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Kitchen Warfare’s Cuban Bread (Tampa Style)

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Background

cubano7 I am addicted to Cuban bread. Blame that on the fact that I was born, raised and lived in Tampa, FL for 40 years. My grandfather’s house was in old Ybor City on 26th Ave, just down from Tampa’s premier Cuban bread producer, La Segunda Central Bakery and as a product of Latin heritage I was raised on a steady diet of Tampa style Cuban and Spanish food. But a few years back a professional opportunity took me from the Sunshine State to hill country. Now there is some real good chow here and I’ve learned a lot of new things but no Pan Cubano. There are a lot other things I miss, like empanadas, guava pastelitos, stuffed potatoes and a few other favorites. But with the accessibility of key ingredients from online Latin groceries I’ve gotten pretty good at making a lot of these foods right here at home. But Cuban Bread itself has been elusive.

The Challenge with Cuban Bread

In my opinion the problem with some of the baked goods like Cuban bread is that very few people made it at home so the bakery versions are what people consider ‘the standard’ and its what they are most familiar with. For example if we think of Apple Pie we may think of our grandmother’s pie as THE apple pie. Her recipe, her style of crust. But in Tampa when people think of Cuban Bread they think of what the bakeries in Tampa have been producing for over 100 years. The reason I’m guessing is that Cuban bread has always been made fresh daily and without preservatives. Its a locally produced bakery fresh product available in nearly every grocery store and its always been reasonably priced. A high quality product and a reasonable cost and easily accessible. It just doesn’t seem many people had reason to make it at home.

The result? Almost no recipes for Tampa style Cuban bread for the home baker.

Now there is no shortage of good Miami style Cuban bread and other stuff people call Cuban bread that clearly isn’t. The Miami style of bread is quite good but (and we need to be VERY clear on this) it’s different. Anyone who says it isn’t is either a tourist, a short timer (non-native) or has no sense of taste. Like any food which is ‘best’ is subjective. But they ARE DIFFERENT and getting the Tampa style right is what this article is about. Another point is that nearly every major metro area has someone selling either ‘Cuban Sandwiches’ or ‘Cuban Bread’. If you want to replicate something you’ve had outside Tampa or Miami your best bet is to pick up or make French bread.

segunda Another challenge is that even the traditional Tampa bakeries make their bread a little differently. My grandfather used to bring over La Segunda’s but my mother bought our weekly loaves at the grocery and those were made by Casino Bakery. There are other bakeries like Alessi’s and Faedo’s, all have been making Cuban bread for generations. All are a little different, and of course all are ‘authentic’.

One of the differences is that some bakeries (including La Segunda) don’t use (or maybe no longer) use lard. Some bakeries still do because its clearly marked on the label. In my efforts here I’ve found that I prefer the taste with lard, it seems to give the bread a slightly better taste, but it is a heavier texture. This is where I think your mileage will vary based on your particular favorite bakery version.

The Beginning

At first I tried a few of the bogus recipes easily found on the net with predictably poor results. Then a few years ago I found a version on Taste of Cuba (TOC) for Miami style bread. While Tampa and Miami bread are quite different to aficionados, most of the tourists can’t seem to tell a difference so there must be some similarities. After a little tinkering with the TOC recipe I had a loaf that was pretty close in taste to the Tampa style but still the form of the loaf and texture were off. I knew I was close but no (Hav-A-Tampa) cigar. On the other hand it’s a good recipe for Miami Cuban bread which is thicker and have a lot more rise to them. Tampa loaves are long, slender and have a more fluffy cottony interior than the Miami style.

Success!

For two years or so I’ve been getting my Cubano fix via my modified TOC recipe. Then recently two things happened that helped make great headway. First we just got back from a trip to Tampa and I brought back many loaves of bread from La Segunda to use as reference samples and secondly a user on TheFreshLoaf posted a link to a Google video that shows how the bakers at one of Tampa’s premier bakeries (Faedo’s) form their loaves. In short they flatten the dough, fold it in half, flatten it again and roll it up like cinnamon rolls to form the long slender loaf. Completely different from any recipe I had seen or method I had tried and it seems to make ALL the difference in the texture.

