Cuban Bread

If you are one of those people who avoids complicated bread recipes and hates to knead dough, this recipe is for you. You stir four ingredients into water, let the dough rise, roll it out and bake yourself an absolutely delicious bread that reminds me of loaves we bought and devoured when a friend and I spent a week in Paris, France, many years ago. It is so simple to make and so good to eat that this bread should be in every cook’s repertoire.

I found the recipe by chance while browsing through The James Beard Cookbook which I found at a thrift shop several years ago. The book appeared in 1959, and our paperback copy was printed in 1964 when it sold for seventy-five cents. It is in perfect condition and probably cost me a quarter. This recipe alone makes it worth twenty times as much.

The five-hundred-plus pages of this little book are filled with at least a thousand recipes for everything from angel food cake to sautéed zucchini. The section on meat alone (excluding fish, shellfish and poultry) is one hundred twenty-two pages long. If you want a compact book to guide you through recipes for almost any standard western European cuisine, this little book would be a good choice. It is out of print, so you may have to hunt for a copy, but it’s worth it.

Meanwhile, here is how to make James Beard’s Cuban bread.

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups water
1 T sugar
1 T salt
2 tsp. yeast
4 – 6 cups flour
Corn meal to sprinkle on baking pan

PROCEDURE:

Heat two cups of water until it is lukewarm and pour it into a large bowl. Stir in the sugar, salt and yeast and allow the yeast to proof. Add a cup of flour when the yeast starts to bubble and stir thoroughly.

Add more flour a cup at a time until you have a smooth dough. Add the flour in smaller amounts when the dough begins to stiffen. When the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and forms a ball, cover the bowl with a damp tea towel and set the bowl in a warm draft-free place until the dough has doubled in volume.

Start a tea kettle of water heating when the dough has raised nearly enough and sprinkle corn meal generously on a baking sheet.

Turn the risen dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Deflate the dough and divide it into two equal parts. Turn the parts to coat the surfaces with flour and use a rolling pin to roll each piece into a ten by sixteen-inch rectangle. Roll the dough into loaves about sixteen inches long and place them on the baking sheet.

Slash each loaf with a sharp knife in two or three places, paint the loaves with cold water and put the baking sheet on the center shelf in a cold oven.

Turn on the oven and set it to 400º. When the oven heat has reached two hundred twenty-five degrees, pour a half inch of boiling water in a nine by thirteen-inch baking pan and set the pan of boiling water on the lower shelf in the oven.

Bake for thirty-five minutes. Check for doneness with an instant- read thermometer. The loaves are done when a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of a loaf reads 195º. If you don’t have a thermometer, tap on the bottom of a loaf. If it sounds hollow the bread is done. If it is not, bake it for another five minutes.

NOTES: Beard does not specify any particular type of flour. I suggest starting with two cups of bread flour and adding enough all-purpose flour to finish making the dough.

Norwegian Flat Bread

It’s not every church website that includes a bread recipe, but that was where my sister Patsy told me to look when I asked for the recipe for the Norwegian flat bread she shared with us one Sunday. I was intrigued. Almost every church I am familiar with has published a church cookbook at one time or another, and we own a good assortment of cookbooks from small and large churches.

However, I had never before seen a recipe on a church website. When I asked, Patsy explained that her Lutheran Church uses Norwegian Flat Bread for the Communion service, and members of the congregation take turns baking the bread. The recipe is on the site to make sure that the volunteers do it right.

It’s a remarkably simple recipe that produces a flavorful, slightly sweet quick bread that you will want to add to your recipes for an easy way to add fresh bread to a dinner…or for Communion.

INGREDIENTS: 

1 ½ cups whole wheat flour
½ cup sugar
½ cup butter or margarine softened
1 cup boiling water
About 4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup buttermilk
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 ½ tsp. salt

PROCEDURE:

Heat the oven to 400º.

In a large bowl combine the whole wheat flour, sugar, butter and water.  Let this mixture stand until it has cooled, about five minutes. 

Stir the buttermilk into the whole wheat batter. Put three cups of flour into a sifter. Add the baking powder, soda and salt and sift the mixture by thirds into the batter. Stir well after each addition. Stir in another half cup of flour and finish with enough flour to make the dough easy to handle.  Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until it is thoroughly mixed and smooth.  Pat or roll it into a thick rectangle.

Divide the dough into eighteen to twenty pieces and form them into balls. Roll the balls into circles about four inches in diameter.  Prick the tops of the circles with a fork and place them on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for about twelve to fifteen minutes until the breads are lightly browned.

Put them into plastic bags after they have cooled. 

NOTES: Besides using these little loaves for Communion bread, you can turn them into tasty snacks and sandwiches. Warm the loaves for a few seconds on low power in the microwave, split them horizontally and fill them with whatever strikes your fancy. I like them spread with butter to accompany eggs and bacon for breakfast, and Jerri told me that her chicken sandwich was wonderful. They are really good with butter and jelly too.