Okay, I know what you're thinking, "who makes bread at home?"
Well, I am here to tell you that we should all be making bread at home!
Bread is fundamental. It's easy, it's fun, and your house will smell amazing! Every food culture I know of (important caveat) has some form of bread, with infinite spin off recipes. Not to mention, from a side of warm, hand-ripped bread with dinner, to pressed leftover sandwiches the next day, homemade bread may be the THING your holiday season was always missing, and you had no idea!
If all those reasons weren't enough, consider how much packaging and emissions you will be saving from the environment. As fundamental and simple as bread is, it has become one of the most commonly purchased processed foods. Your grocery store likely has an entire aisle AND bakery full of pre-made breads, all wrapped in plastic. You can cut all of that out with a few simple pantry staples.
The recipe that follows is a very simple bread, with only five ingredients and a little twist. Many traditional recipes for Cuban bread (pan de Manteca) call for the addition of lard or butter. The addition of oil will help the bread keep a little longer but can easily be omitted (making it pan de agua). The final product isn't likely to survive long enough to go stale anyway.
Finally, pan de agua is usually formed into long loaves that are intended to be pressed and toasted. This bread recipe includes rolling out the dough and then rolling it up like a cigar. This will give you some lamination (similar to a croissant) in the final loaf that you will see once it’s been toasted. Also, since we will be toasting it again, it is cooked a little hotter and faster than other bread recipes ending in a very lightly golden color and soft crust.
Mmm... are you hungry yet!
1 ½ c. warm water (about 110 degrees)
1 tbsp. dry active yeast
1 tbsp. sugar
1 tbsp. salt
3 ½ c. all-purpose flower (another 1/2 c. for rolling and dusting)
oil for greasing
1. Combine the yeast, sugar, and water in a measuring cup, and allow to sit for about 10 minutes. The yeast should activate and start bubbling.
2. In a bowl, combine flour and salt. Give it a quick mix to distribute the salt. Make a well in the middle of the four and pour in the water and yeast mixture.
3. Mix together using an electric mixer, a wooden spoon, or your hands, until the water is absorbed. Knead the dough for about 8 minutes until it forms a smooth ball.
4. Grease a metal bowl with a little oil, place the dough ball into the bowl and flip it over so both sides have a little oil coating. Cover the bowl with reusable beeswax wrap and let sit in a warm place for about 1 to 1 ½ hours, until it has doubled in size.
5. Turn the dough out onto a lightly flowered surface and cut into three equal pieces.
6. Using a rolling pin, roll out each piece into a roughly 6 inches by 12-inch rectangle. Sprinkle with flour, and fold in half, and roll it back to the original 6 by 12-inch rectangle, dust with more flour. Starting with the long edge, roll the dough into a tight spiral (it should look like a baguette).
7. Repeat with the other two parts of the dough until you have three loaves.
8. Place the loaves seam side down on a baking sheet. Cut a long slash down the center of each loaf, from end to end, then leave to rise again for 30 minutes.
9. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
10. Bake the loaves for 25-30 minutes, until they are lightly golden on top and sound hollow when tapped.