It's been a few years since I moved to Miami from New Orleans, and one of the things I noticed is that people absolutely love their pan Cubano. It's crispy, light, and perfect for toast with breakfast or for a sanguich (er..sandwich). I've had my fair share of Cuban sanguiches and breakfasts, and it's important to always keep in perspective the purpose of a type of bread. Every type of bread, in every culture, is made with intention and purpose. I've come to realize that people enjoy pan Cubano because of the tangy, sweet flavor and crispy exterior that provides a simple vessel with which to enjoy the rich flavors of Cuban cuisine. Like most bread, creating it with sourdough will only enhance these features and also allow the usage of a bit less lard to make it a healthier and more delicious bread.
What You'll Need (for levain build)
100 grams mature sourdough starter
50 grams King Arthur Organic Whole Wheat Flour
150 grams King Arthur Organic Bread Flour
200 grams warm water
What You'll Need (Final Mix)
300 grams King Arthur Organic Bread Flour
700 grams King Arthur Organic All-Purpose Flour
20 grams Kosher Salt
200 grams Levain
680 grams warm water
130 grams Lard
50 grams Sugar
Palm Leaf or Yarn/String
For lard, I use any brand that I can find in the grocery store like Goya. If you live in a place where lard is not easy to attain, simply use vegetable, avocado, or grapeseed oil.
In terms of hydration, I don't find it necessary to have an overly hydrated dough to make a light, airy, and crispy pan Cubano. The key to the texture is getting the right bulk fermentation time for your mix.
If you have access to a palm tree, grab some of the leaves from it so that you can use it to proof and bake the dough. This is a traditional method used to create a natural score on the bread. If not, a piece of yarn will do!
What You Need To Do:
Combine 90% of the water in a bowl with your levain.
Add in the flour and sugar, and mix until there is no dry flour left.
Let 30 minutes go by and add in the rest of the water with the salt. Squeeze it into the dough, but don't tear it.
After 30 more minutes, we are going to incorporate the lard into the dough. You may need to add another splash of water here. Place the lard (or your oil) on top of the dough and spread it out.
After you've spread the lard around, perform a stretch and fold to your dough, and squeeze in the lard at the same time. Our goal is to start building strength and also incorporate the lard at the same time. This may take a few minutes of stretching and squeezing but trust the process.
You need not perform any more stretch and folds with this dough. Let the initial rise continue for 6-8 hours - you're looking for a nice bubbly dough. My house is usually around 72-75f. If you start this part in the evening, you can let it ferment overnight on your countertop.
After the initial rise, it's time to divide and shape the pan Cubano. This process is very similar to that of a baguette. Divide your dough into 4-5 pieces. I usually try to make each piece 380 grams if I'm baking on a stone in my oven, which is the optimal way to bake pan Cubano. Believe it or not, you can make these in a cast iron - they'll be small like a demi-baguette but you can make a size that fits your round iron pan and make small versions.
Take each piece and roll into a little log. Try to apply as much tension as possible when rolling it. Once you have a little log, start from the middle with both hands and roll it back and forth while pushing your hands outwards. You want your pan Cubano to get longer, so once you have your desired length you can stop - no need to make pointy ends like a french baguette.
Take your palm leaf or yarn and place it on the dough, lengthwise. Then, flip your dough upside down on a cloth, couche, or proofing board dusted with flour. You want the leaf/yarn to make a nice imprint on the dough.
Let your dough proof for 2 hours, and preheat your oven with your baking item (cast iron or stone) to 500f.
Once it's time to bake, flip your dough over so that the leaf/yarn is now on the top side and load into the oven. I use a cutting board to load longer loaves like pan Cubano onto my stone. If you are using a cast iron for a baby pan Cubano, simply plop into the pan and close the lid.
Steam your oven with a spray bottle mist if possible, or simply use a pan with hot water in the oven to generate some steam.
Bake the pan Cubano for 15-20 minutes, depending on your color preference. As you can see in the pictures above, I've baked pan Cubano dark and light. I prefer to always bake dark, but if you're using the bread for a pressed sandwich you can bake it light so that it can keep toasting during the sandwich-making process.
Enjoy! Make sure you take off the leaf or yarn before you tear into it!