One of the first times I heard of Cuban bread was at our local homeschool co-op. One of the moms suggested that we use it to make the garlic bread for the spaghetti lunch. It sure looked delicious!
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At your first glance, this bread looks like ordinary. However, it has two characteristics that make it a lot different. The key ingredient is the lard, which makes it really soft. The second thing is that a palm leaf is traditionally used to make the split down the loaf.
Where did Cuban bread originate?
It actually originated in Florida, either Miami or Tampa. Francisco Ferlita opened a commercial bakery in Tampa in 1896 just for making this loaf. Each one was sold for 3-5 cents and was often delivered daily to homes in the Tampa area. Many people had a special nail at the front door where the delivery man would drive the bread onto the nail.
It has been very popular ever since, especially because it is used in the traditional Cuban sandwich. In fact, La Segunda Bakery in Ybor City (a suburb of Tampa) makes 18,000 loaves every day! Watch a tour of the bakery to learn more about the fascinating baking process.
How long does it last?
- It's so tasty that it might only last one day in your house!
- 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.
Can you freeze it?
- Yes, you can.
- Slice it and seal inside of a zip-top freezer bag.
- Freeze until needed, then defrost in the toaster or at room temperature.
Is it vegan?
- The traditional kind is made with lard, which means that it isn't vegan.
- If you're making a vegan version, just substitute the vegetable shortening for the lard.
What makes Cuban bread different?
Short answer: a palmetto frond! If you don't have access to palmettos, just use a metal skewer instead to do the scoring. You might be thinking, why use a palmetto frond?
This recipe really popular in south Florida, where there are abundant palmetto plants. These plants also grow in coastal Georgia, where I live. Homeowners in my county regard these hardy plants as annoying underbrush instead of intriguing tropical flora, so there's no qualms about cutting off a few fronds or stems as they quickly grow back.
In the traditional "scoring" technique, strips of palm frond are pushed into the top of the bread. As it rises in the oven, the palm frond causes the dough to split apart, creating the distinctive line down the loaf. You can also use the hard stems of the palmetto if you'd like.
How many calories does it have?
One slice contains about 90 calories. For more nutrition facts, go to the end of the recipe below.
What is similar to Cuban bread?
- Soft French or Italian loaves from the grocery store bakery are the closest substitute.
- Don't use a crusty French baguette; it's too crunchy.
How to Make
Gather the ingredients: flour, yeast, salt, sugar, lard, and water.
Melt the lard in a small saucepan or in the microwave.
Sift the flour into a bowl.
Mix together the water, yeast, and sugar in a measuring cup.
Pour the water mixture into a bowl and stir in the melted lard and half of the flour.
Keep mixing with your hand, gradually adding enough flour to make a sticky dough.
Knead the dough on a floured surface for 10-15 minutes, until the dough is smooth, no longer sticky, and passes the windowpane test. See the recipe card below for an explanation of this technique.
Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let it prove until at least doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Punch down the dough, pat into a rectangle, then roll it up tightly from one of the long edges. Pinch the seam to seal, then gently roll it out to make the loaf about 20 inches long. Place on a cookie sheet dusted with cornmeal, semolina, or grits.
Cover the loaf with a clean garbage bag and let it rise until about doubled in size. The dough should spring back quickly when gently prodded with a fingertip.
Just before baking, press a palmetto stem or leaf into the top of the dough. This will create the distinctive split down the middle as it bakes.
Bake at 400 F for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown. The loaf should have an internal temperature of 190 F. Let it cool completely on a wire rack before serving.
Whether you use this for garlic toast, homemade croutons, or a classic Cuban sandwich, you'll be glad you made this yummy recipe! It tastes amazing fresh from the oven and when it's spread with butter. The loaf also slices beautifully, which makes it ideal for sandwiches.
- Measure the ingredients on a kitchen scale. This ensures an accurate measurement. If you must use cups to measure the flour, spoon it into the cup and level it with a knife.
