Cuban bread is one of our favorite breads ever! Like its sweeter cousin, Puerto Rican bread, it is part of the heartbeat of South Florida. If one goes out to any market in the morning, even Walmart, it’s impossible to walk around without the scent of freshly baked Cuban bread reaching you. It smells like home. It smells like comfort and feels like a warm blanket fresh out of the dryer. Late at night, Cuban bread is the vehicle for Miami’s multitude of midnight snack sandwiches.
What gives Cuban bread its distinct taste and makes it different from French or Italian bread is the addition of manteca, or lard. This gives it its dense but pillowy texture. It can be easily veganized by using vegetable or (our preference) coconut shortening. Don’t be intimidated by this bread! The smell of fresh bread on a Sunday morning will cure any sad moods. You can make the dough the night before and store in the fridge. Just form the loaves in the morning, proof them and bake.
Use this bread to make Cuban sandwiches, pan con lechon, bistec, pollo, or you can make the essential element of any Cuban cafeteria breakfast, the tostada. Slice the bread open lengthwise, butter the inside and top of the bread. Place into a buttered cast iron pan over medium heat and flatten with a grill press or a second preheated pan. Press down until nice and flat. You can also fill your tostada with Swiss or provolone cheese, ham, guava paste or cream cheese and strawberry preserves.
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Sift flour into a bowl and set aside. Melt the manteca over low heat in a small pot on the stove or in the microwave.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, or another large bowl, whisk together the warm water and sugar until dissolved. Sprinkle active dry yeast on top, whisking if there are any dry spots. Allow to bloom for 5 minutes.
Add the melted manteca to the large bowl with the yeast mixture and half the flour. Mix until you have a paste. With the mixer running, gradually add in the rest flour, or mix by hand, gradually adding flour.
Knead the dough until it is smooth and not sticking to the sides of the bowl, about 4 minutes in the stand mixer or 8 minutes by hand on a large flat surface.
Lift the smooth dough out of the bowl and pour in the olive oil to the bowl. Drop the dough in and flip to coat all sides with oil. Cover with a damp towel or reusable silicone stretch lid. Put the dough in a warm place, like an oven with the light on, for 1 hour.
Pour the dough out onto a floured surface. If making long loaves, cut the dough in half. If making shorter loves for sandwiches, cut into four equal pieces.
Shape each piece of dough into a rectangle, about 12 inches for four loaves and 24 inches for two. Bring the long edges of the dough together and pinch, forming a flat log shape. Roll the log until it has a rounded wide log shape. Place the loaves seam side down onto a large baking sheet with a silicone mat dusted with flour. Cover with a damp towel and allow to rise for 45 minutes.
While the dough is rising, preheat oven to 400° with a large cast-iron pan on the bottom rack. Put the ice into a small bowl.
Press a leaf from the top of a pineapple, folded in half lengthwise, or a palm tree frond into the top of each loaf. Alternately, use a sharp knife to slice a shallow seam lengthwise down the loaf. Put the loaves into the oven. Pour the ice cubes into the hot cast iron pan on the bottom rack and close the door quickly, allowing the loaves to steam. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until beautifully golden. Allow loaf to cool a few minutes before slicing in. Enjoy world bread domination because now you’re a bread-making badass.
Keywords: Cuban food, Cuban sandwich, Easy Recipes, Miami Style, Cuban bread, Pan Cubano