So here’s my latest effort. If you are not successful please do not give up because this recipe will yield very good results when you get it right. I have a loaf of La Segunda’s sitting here as I write this article and this recipe is VERY similar with a flaky crust and fluffy crumb. To be clear La Segunda’s does not contain lard (at least nowadays) and ours has the more traditional lard flavor still used in other Tampa bakeries. IF you want to mimic today’s La Segunda loaf try using Soybean oil instead of the lard because that’s what they use.

If you need help, make adjustments or have successes or failures please post a comment so we can move this recipe forward.

Kitchen Warfare’s Cuban Bread (Tampa Style)

(Note that this recipe uses a starter so to make bread tomorrow you need to start today)

Starter (enough for two batches)

3/4 tsp yeast

1/3 cup warm water

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

Dissolve the yeast in the water in a NON-metallic bowl and let foam for a few minutes. Then add the flour and mix into a paste. Cover with plastic wrap, put it in the refrigerator and let mature for 24 hours.

Make the Dough

2 cups ice water

1 tablespoon salt

1 tablespoon sugar

1 oz lard

1 oz yeast

½ of the starter

1 3/4+ lb AP flour

You’ll also need a few feet of string soaking in water (chances are if you’re having to make your Cubano you’re no where near palmetto plants).

Directions

In a mixer bowl (w/ dough hook) combine the ice water, salt, sugar, lard, yeast and half the starter.

Add the flour and knead in mixer with dough hook until very smooth, about 6 minutes. Add more flour as is necessary to pull the dough together and it no longer sticks to the bowl. Allow to rise at room temperature until doubled.

Punch down and knead again for a few minutes until smooth. Personally I just toss it back and knead with the hook for a few minutes. Cover and allow to rise again until doubled. This rise is usually quicker than the first but just let it go until doubled.

Divide the dough into 4 pieces.

To form the loaves –

This is THE crucial step (see pictures below). Flatten the piece of dough with a few slaps of your hand (do not roll it out or press it). Fold it in half and flatten it again. Then roll it up fairly tight like a cinnamon roll. The length of each loaf depends on the size of your flat pan/oven but the key is that it should only be about an 1.25-1.5 inches in diameter. Again this is a key step. If you do not get this part right you’ll end up with the bigger Miami style bread. It has a lot more rise and the texture and crumb is more like traditional bread.

Once the loaves are formed immediately place a doubled length of string along the top of each loaf and ever so gently push it down into the dough. Very gently. This is another very crucial step. Skip this step and you won’t get Cuban bread at all.

Once you have them on the pan with the string, let them rise a 3rd time for about 10-20 minutes. Meanwhile preheat your oven to 400F.

Bake loaves about 20-30 minutes until golden brown and tapping on the loaves gives a hollow sound.

Remove the string and enjoy!

Notes-

The 3rd rise is really crucial. If you let the formed loaves puff up you won’t get the tighter Tampa style. They rise quite a bit while baking so just let them rise slightly once you form the loaves and add the string.

Oven temp is also crucial. If they cook too slow you won’t get the crisp flaky crust. If they cook too fast then the interior will be doughy (not done). 400F degrees for about 20 minutes works for me but a bakery in Tampa told me their oven is 425F. If you’ve done everything else right and the crust is soft like a hoagie roll the oven is likely too cool.

Of course there are many variables in the flour and yeast used and humidity and temps where you live. You may have to adjust rise times esp if you see them puffing up bigger than you know Tampa bread should be. I expect it will take a few tries to get it the way you want it.

If when you taste it something seems ‘missing’ or different in the taste compared to the Cuban bread you’re used to its likely the lard. Some Tampa bakeries use it and some do not. This recipe uses a moderate amount. The lard will make the crumb heavier than some of the ‘versions’ you find in Tampa today, most notably La Segunda themselves who according to their label now use soybean oil. In addition to being heavier the lard gives the bread a distinctive taste and what you like is probably going to be what you’re used to.