- Don't skimp on the kneading. Be sure to knead the dough until it's smooth, no longer sticky, and passes the windowpane test. This should take 10-15 minutes.
- Place the dough in a cold oven with a pan of boiling water on the shelf beneath. The humid steam creates a warm, cozy environment for the yeast to work.
- Push the palmetto leaf into the loaf before baking. This creates the unique appearance of authentic Cuban bread.
- Let it cool completely before serving. Freshly baked bread is full of steam and needs a while to cool off and finish cooking inside. Breaking into the loaf while it's still hot will make the it gummy and doughy.
Other Savory Bread Recipes
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Homemade Cuban bread, or pan Cubano, is perfect for Cuban sandwiches or just eating plain with butter. This recipe shows you how to make one loaf of soft white bread, so you don’t have to move to Miami or Cuba!
Making the Dough
- Prep: Sift the bread flour into a bowl and set aside. Melt the lard in the microwave or in a small saucepan, being careful not to let it get over 115 F.
- Mix Dry Ingredients: Stir together the water, yeast, and sugar in the bowl with your hand until blended.
- Add Wet Ingredients: Add the melted lard and half of the flour to the mixture. Mix until a wet paste has formed, then add in the salt and enough flour to make a somewhat sticky dough.
- Knead: Knead the dough on a floured surface for 10-15 minutes until the dough is smooth, no longer sticky, and passes the windowpane test. Test the dough by breaking off a lump of dough and stretching it between the thumb and forefinger of each hand to create a windowpane. The dough should stretch until it’s translucent in places without breaking. If it does, this means the dough has been sufficiently kneaded. If not, continue kneading for a minute longer and test again.
- First Prove: Shape the dough into a ball, place in an oiled bowl, and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let the dough prove until at least doubled in size, about 1 to 1 ½ hours.
- Prep the Pan: Lightly dust a 11x17 inch rimmed cookie sheet with semolina or cornmeal.
- Shape: Dump the dough onto a floured surface and punch it down all over to knock out air pockets. Shape it into a rectangle and roll it up tightly from one of the long sides. Pinch the seam and ends to seal, then roll it gently with the palms of your hands to extend its length to about 20 inches. Place it diagonally along the prepared tray.
- Second Prove: Place the tray inside of a clean, large garbage bag. Inflate the bag and tuck the ends under the tray to seal. Let the dough prove for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the loaf has doubled in size and the dough springs back quickly when lightly prodded with a fingertip.
- Scoring Device: While the dough is proving, prepare your scoring device. Place a couple strips of palmetto frond in a shallow dish. Pour some boiling water over top and let it sit in the water for about 5 minutes to clean them. Rinse and dry the frond strips and set aside. If you don't have a palmetto frond, use an oven-safe skewer.
- Preheat: About 10 minutes before the dough is finished proving, preheat the oven to 400 F. Put an old metal casserole dish on the lowest shelf of the oven to preheat.
- Score: Once the loaf is fully proved, push the palmetto strips or stem along the top of the loaf. Put the leaves or stem in on an angle to create a better score as the loaf bakes.
- Add Steam: Slide the tray into the oven, pour a cup or two of water into the hot metal dish, and quickly shut the oven door.
- Bake: Bake the loaf for about 20-25 minutes, until the loaf is golden brown and has an internal temperature of at least 190 F on a meat thermometer.
- Cool: Let the loaf cool for 15 minutes on a wire rack before slicing and serving.
- Weigh the ingredients when baking for much more accurate measurements.
- Make sure the dough passes the windowpane test when you're kneading.
- Bake with a pan of water in the oven to create steam, encouraging a nice crust and higher rise.
- Use a pesticide-free palmetto leaf.
- Let it cool completely before serving to allow it to finish cooking through in the middle.
- Category: Bread
- Method: Oven
- Cuisine: Cuban
Keywords: Cuban bread, recipe
This post was originally published on February 7, 2018.