I first tried making Cuban bread in June after reading about it in the Trib’. I got two very dense round loaves that, unfortunately, were better suited to construction than eating after a day or so. But, they were tasty while you could still chew ‘em – so I thought I’d try again.
Funny thing about Cuban bread. Every recipe I found is wildly different – one calling for only 2-1/2 to 3 cups of flour but a whopping 4-1/2 tsp of yeast (!) to one calling for 6 to 7 cups of flour and 2-1/4 tsp yeast but 1-1/4 TBSP of salt – again (!).
What to do?
Well, if you’re me, you line up three recipes in one file and pick and choose the part(s) from each that seem to make sense. A couple called for a yeast ‘proofing’ step – where you stir the yeast into warm water and sugar and let it sit until it foams up – but one recipe called for adding salt at this stage which, I believe, would kill the yeast; so I opted to whisk the salt into the flour and let the yeast, water and sugar do their thing – seemed to work. Oh, and I also decided to convert the 1-1/4 TABLESPOON of salt to 1-1/4 TEASPOON. All in all, I am quite happy with my results; I got two lovely loaves of somewhat dense bread – incredibly tasty sliced warm from the oven and spread with a bit o’ butter, and not too, too bad the next morning, sliced and slathered with some chopped cherry jam from the back of the fridge. I think the best use for this bread would be to halve it the long way, rub a cut bulb of garlic and olive oil onto each cut side, and grill it – preferably with some haloumi and fresh sliced lemon (if you haven’t tried grilled lemon, you do not know what you’re missing – check it out). On to the bread:
•1 pkg. yeast (2-1/4 tsp)
•2 cup lukewarm water
•1-1/4 tsp salt
•1 tbsp sugar
•6-7 cup flour
Combine the water and the sugar in a mixing bowl (if the bowl is cool-ish, use water between 110º and 120º). Stir in the yeast and let sit for five to ten minutes until if foams up (see above).
Combine 3 cups of flour with the salt (one of the recipes called for sifting, I used a wire whisk)
Add the flour and salt to the yeast and combine on low. NOTE: I used our trusty stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Increase mixer speed to medium and add enough remaining flour (I used a 1/4 cup scoop) until the dough is a bit stiff – or soft – erm, or smooth – GEEZ these dueling recipes could not be more at odds! – I opted for ‘until the dough pulls together into a ball’ – worked for me. This batch ended up taking six cups of flour total. Turn the dough into an oiled bowl (I used olive oil) and brush some more oil over the top. Cover with a clean towel and let rise until doubled.
This part took a while (THREE hours) – I ended up setting the covered bowl in the oven (turned off) with a pan filled with boiling water on the rack below; seemed to work.
Once the dough has risen, deflate it by punching it two or three times and turn it out onto a lightly floured board. Divide the dough in two, and shape into two loaves – about two inches by one foot. Transfer the loaves to a baking sheet well coated with corn meal (I rolled the loaves once or twice in it as well). Cut four or five slits across the top of each loaf – one recipe suggests tucking a bay leaf into each slit, I may try that next time – brush each loaf with water, cover and let rest for ten minutes.
Place the baking pan on the upper rack in a COLD oven, and a pan of boiling water on the rack below.
Set the oven to 400º and bake for 40 to 45 minutes until crusty – the loaves will sound hollow when tapped lightly – one recipe says to tap on the top, another to tap on the bottom – I threw caution to the wind and tapped on top.
Cool on a wire rack for ten to twenty minutes, then slice and serve warm – HIGHLY recommended.
According to some of the recipes – this bread freezes well, so one loaf is wrapped and sitting next to the brioche. Thaw it at room temperature and warm, wrapped in foil, in a hot oven for ten minutes. The other loaf sitting in my bread box will be rewarmed tomorrow night and served, hot and crusty, with dinner – I’m thinking tomato basil soup.