And Finally . . .

Again PLEASE post comments or questions esp. if you don’t get good results. I don’t mean to come off too arrogant here but I’ve eaten Tampa style Cuban Bread for almost 50 years so I have a good idea of what it tastes like and the results I was trying to achieve. I’ve taste tested it right along side the traditional Tampa bakery versions and while its not exactly like any of them (and of course none of them are alike) it fits right in. I understand what its like to be a displaced Tampan and crave this bread so if there is anything I can do to help you get good results please let me know.

Pictures

Here are few pictures that show how we’re forming the loaves.

Start with 1/4 of the dough

step1.jpg

Pat it down

step2.jpg

Fold it over and pat it again

step3.jpg

Roll them up into a narrow tube (1.25-1.5″) and add the string and let them rise.

NOTE THESE HAVE ALREADY RISEN AND ARE READY FOR THE OVEN

step5.jpg

Here’s a picture that shows our bread compared to La Segunda’s. Ours is on the right. As you can see we’ve achieved the desired split flaky crust.

cubano4

Here’s a picture of a heel and center cut piece to show our crumb (on the right) as compared to La Segunda’s. Nice and fluffy without being doughy.

cubano5

Credits:

A lot of what we know came from reading everything I could find about TAMPA style Cuban Bread. This is challenging because 95% of the information we found is irrelevant to what we’re trying to achieve, and in fact is very misleading. Some is about Miami style bread (and doesn’t specifically say so) but the vast majority bears little resemblance to the real thing. Its a muddied water to be sure.

The core of the recipe is a basic version given out by La Segunda. Although not mentioned in this public version, La Segunda has said on other occasions that they use ‘a piece of yesterdays dough’, which is why we’re using a starter. They’ve also said they use a 425F oven and that the dough is worked several times. The video mentioned below is also key because it shows two very important things we didn’t know. How worked the dough is (very pliable) and how they form the loaves which was a key learning in achieving the right texture.

My brother for cursing my earlier efforts as ‘Miami’ style (it’s a friendly rivalry but a rivalry nonetheless). Go Gators!

The nice person at La Segunda who although wouldn’t give up the secrets did give me a huge tip with a wink and a smile. You know who you are, bless you citizen.

The good folks @ TheFreshLoaf.com (a great resource, check it out!) for providing a forum for discussion and especially cleo3 for posting a link to the Google video that shows how Faedo’s bakery forms their loaves (its right at the end of the video).

And to all my fellow displaced Tampans out there, as Manuel Biero and Andy Hardy used to say, ‘Salude and Happy Days’!

Popularity: 12% [?]

88 Comments »

  • Maegan said:

    As a displaced Tampan, I am thrilled to see this. Not only do they not have Cuban bread 26 miles from the Canadian border, I can’t even find mojo seasoning! My mom sends me stuff from FL, or I can find it online…but the bread has eluded me…haven’t tried the recipe yet, but I can’t wait.

    P.S. Cuban sandwiches were actually invented *in* Tampa…so I think anyone not making them the “Tampa way” isn’t actually making a real cuban. 😉

  • pj said:

    instead of lard try 1 oz pig fat. its a secret of the great breads

  • Miss Chef said:

    Lard is pig fat

  • Royall said:

    Question about size of loaf. I’m about as far a way from Florida and Cuba as possible so I only know this bread from the Food Channel. When I see a “Cuban Sandwich” being made it looks a whole lot bigger than what is being described here. Is the bigger loaf something “new” and not traditional? I did try making Cuban bread not to long ago (a different recipe) and thought it was a lot like a fine crumb French bread but was very tender inside. I was amazed how the string trick worked! You could even do the same thing with a sharp lame if you didn’t have any string.

    Aloha,

    Royall

  • high5apparatus said:

    This is the most comprehensive Cuban bread recipe I’ve found. The recipe I developed is very similar. I use vegetable shortening which I find gives it that velvety smoothness without having to use the lard. I also preheat the oven to 400 for an hour then lower it to 350 when I put the bread in, and bake for 30 min. The next time I make some I’ll try the higher heat you suggest.

