 cups bread flour
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup lard
2 tbsp. warm water to brush on loaves before baking
Grease a large bowl and set aside. In a small bowl dissolve the yeast and sugar in 1/4 cup of warm water (110 degrees on an instant-read thermometer). (I proofed the yeast right in the bowl of the stand mixer). 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, place the lard in a Pyrex measuring cup or other suitable container. Heat in the microwave on high for about (1 minute) 90 seconds or until melted.
Place the water/yeast/sugar mixture in the mixing bowl of a stand mixer. Add the rest of the warm water (110 degrees) and the salt. Using the dough hook, mix on low speed until blended.
Take your measuring cup and dig in to the flour bag, scooping out two whole cups of each flour. Now the important part: in a separate bowl, sift together the two flours. Sifted flour has more volume than un-sifted flour, so you will use about 3 1/4 cups of sifted flour in the following steps.
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. (I had to stop the mixer several times to scrape down sides).
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. (Too little and it will spread too much). You will use about 3 1/4 cups of sifted flour to bring the dough to this point — more or less, this is where the art of baking comes in. Save any leftover flour mixture for rolling out the dough.
Set the mixer on a low speed and knead with the dough hook for about 3 to 4 minutes, no more. Your dough will be fairly sticky at this point.
NOTE: If you don’t have a mixer with a dough hook, you can also do this the old fashioned way. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Pound the dough ball down and knead by hand until the dough is smooth and elastic, about ten minutes.
Shape the dough into a ball and place it into the greased bowl, turning to grease all sides of the dough. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and place in a warm place. (We pre-heat our oven to 160 degrees and then turn it off, creating a perfect environment for our rising bread.) Let the dough rise until it doubles in size, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Turn the dough onto a lightly floured board, using the leftover flour in the bowl. Sprinkle some flour on the dough and use a rolling pin to roll it out to fit diagonally on your largest baking sheet — usually 20 inches long. Roll dough to a 12-by-20-inch rectangle. Sprinkle more flour on the dough and turn it over a few times as you roll to keep it from sticking to the rolling pin. The added flour at this stage should take care of most of the stickiness.
Starting at a long edge, roll the dough into a tight 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. (I used parchment paper instead.) 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. (You don’t want the rising dough to dry out or stick to the plastic wrap.)
Place in a warm spot and let rise until about 2 1/2 times it’s original size, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Cuban bread is wider than French bread, so expect your loaf to spread out quite a bit as it rises. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place a pan of water on the lowest oven rack.
Use a sharp knife (I used scissors) to cut a shallow seam down the middle of the top of the bread, leaving about two inches uncut on each end. Brush the top of the loaf with water (I soaked the brush with water and flicked it onto the bread instead of brushing and potentially deflating the bread). Place on the middle oven 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 total baking time. (Don’t cut into loaf until it cools.) Makes 1 loaf.
What I cooked last week:
A broth bowl with chicken, asparagus, cubed sweet potato and wilted spinach in chicken-ginger broth; sausage and cauliflower soup with spinach; hot dogs in buns, chopped salad with ginger dressing; scrambled eggs with roasted red peppers and sour cream; slow-cooker roast beef in red wine with Italian spices; sautéed cod loin, sautéed garlic and spinach.
What I ate in/from restaurants, etc.:
Pepperoni pizza from Rizzi’s in Copley; Waterloo salad with grilled chicken and pita wedges at Waterloo Restaurant in Akron; Thai chicken taco with peanut sauce, cochinita pork taco with pickled onions, lime and cilantro from Funky Truckeria in Norton; breaded chicken stuffed with cheese and broccoli, mixed vegetables at St. George church social hall in Copley.
The paleo and low-carb diet fads have elevated the status of once-lowly cauliflower, which is being used now as a stand-in for rice (cauliflower risotto) and potatoes (mashed cauliflower), among other starches. I have even seen teensy flecks of it masquerading as quinoa.
I often make mashed cauliflower, and last week found a great new way to use it: as a sub for potatoes in one of my favorite soups, potato and greens soup. The use isn’t revolutionary, but I’m glad I thought of it.
