Thursday, October 21, 2010

BOTD: Cuban Sandwiches (with Bread!)

One of the key components of a real Cuban sandwich is the right kind of bread. Yesterday, I went with sliced sourdough, which was good, but not quite right. Not enough crust and a little too ... well, sourdough-ish.

I don't know if I've ever had real Cuban bread, but I've had Cuban sandwiches in Chicago and Miami. And I've read a lot about what it's supposed to be like.

Unfortunately, descriptions of what the bread is supposed to be varies depending on who is describing it.

It also depends on if they're talking about making the bread or buying it. Once source said French bread was a good substitute, but baguettes are completely wrong.

I've also read recipes that said the dough was soft and other that said the dough was fairly stiff. Instructions, rising times, and type of flour were all over the map.

The only consistent thing was that the recipes were all very inconsistent.

On the other hand, most of the recipes include some form of fat. Usually a solid fat. Often lard.

Oh, and the other consistent thing was that for each recipe, there were people who claimed the bread was exactly right.

I have a feeling that lard was probably a traditional ingredient, but the tub lard that's found in most grocery stores isn't that good, and I have yet to find a decent source for leaf lard. Somewhere in the distant past I found a recipe for Cuban bread that used margarine. Odd, I know.

I seldom use margarine, and pretty much only for specific recipes that call for it. I'd bet that recipe I found started with lard, then vegetable shortening was substituted, and finally it became margarine.

Since then, I've tweaked the recipe quite a bit. I'm pretty sure this is far from being traditional Cuban bread, but it has a subtle sweetness from the honey and it spreads nicely so it's a perfect height for a sandwich that you're going to smash in a press.

While the bread doesn't have a crisp crust to start, it crisps nicely in the sandwich press. Not teeth-shattering hard, but nicely crisp.

Meanwhile, I kept the margarine in this recipe. It just seems to work. If you don't like margarine you could use vegetable shortening or butter. Or better yet, if you have access to good-quality lard, you might want to give that a try.

I won't call this Cuban bread because it isn't, but I'll call it...

Bread for Cuban Sandwiches

1 cup warm water
1 1/2 tablespoons honey
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 cup (4 1/2 ounces) bread flour
1 1/2 cups (6 3/4 ounces) all purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons room temperature margarine

Put the water, honey, and yeast in the bowl of your stand mixer and set aside for 10 minutes until it get foamy. add the bread flour and all purpose flour and knead with the dough hook until the dough becomes elastic.

Add the salt and margarine and continue kneading until it is completely incorporated and the dough is very smooth, shiny and elastic. The dough will be very soft. Flour your work surface and knead the dough by hand for a minute or so, then form it into a ball. Drizzle some olive oil in the bowl stand mixer bowl, and return the dough to the bowl. Turn it over a few times to coat it with oil, then cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside to rise until doubled, about an hour.

Sprinkle some cornmeal on a baking sheet and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. When the dough has doubled, flour your work surface again and turn the dough out. Divide it in half and form two loaves about 3 inches in diameter. Place the loaves on the pan seam-side down, leaving plenty of room between them for rising and spreading. Cover the loaves with plastic wrap and set aside to rise until doubled, about 30 minutes.

When the loaves have doubled, slash the top shallowly and bake them at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes, until they are golden brown. Move them to a rack to cool before slicing.

For Cuban sandwiches, spread the bread with your brown mustard and/or mayonnaise, then stack up ham, roast pork and Swiss cheese and add some hamburger dill pickles. Smash and grill the bread on a sandwich press until it's all warm and the cheese gets melty.

Check out the previous post for more about Cuban sandwiches.

This has been submitted to Yeastspotting.

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