    I made some mojo roasted pork yesterday, so I made my Cuban bread as well to make sandwiches, but I used your techniques such as letting the dough hook do the kneading, punching it down twice, and the way you describe forming the loafs is similar to a YouTube video I saw of a Tampa bakery making Cuban bread where they used a forearm smash to flatten before rolling.

    My bread turned out awesome and the Cuban Sandwiches were very good. Not bad for a guy in St. Louis.

  • David said:

    Haven’t tried this yet, but ice water seems unusual, could you explain?

  • chowhound (author) said:

    Sure. Ice water retards the rising process which is in part what gives Cuban bread its flavor. It’s a common technique for similar breads like Biga. Professional bakers use a piece of equipment called a retarder which essentially is a temperature controlled rising cabinet. Most of us don’t have a retarder at home but we can slow down the rise by using ice water and letting the dough rise at room or even cool temperatures.

  • SASFL said:

    Thought I’d pass along the following link. The article claims that the secret to making authentic cuban bread is a cold oven and a pan of boiling water below the bread. Allowing the bread to rise in the cold oven a few minutes before turning on the oven. This is suppose to create the thin-crisp crust. Haven’t tried it but it sounds like it is a similar concept to your “3rd rise”.

    http://www.post-gazette.com/food/20000730suzbread4a.asp

    ¡buen provecho

  • Dusty Miller said:

    You made me home sick for Tampa, I live in Georgia now and just can not find cuban bread any where. When I was young I worked with a old cuban guy he would run to the bakery every morning and get us cuban coffe and bread with butter so good and a great way to start off ur day.

  • chowhound (author) said:

    Sorry I missed this comment. Where are you seeing problems and I’ll take a look

  • Global Table Adventure » Recipe: Cuban Bread (Pan Cubano) said:

    […] lot. Great recipe — just make sure you start it a day ahead of when you need it! Special thanks to Kitchen Warfare for a wonderful post on how to make this wonderful Cuban bread. Without their help, I would have […]

  • Renea said:

    I am a well advanced cook and baker (especially bread), although I had never made Cuban Bread I decided to (made last night) and it was very good! I used Palmetto leaves (instead of string) being that I live in the Tampa Bay area and they worked beautifully. I also baked it at 425 for 20 minutes on my stone. I am making more with the starter I have left tonight, but will increase temp to 450. I bake bread pretty much daily and find the higher temps work much better on bread that is supposed to be crusty and it will get done on the inside and not burn! As far as the texture, personally I had the same problem back when I started making bread and found that not only the rise but the kneading is crucial to an airy, fluffy inside. I have a mixer w/dough hook that I mis everything in, but always knead by hand after mixing and my results have paid off. Hope this helps you and everyone else. Happy baking!! 🙂

  • Joyce Head said:

    I don’t want to sound like an idiot, but your measurements for the flour has me baffled. How many cups is that? My husband is from Key West & his mom worked at the Sugar Loaf Inn……they made cuban bread all the time….my mother-in-law passed away 10 years ago…I didn’t get her recipe. My husband is wanting it badly. Thanks for your work on this.

  • chowhound (author) said:

    The flour is by weight, its a 1 3/4 lb or 28oz, the + means you may need to add a bit more. As with most breads this is just a starting point, its up to the baker to be sure the dough is the right consistency. You may find it takes a little more or a little less depending on factors like the flour you are using and the humidity where you live. If it helps I used King Arthur AP flour when putting together this recipe.

  • Tracy said:

    Thank you so much for this! I have been away from Tampa for 20 years and I really really miss the cuban bread! I get angry when I see a cuban sandwich on a menu (which is becoming more frequent) b/c I know it just won’t be the same!! We were just in Tampa this week and had cubans from Castellano & Pizzo…it’s an italian market but the cubans are awesome! My 14 year old son told me I needed to learn how to make them. I googled cuban bread and found your recipe. Can’t wait to try it! Also, Go Gators!