For the soup, brown 1 pound of seasoned bulk sausage (such as Bob Evans in the tube) in a skillet. Meanwhile, in a covered soup pot, simmer about a half head of cauliflower, broken into florets, in a carton (32 ounces) of chicken broth until the cauliflower is mushy-soft. Remove the pot from the heat and puree the cauliflower in the pot with a stick blender. Add the browned sausage and a splash of half and half (optional) and return to a simmer. Add a couple of big handfuls of fresh spinach, cover and simmer until the spinach is wilted. Makes about 6 servings.
From Pat S.:
All that brutal stirring to create delicious gougere isn’t necessary if one owns a mixer. When it comes time to add the eggs, remove the pan from the heat as directed. Dump the batter into a the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Follow the recipe as written, beating in eggs one at a time, then cheese, on medium speed.
NOW you tell me. Seriously, thank you for letting me know. I will make gougere more often now, and may even experiment with sugar-free eclairs, which Tony has been asking me for years to make. I might note that by “mixer,” you mean a stand mixer. Hand mixers aren’t powerful enough for the dense puff paste dough.
From Stephanie F.:
Hi Jane. I had to laugh when I read about the Jell-O salad. My mom would make this to try to hide veggies when my sisters were little. I liked veggies but they did not. They referred to it as “Grass Salad.” Occasionally now we will make it for family get-togethers in memory of our mom. Good memories. Thanks!
Oh, good, I get to kid my brother about Grass Salad now. Speaking of memories, one of my presents for my brother was the letters from basic training and Vietnam he sent me in 1971 that I had saved. I mention this for anyone else of a certain age who is a pack rat and looking for gift ideas for older family members. Rob was very happy to get them.
From Dawn C.:
My oh my! That celebration dinner sounds divine! Lucky husband and brother.
The chocolate-lime-coconut cake entices me to want to know more. And sugar-free, no less. Could you share the recipe with us? And how about the pineapple-mayo dressing? I’ve never had such a thing. Recipe, please! I’m drooling with anticipation.
Don’t get too excited. The pineapple-mayo dressing was merely a cup of mayonnaise combined with about one-fourth cup crushed pineapple and enough of the pineapple juice to thin it to pouring consistency. That’s how my mother did it.
The cake was a cheater, too, but was surprisingly delicious. I started with a sugar-free Betty Crocker yellow cake mix. I replaced part of the liquid in the recipe with the juice of two limes, and added the grated zest of the two limes to the batter. This gave the cake a pronounced lime flavor.
The chocolate part is complicated. I only did it because Tony insisted on some chocolate. I sandwiched the two 9-inch cake layers with chocolate frosting made by beating a can of Betty Crocker sugar-free chocolate frosting with 4 ounces of softened cream cheese and about 3 tablespoons butter. I also added a teaspoon of vanilla to bump the flavor even more. The frosting straight from the can is kind of yucky and I haven’t found a homemade sugar-free frosting recipe that is worth the effort.
The sides and top of the cake were frosted with a thick layer of Lite Cool Whip. It’s not sugar-free, but it’s fairly low in sugar and holds up better than real whipped cream. From my days in the photo studio, I can tell you it holds up for so long it’s scary. To finish the cake, again at Tony’s request, I gently tamped shredded coconut onto the sides. No, the coconut wasn’t sugar free, but I didn’t use a lot of it. Everyone was crazy about this cake. FYI, Tony also wanted almonds in there somewhere, but I put my foot down.
From Isabelle G.:
Jane, I can’t believe the addition of Jell-O to your delicious meal. My granddaughters couldn’t believe that anyone would put cabbage in Jell-O when I made it for Easter. They only know about Jell-O shots. I would like an actual recipe as I made mine up from memory. I may have put too much cabbage in it. I am sending your column to all my granddaughters to prove I am not the only one who likes Jell-O. That salad was a regular in my childhood home. Thanks for the enlightenment.
The recipe I used calls for 2 small boxes of orange Jell-O, prepared according to package directions, to which I added 1 1/2 cups finely shredded cabbage and 1 cup drained crushed pineapple. I skipped the half-cup or so of sliced celery in my mother’s recipe. The “salad” is poured into an oblong baking pan and refrigerated until set. Variations abound on the Internet, and in fact the original was made with Knox gelatin, not Jell-O. My mother used orange Jell-O because that was my father’s favorite.