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Cuban Bread Recipe (PHOTOS)

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Cuban bread is amazing. It's rich, full of flavor, and wonderfully soft inside. It's secret? Lard.

Yes. I said it. Lard.

I've never been able to find 'real' Cuban bread (Pan Cubano) in these parts so I decided to make my own. These are big shoes to fill, but I'm fairly confident in my ability to make bread so I gave it a go and wasn't disappointed.

Here is the beginning of the recipe. We'll call it Pan Cubano - Part 1. This recipe calls for a starter and it's very easy.

Pan Cubano - Starter

3/4 tsp. yeast
1/3 c. warm water
1/3 c. flour

Mix yeast in warm water, stir until dissolved. Add flour to yeast mixture and stir until combined. It will be a smooth paste, similar in consistency to yogurt. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 hours.

That's it. Pretty simple!

Pan Cubano - Part 2 (24 hours after you made the starter)

4 1/2 tsp. yeast
1 T. sugar
1 1/2 c. + 3 T. warm water
4 T. lard (or shortening, if you're too skerd)
1/2 batch starter
1 T. salt
4-5 c. flour

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Dissolve yeast and sugar in 3 T. warm water in large mixing bowl. Once mixture is foamy (about 10 minutes) and looks kinda like this:

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add lard, remaining water, and starter. Mix well. Use your hands, it worked much better for me than using a silly spoon.

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Now add salt and 1 cup of flour at a time. Continue adding flour until dough ball is formed and no longer sticky.

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Now turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead until elastic, 7 or 8 minutes. Add flour as needed, about a tablespoon at a time. You don't want your dough to be sticky, so if it starts becoming too attached to your fingers or your work surface you know you need some more flour in your relationship. When you're done squeezing out the frustrations of your day into this poor ball of dough, lightly grease a large bowl, put the dough in and flip it once. Cover with a dish towel and let rise (in a warm, draft-free spot of course) for about an hour or until doubled in size.

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Here is where I should be inserting a photograph of my risen dough. Unfortunately, the glorious volume must have confused my camera because none of the three shots I took turned out.

On to the next step.

Punch that dough down. Literally, punch it down. Doesn't it feel good? Now separate it into four sections of eyeballed equality and roll out each by hand to about one foot in length, with rounded ends. Put two loaves on each tray - for those of you a little behind in math, that means you'll need two trays.

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Cover each with a dampened dish towel (this will keep it from sticking to the dough, hopefully) and again let rise in a warm, draft-free spot for about an hour. Once it has risen it will look like real, live loaves of bread! Take some kitchen string and run it under your faucet and squeeze the water out. Lay one string down the bread, lengthwise. This leaves a nice impression on the top of the bread as it's baking.

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Bake the bread at 350 for half an hour, or until the loaves are golden on top.

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Remove from the oven and once it cools down a couple minutes, remove the string. Here is a shot of my finished Cuban sandwich, pressed and magnificent. I put in roast pork that I sliced and simmered in mojo sauce, sliced deli ham, swiss cheese and mustard. I don't have a sandwich press so I filled my tea kettle with water and sat it on top.

I make do with what I have.

Here is dinner. I served it with a nice, crisp Sam Adams Noble Pils. Delicious!

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** quick directions for bread:

4 1/2 tsp. yeast
1 T. sugar

1 1/2 c. + 3 T. warm water
4 T. lard (or shortening, if you're too skerd)
1/2 batch starter
1 T. salt
4-5 c. flour

Dissolve yeast and sugar in 3 T water in a large mixing bowl. When the mixture is foamy (10 minutes), stir in lard, remaining water, and starter. Mix well. Stir in salt and 1 cup of flour at a time, mixing as you go. Add flour until dough is stiff enough to knead and not sticky.

Turn dough onto floured surface and knead 7 or 8 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Put into lightly greased bowl and turn; cover and let rise one hour, or until doubled in size. Punch down.

Separate into 4 sections, roll out to about 12" tubes with round ends and put 2 each onto a baking sheet. Cover with damp dish towel another hour, or until doubled in size again. Preheat oven to 350. Wet kitchen string and lay lengthwise on top of each loaf. Bake 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from oven, allow to cool a few minutes, and remove string.

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