Both Tampa and Miami have long fought to be named the birthplace of pan Cubano, or Cuban bread, and there’s no denying the appeal of this delectable bread. With a crisp outer crust and incredibly soft crumb inside, a warm, fresh-baked loaf of Cuban bread is an experience in and of itself. However, when filed with your favorite sandwich toppings and pressed, this bread reigns supreme.
- 1 cup (125 grams) all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon (2 grams) instant yeast*
- ½ cup (120 grams) water, room temperature (70°F/21°C)
- 1½ cups (191 grams) bread flour, divided
- 2½ teaspoons (10 grams) granulated sugar
- 2½ teaspoons (7.5 grams) kosher salt
- 1¾ teaspoons (5 grams) instant yeast
- ⅔ cup (160 grams) hot water (120°F/49°C to 130°F/54°C)
- 1 tablespoon (14 grams) lard (see Notes), melted
- ¾ to 1¼ cups (94 to 157 grams) all-purpose flour, divided
- 1 tablespoon (9 grams) cornmeal
- ⅔ cup (160 grams) boiling water
- For preferment: In a medium bowl, stir together all-purpose flour and yeast. Add ½ cup (120 grams) room temperature water; stir until well combined and no dry spots remain, stopping to scrape sides of bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, and let stand at room temperature for 12 hours. (Mixture should be ripe and bubbly.)
- For dough: In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together ½ cup (64 grams) bread flour, sugar, salt, and yeast until combined. Add preferment, ⅔ cup (160 grams) hot water, and melted lard; using the paddle attachment, beat at low speed until well combined, about 1 minute, stopping to scrape sides of bowl. With mixer on low speed, gradually add ¾ cup (94 grams) all-purpose flour and remaining 1 cup (127 grams) bread flour, beating just until combined.
- Switch to the dough hook attachment. Beat at low speed until dough is smooth, tacky, elastic, and just cleans sides of bowl, 8 to 12 minutes; add up to remaining ½ cup (63 grams) all-purpose flour, 1 tablespoon (8 grams) at a time, if dough is too sticky. (Dough should pass the windowpane test; see Notes.) Turn out dough onto a clean surface, and shape into a ball.
- Oil a large bowl. Place dough in bowl, turning to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm, draft-free place (75°F/24°C) until doubled in size, 35 to 45 minutes.
- Punch down dough; cover and let stand for 10 minutes.
- Lightly oil a baking sheet, and sprinkle evenly with cornmeal. (See Notes.)
- On a clean surface, divide dough in half. Roll half of dough into a 14×5-inch rectangle (about ¼ inch thick). (Keep remaining dough covered to prevent it from drying out.) Starting with one long side, roll up dough, jelly roll style; pinch seam to seal. Roll seam side down; pinch ends closed, and tuck under to create squared ends. Transfer dough to prepared pan. Gently flatten to ½-inch thickness. Repeat with remaining dough, placing loaves at least 2½ to 3 inches apart. Cover and let rise in a warm, draft-free place (75°F/24°C) until puffed and dough holds an indent when poked, 20 to 30 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C). Place a 10-inch cast-iron skillet on bottom oven rack.
- Using a sharp knife, razor, or lame, make a ¼-inch-deep score lengthwise down center of each loaf. Brush loaves with warm water.
- Place baking sheet on center rack of oven. Using oven mitts, carefully pour ⅔ cup (160 grams) boiling water into preheated skillet. (This will create a lot of steam.) Quickly shut door.
- Bake until golden brown and crusty, 20 to 25 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking and loosely covering with foil during final 3 to 5 minutes of baking to prevent excess browning. Remove from pan, and let cool completely on a wire rack.
Notes: Lard is traditional in Cuban bread. This recipe, however, will still work using 1 tablespoon (14 grams) refined coconut oil in place of lard, if desired.
To use the windowpane test to check dough for proper gluten development, lightly flour hands and pinch off (don’t tear) a small piece of dough. Slowly pull the dough out from the center. If the dough is ready, you will be able to stretch it until it’s thin and translucent like a windowpane. If the dough tears, it’s not quite ready. Beat for 1 minute, and test again.
Be careful not to grease baking sheet using an oil with a smoke point below 400°F (200°C).