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, and it was a great success using that wonderful bread. This easy recipe shows you how to make this amazing Cuban bread at home!
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Fortunately, Cuban bread calls for simple pantry ingredients you probably already have. However, if you don't have bread flour, make sure to grab some; it's the key ingredient in this recipe!
- Bread Flour: The higher protein content in bread flour as opposed to all-purpose creates more gluten in the dough, causing a higher rise and a lovely chewy texture. My favorite bread flour is King Arthur.
- Yeast: I use fast-action (aka instant) yeast in all of my bread recipes, as it's faster and easier. If you're using active dry, make sure to pause at Step 2 in the recipe and allow the yeast to bloom (sit until it's frothy; about 10 minutes). That shows that the yeast is active.
- Sugar: A touch of sugar gives the yeast extra food in addition to softening the bread a little. Feel free to substitute with another sweetener, like honey, if you'd like.
- Salt: Always use regular table salt for bread making, not kosher salt or other kinds of coarse salt. Fine salt incorporates more evenly.
- Lard: Melted lard is what makes Cuban bread so soft and fluffy. If you're vegan, substitute with vegetable shortening.
- Water: Use filtered water that's at room temperature for this recipe. If you're making the bread in a cold kitchen, you can warm the water to 115 F to encourage the yeast to work faster.
At your first glance, this bread looks like ordinary bread. 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 in Miami or Tampa. Francisco Ferlita opened a commercial bakery in Tampa in 1896 and only made 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, 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. Simply slice it and seal inside of a zip-top freezer bag. Freeze for up to 3 months, then defrost in the toaster or at room temperature.
Is it vegan?
Traditional Cuban bread is made with lard, which means that it isn't vegan. If you're making a vegan version, simply substitute 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 or a piece of string instead to do the scoring. (You can also cut a long slash using a bread baker's lame.) You might be thinking, why use a palmetto frond?
This recipe is really popular in south Florida, where there are abundant palmetto plants. These plants also grow in coastal Georgia, where my Mom and 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 placed under the loaf right before its second rise. Right before baking, the loaf is flipped over to reveal the palmetto leaves on top. As it rises in the oven, the palm frond causes the dough to split apart, creating the distinctive line down the loaf.
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, then set aside. Mix together the water, yeast, and sugar in 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 18 inches long. Place on a cookie sheet dusted with cornmeal, semolina, or grits, or line with parchment.
For the authentic scoring technique, place a couple of palmetto fronds under the loaf at this stage. Right before baking, flip the bread over so the fronds are on top. As it bakes, the fronds will cause the bread to open up along the top. (This technique isn't shown in the photos.)
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, creating a faster rise.
- 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 (Pan Cubano)
Making the Dough
- 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.
- Stir together the water, yeast, and sugar in a mixing bowl until blended.
- 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 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.
- 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.
- Lightly dust an 11x17-inch cookie sheet with semolina or cornmeal, or line it with parchment paper.
- 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 18 inches.
- While the dough is proving, prepare your scoring device. Cut two long strips of palmetto frond and rinse them well in hot water, then dry them. If you don't have a palmetto frond, use an oven-safe skewer, a piece of baker's twine, or simply score the loaf with a lame before baking.
- Put the palmetto fronds or skewer diagonally along the prepared tray and place the loaf on top. 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 almost doubled in size and the dough springs back quickly when lightly prodded with a fingertip.
- About 10 minutes before the dough is finished proving, preheat the oven to 400 F. Put a metal casserole dish on the lowest shelf of the oven to preheat.
- Once the loaf is fully proved, gently flip it over on the tray so the palmetto fronds are on top. If the loaf deflates a little, that's okay; it will rise in the oven.
- 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 the loaf for 25 minutes, or until the loaf is golden brown and has an internal temperature of 200 F on a meat thermometer. Remove the pan of water during the last 5 minutes.
- Let the loaf cool for 1 hour on a wire rack before slicing and serving. This allows the bread to finish cooking all the way through.
- Weigh the ingredients when baking for much more accurate measurements.
- Use a pesticide-free palmetto leaf.
- Note: In the photos and video, you'll find that I encouraged you to push the palmetto frond into the loaf right before baking, but this actually isn't the traditional method. I've updated the recipe instructions above to reflect the technique used in Tampa bakeries.
This post was originally published on February 7, 2018.