  • Marisa said:

    Hi! Is this Norm who publishes comments on The Fresh Loaf? If you are I’ve been reading all of your comments and getting quite a bit of insight. My husband and I are home bakers and we love a good challenge. We made some Cuban Bread yesterday and they are quite good. We are anxious to try your recipe to find out if it is the same. El Segundo made a video and they put a fan on their bread after it blossoms and before it is baked. They said that’s how they get that distinctive crust. We are going to try that and see how it comes out. There is so much to learn and so much baking to do. Now we are buying our flour in 50# bags. Sir Lancelot is not cheap and it’s hard to find in our area so we ordered it in bulk.

  • Marisa said:

    Sorry to mistake you for Norm – you’re Hector. I’ve been reading so much from the both of you. Thanks for all the tips.

  • - Moms Gone GlobalMoms Gone Global said:

    […] If you do not live near a Cuban bakery, you and your little ones can try your hands at baking your own authentic Tampa Style loaf. […]

  • MimiCooks said:

    I purchased a Bosch Universal Plus Mixer just before hosting a reunion of friends from Tampa. They came from Minnesota, South Carolina, North Florida and Tampa to our home in Alabama. So at least 4 out of 5 of us don’t have easy access to Cuban bread. I found your recipe and tried it out and served it with a Cuban Feast Dinner. Raving reviews!!!! Every one of us thought it was as good as any Cuban bread we have bought in Tampa. My only regret….that I didn’t have my Tampa friend bring palm fronds! I will be using this recipe for many years to come.

  • Robert said:

    I too used to go to La Segunda to purchase bread when I worked in Tampa. Now I live on the coast and it is to far to go to get bread. I am trying to make it at home and I have a question. You say 1 oz of yeast, I believe you mean fresh yeast which is hard to find..so I need to know how much active dry yeast is the equivalent and wouldnt the ice water retard the active dry yeast?

  • RocketCity said:

    Great Article: Just brought back La Segunda on plane – as usual excellent! My girl told me that they just use off the shelf Moho for thier pork aka roast it & started laughing when I asked about a complicated recipe of lime orange juice and etc… and it was a very good sandwhich. What Moho do they sell in the store down there in Tampa? Which brand is most used in these neighborhoods? I eat all over and typically people tried to make thing far too complicated. Anyone have a good idea?

  • David said:

    Feels good to hear from another Tampa-Ybor native. Got bread there every morning. Now, making it myself
    David from 22nd ave

  • Ed said:

    I too am an old Tampa native as was my father (Ybor City). We would go to the old Alessi bakery on Howard Ave after mass on Sunday. My father kenw some of the bakers. We’d go in the back door and get bread right out of the oven..eat half a loaf on the way home…

    We too load the freezer whenever we visit in Tampa. Now live in N.E. Mississippi where everything is deep fried (yuck). Never baked bread but I gotta try. Just made the starter…can’t wait for tomorrow.

  • Ed said:

    Well…strike one…I think the yeast I bought must have been old..no rise. The bread is very dense and didn’t fill out. Oh well..I’ll give it another go soon. should I use “fast acting” yeast?

  • Gary Haskins said:

    I lived in Tampa for almost 20 years and recently relocated to Tucson, AZ. My office in Tampa was originally in Ybor City and i drove by La Segunda daily. This recipe is my next baking project. We will also have to make our own Cuban Roast Pork for our Cuban Sandwiches.
    Thanks for this recipe!
    Gary

  • John Gatewood said:

    I made this recipe twice now. It looks a lot like Cuban bread but is a lot denser and crumbs on cut surface. Its not wispy like real Cuban bread and is difficult to use the press on sandwiches. I used lard and the starter as directed. When we grew up in Tampa.the bread we used was from Casino bakery. It had a wax paperwhich was white with red lettering down the middle. It had a shiny crust and very chewy and malleable. You.
    Could tie it in a knot. The bread the Columbia now uses is very good but is different. The crust is not shiny and is not malleable but it presses well. Its great with butter. I would like to make a lighter loaf that is malleable. Perhaps more gluten is needed. Do you have any suggestions that could help. I have made a lot of bread through the years but indeed making bread like the kind we had as kids is quite a challenge.

