Kitchen Warfare’s Cuban Bread (Tampa Style)
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.
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.
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.
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).
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!
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.
Here are few pictures that show how we’re forming the loaves.
Start with 1/4 of the dough
Pat it down
Fold it over and pat it again
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
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.
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.
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’!
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