“Cuban” Holiday Rolls

holiday rolls

In the early 1980’s, when I first began catering historical foods (see Scottish Oat Scones, 2016/06/20), I was inspired by the enduring works of such renown writer/chefs as Julia Child, James Beard, Jacques Pepin, and Graham Kerr, to mention a few.  It was actually their written works, rather than those of food TV that influenced me so greatly.

My mother often sent clippings of their receipts, which were profuse in the media; this is how I got this bread recipe, which I started using, even before my own work began in 1982.

A number of these food authorities gave slightly varying directions for making Cuban bread; I don’t recall in these various versions the crucial lard or the palmetto leave, used to form the seam down the center of every authentic loaf; rather, that which I took from them is a simple bread recipe, using only 2 teaspoons each of salt and sugar plus flour, yeast, and water.

I wondered why so many of these chefs were publishing this same recipe, each utilizing specific alterations; I queried: which recipe is actually accurate?  In that period, I didn’t have the glorious bounty of facts for discovering food history, which internet provides at our fingertips today.

One chef, I don’t’ recall which one, wrote that the baking of this loaf need start in a cold oven, which I erroneously attributed to the Cuban baking process; a number of them also covered the pan with corn meal, on which a free-formed loaf was placed; hence, I employed these directions and unknowingly professed them as being national, which today I know were not genuine.  Note: you may access the real deal for Cuban bread at https://icuban.com/food/pan_cubano2.html

I learned about the legality of copyrighting recipes, when embarking on my journey as a food historian, after graduating with my Masters Degree in 1991. (My degree is in Pacific Northwest history, in which I specialized in food history, for there were no schools offering a degree in this unique subject, when I began my studies.)

Graduate school taught me the highest respect for avoiding plagiarism; thus, I sought the expertise of the leading copyright lawyer in Portland, Oregon in the early 90’s.  Dressed to the nines on a hot summer day, I stepped into one of multiple air-conditioned elevators, which took me to this qualified man’s office, with its pent-house view.  There this skilled expert patiently listened to my heart, as I fervently expressed my need for safety, in the writing and performing of my treasured work; it became apparent to me that all its colorful detail was holding him spell-bound.  Much to my relief, his directives were: ingredients in recipes may always be the same, but to be legally protected, instructions must vary.

I was exuberant, for I, like my beloved famous chefs, could take any promising receipt and produce it as my own, simply by improving on its directions, with my own culinary wisdom and historical knowledge.

My joy over this freedom was immense; there is more, however, for with his heart seemingly expanding, as was mine, the following words came out of this great lawyer’s mouth: “My services this day are free!”  God’s favor perpetually blesses our gratitude.

I don’t profess this to be Cuban bread, but rather my simple recipe for delicious holiday rolls.  Enjoy!

finished product

Holiday Rolls  Yields: 14-16 rolls or 1 loaf.  Total prep time: 2 hr & 20 min/  active prep time: 20 min/  inactive prep time: 2 hours/  baking time: 20 min.  Note: this method utilizes a food processor, producing quick, mess-free bread, the greatest!

4 cups flour  (May blend 3 cups whole wheat flour with 1 cup unbleached white flour, or better yet, grind 2 2/3 cup organic hard red spring wheat berries, to make 4 cups of fresh-ground flour.)

1 3/8-1 5/8 cups tepid water  (110-115 degrees in temperature.)

3 tsp yeast, or 1 individual packet  (Red Star Active Dry Yeast comes inexpensively in a 2-pound package at Costco; this freezes well in a sealed container for long-term use.)

2 1/4 tsp sugar

2 tsp salt  (Real Salt is important for optimum health; available in nutrition section at local supermarket.)

Coconut spray oil  (Coconut is best for quality and flavor; Pam is available in most grocery stores; our local Winco brand, however, is much cheaper.)

  1. grinding flour with Kitchen Aid attachment

    If grinding your own flour, begin to do so now (see photo).

  2. Place 1/4 cup lukewarm water-110 to 115 degrees-in a small bowl; stir in yeast and 1/4 tsp sugar.  Let sit in a warm place, until nearly double in size, about 10 minutes.  Note: frozen yeast will take somewhat longer to proof.
  3. Place flour, 2 tsp sugar, and salt in processor; blend well, stopping machine and stirring once with hard plastic spatula.
  4. When yeast is proofed, add it and 1 3/8 cup tepid water to flour mixture (with fresh-ground flour, however, only 1 1/8 cups of water is needed, as the grind is coarser).  Turn machine on and knead for 35 seconds; turn off and let dough rest for 4 minutes (see photo below of dough, after this first kneading in machine, using fresh-ground flour).  This resting period cools dough, which is essential as processing increases heat, and too much heat will kill the yeast.
  5. After pausing for 4 minutes, turn on the processor; knead dough for 35 seconds; let rest for 4 minutes.
  6. Take out and knead by hand for 5-7 minutes, or until satiny smooth.  As wet dough readily sticks to hands, rinse them as needed to facilitate easy kneading (store-bought flour is finer; therefore, it absorbs the moisture more

    dough after initial kneading in processor, using fresh-ground flour

    readily and won’t be as sticky); see photo below for dough before and after kneading by hand.  Ideally it should be firm and pliable when finished.  (Note: dough may be somewhat wet and sticky at first, but much moisture is absorbed with kneading by hand; this is especially true with fresh-ground flour.  These instructions should be foolproof, but IF needed, do the following: if dough remains quite wet and sticky, after kneading by hand for several minutes, slowly add more flour to your board as you knead; if it is too stiff to knead by hand easily, place back in processor; knead in 1 tbsp water.  If called for, repeat this step until severe stiffness is gone, it is flexible, and kneading by hand is facile, carefully resting dough so as not to overheat.  See before and after photo below.

  7. Place prepared dough in a well-oiled 13-gallon plastic bag; let rise in a warm place for 50-60 minutes, or until double; time varies depending on room temperature.  (To facilitate proofing in a cold kitchen, you may place it in a warm oven, which has been heated for 20-30 seconds only.  Be careful to only take edge off cold, as too much heat will kill the yeast.)
  8. dough before and after kneading by hand

    Spray a cookie sheet with oil.  Without punching down, form risen dough into 14-16 rolls or an oblong loaf; place on pan.  Loosely cover with a piece of plastic wrap, which has also been sprayed with oil-this keeps dough moist.

  9. Let rise until doubled, for about 50-60 minutes.  To insure oven is ready when it is time to bake, preheat it to 400 degrees, 30 minutes into rising process.  IMPORTANT NOTE: if proofing rolls in oven, be sure to remove them, before preheating.
  10. When doubled, bake rolls for 20 minutes-a loaf will take up to 30 minutes-or until bread sounds hollow when tapped on bottom.  Enjoy this excellent staff of life!

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