  • Sam - Perth Australia said:

    Hey Chowhound,

    I live in Australia and since watching the chef movie I’ve been searching for an authentic Cuban bread and Cuban sandwich recipe. After looking around a fair bit I stumbled across this website and recipe.

    I haven’t experienced Tampa Cuban bread but wanted to try a recipe as authentic as possible. I could see how much research you had done, so I had to give it a go!

    My Cuban sandwich attempt took some time to put together but it was all worth it. My wife said this is the nicest bread she has ever tasted and the sandwich was so good.

    Thanks for sharing, I’m definitely going to make this again.

    Cheers
    Sam

  • Colin said:

    Hi Sam,
    I’m from Oz.I just got back from Tampa having had some cuban bread at the Colombian restaurant in Ybor City. It was wonderful bread. I will be making this recipe ASAP. Good Luck

  • Sam said:

    Hey Colin,

    I’m on my second attempt at this. I found the conversion of the oven temp too high first time round and the bread cooked in about 8/9 mins. so I reduced the temp to around 180 degrees C for a fan assisted oven and the bread cooked much better. Nice and golden and ready in about 14/15 mins.

    Cheers
    Sam

  • Colin said:

    Hi Sam,
    I’ve usually done bread in an oven not fan forced because it tends to dry the bread before it had a chance to rise. But I’ll try it if you think you got a good crust which is what we are after.

  • Jimmy said:

    Thanks for saving a Tampa native. I have been searching high and low for that perfect “Ybor City Cuban Bread recipe”. I can’t wait to try it.

  • Ed said:

    Made another stab at it today. Has the look but, the bread was a little heavier than I’d like. Not as fluffy as I feel it should be. Not sure what adjustment to make. Did it not rise long enough? Baking time? Still pretty good though. Any suggestions are certainly welcome!

  • Charles said:

    Wow. I was looking for a recipe for La Segunda’s, because for some reason I seemed to be smelling a Cuban sandwich. I remember going to the bakery with my Granddaddy when I was very young (57 now) and watching them form the loaves with the palm leaf, although I didn’t know what I was watching back then. It’s a shame that they use soybean oil now, I’m sure that they didn’t back then and wonder what they did use.
    Cuban sandwiches from the Gold Ring in Ybor… ahhh. Never did learn what that white cheese was, I see plenty made with swiss, but the stuff I remember didn’t have holes, it was solid.

  • Charles said:

    @John Gatewood
    You remember less than fresh bread then. I always hated the waxed paper or plastic wrapped bread, because the crust turned soft. The bread La Segunda made wrapped in brown paper was the best, but the bread would get hard after a few days. One night in plastic/waxed paper was enough to destroy the crust on Cuban bread.

  • Myra said:

    I just wanted to say, in response to this guy’s explanation of why nobody makes Cuban bread at home, that in Cuba nobody made bread at home simply because there were not many ovens. Period. I am Cuban born and raised and I was lucky to live in El Vedado section of La Habana. We had a big kitchen AND an oven, and still we did not make bread at home. Maybe because we are a tropical island, but nobody I knew baked much at home and certainly not bread. Baking is not really part of our culinary style with the exception of a few dishes such as roasted pork or flan (and even flan my mom made in her beloved pressure cooker!). At least, this is my experience as a Cuban from the island. I remember that most of my friends who lived in apartments did not have ovens. Descendants of Cubans who settled in Ybor City in the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries probably have slightly different customs or culinary traditions (after more than a century in a “foreign” country, who wouldn’t?)and if I ever visit Tampa, I will certainly buy a loaf of their Tampa Cuban bread. I think it will be like experiencing a slice of the Cuban past in these Northern shores.

  • Aj said:

    HI

    don’t know if you still track comments, but Thank you! the folding really did make a difference ith the texture of the bread. My Mother’s was a crusty rustic bread, and I like the MIami, this was a tasty bread. I froz the 4the loaf befor it was alloud to rise. unthawed the next week and is still made a great bread.

    ty

    Aj

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