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Cuban Bread

Although it is made with the same basic ingredients as French bread, the baking procedure for Cuban bread is different. The dough is put in a cold oven, set above a pan of boiling water, and left to rest for a few minutes before the oven is turned on. Because the bread continues to rise as the oven heats, its crust is very thin and crisp. It is made without fat, so it is best if eaten on the day it is baked, as it will go stale quickly. You can try this method with any yeast bread.

1 scant tablespoon or 1 (1/2-ounce) package active dry yeast
2 cups warm water (105 degrees to 115 degrees)
1 teaspoon salt
4 1/2 to 5 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

In a large bowl, soften the yeast in the water.

Add the salt and 3 cups of the flour. Beat vigorously with a dough whisk or a heavy-handled spoon for 2 minutes. (We used the dough hook on our mixer.)

Gradually add more of the remaining flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until the dough forms a mass and begins to pull away from the side of the bowl. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface.

Knead, adding more flour, a little at a time as necessary, about 8 to 10 minutes, or until you have a smooth, elastic dough and blisters begin to develop on the surface.

Put the dough into a lightly oiled bowl. Turn to coat the entire ball of dough with oil. Cover with a tightly woven kitchen towel and let rise for about 1 hour, or until doubled in size.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly oiled work surface and knead it into a ball. Put the dough on a well-greased baking sheet and flatten it slightly so that is about 3 inches high. Make 3 slits in the top of the loaf, about 1/4 inch deep and 2 inches apart.

Pour 1 cup of boiling water into a shallow pan and put the pan on the lower shelf of an unheated oven. put the dough on the shelf above, wait 10 minutes, turn the oven to 400 degrees. Bake the bead for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 200 degrees. (Ours took an additional 15 minutes to come to temperature.)

Immediately remove from the baking sheet and cool on a rack.

"The Bread Book"
by Betsy Oppenneer (Harper-Collins)

Sunday, July 30, 2000

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