Sunday, December 28, 2008

Cuban Bread

What is Cuban Bread, you may ask? It's more or less the Cuban version of a French of Italian bread. I love these breads for their simplicity. The ingredients are: flour, water, salt, yeast, bit of sweetener. Done. I love the idea of bread being so simple, clean and lovely. A bit like minimalism. Add-ins to bread are wonderful, don't get me wrong. But having such a nice base is refreshing.

I decided this year to bake bread instead of cookies around Christmas. I grew up baking and decorating cookies, and love it! But, I also knew that this year, each of our Christmas hosts would have plenty of cookies and treats, and that Greg and I didn't need batches to ourselves. I also figured that this was the worst week to give out cookies at work, since everyone has had their fill at home. So, in order to satisfy my baking craving, I made bread, which turned out to be equally as dangerous as a fresh batch of cookies.

I found this recipe in Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Breads. This is a great book with breads for any baking level. The Cuban Bread is considered a beginners bread. We thought it was appropriate that I bake something more simple, since I've only made a couple yeast breads, each being very simple. Needless to say, I did not change anything from the recipe. The resulting bread had a nice crisp dry crust with a moist soft inside. A bit sweet, but not too much. It made wonderful grilled cheese sandwiches! It reminds me a bit of Great Harvest breads. The only thing I don't like about this bread is that it uses only all purpose flour. Now that I'm comfortable with the recipe, I'll play around with adding whole wheat flour and or wheat germ.

Recipe: Makes two free-form loafs.

5-6 C. flour
2 pkgs dry yeast
1 TBS salt
2 TBS sugar
2 C. hot water

-Place 4 C. flour in a large bowl. Mix in yeast, salt and sugar. Pour in hot water and continue to mix. Slowly add in the remaining 1-2 C. of flour until the dough is no longer sticky (i had to add the full extra 2 C.).

-Knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic.

- Place dough in a greased bowl, cover and keep in a warm place for ~15 minutes, or until doubled in bulk.

-Punch dough down and cut into two pieces.

-Form into a ball by pulling the dough into the shape of a ball, and "tucking" the excess dough into the ball. Place it excess side down onto parchment paper or cornmeal-sprinkled baking sheet. Brush the tops of the bread with water. Make an "X" cut or a square cut in the tops of each loaf.

-Place a pan of cold water in the bottom rack of the oven. Place the bread in the middle and turn on to 400 degrees. Set your timer for 40 minutes. The bread will rise as the oven warms up. The recipe calls for the bread to take 50 minutes to be done, but I think mine took closer to 40. The crust will be golden and if you tap the bottom of the bread it will sound hollow once it is baked all of the way.