The distinctive taste of Cuban bread is due to the use of starter, which is made the day before and also very important the dough is enriched with lard. Yes, I said Lard from pork!! You can substitute with vegetable shortening such as Crisco if you prefer. However the taste the bread acquires and it's basic smoothness will only come with the use of lard. A little once in a while will not hurt. The authentic taste will only be achieved with Lard! Buen Appetito
1The day before baking your bread make the starter. Mix starter ingredients dissolving the yeast in very warm water, Not hot but warm. You want a thick paste when you add the flour. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let "ripen" in refrigerator for 24 hours. Left over starter will keep for several days in the refrigerator or can be frozen.
2Dough: Dissolve the yeast and sugar in three 3 tablespoons of warm water in a large mixing bowl. When the mixture is foamy (5-10 minutes)Stir in lard. (It's best to melt the lard in the microwave but it should not be hot just warm) Let cool if the lard or shortening is too hot. Next add the remaining warm water and half of the batch of the starter. Refrigerate the other half or freeze.
3Mix well with your hands or a wooden spoon. Stir in the salt and the flour 1 cup at a time. You want a dough that is stiff enough to knead. You can also mix and knead with a dough hook or in a food processor fitted with a double blade.
4Turn dough to a lightly floured work surface and knead until smooth and elastic. About six to eight (6 to 8) minutes, Adding flour as necessary. The dough should be pliable and not real sticky.
5Transfer to a lightly oiled bowl, cover and let rise in a warm draft-free spot until it doubles in bulk, about 45 minutes. Then Punch down.
6After punching down next to form the loaves, divide the dough in 4 pieces. Roll each one out to form a 14 inch long tube, with rounded ends. (sort of like a long meatloaf) Put 2 loaves on a baking tray or sheet, about 6 inches apart. You can lightly spray each tray or sheet with a little Bakers helper or very lightly oil and flour the tray. Or you can use parchment paper first then spray a little with the Bakers helper. Cover the loaves with a dampened cloth or clean dish towel and let rise in a warm draft-free spot, until doubled in their bulk. About One (1) hour. Then Pre-heat the oven on 350 degrees, then lay a warm dampened thick piece of kitchen twine or butchers twine about 18 inches long, all along the top length of each loaf. Press the twine down on each loaf just a little. Bake the bread until the breads are a lightly golden brown on top and sound hollow when lightly tapped about 30 minutes baking time. Then remove let cool slightly and remove strings.
7This will leave a distinct little ridge on top of each loaf. Very typical and the trademark of Authentic Cuban bread. Transfer loaves to a cooling rack. Enjoy as is with butter or sliced for Cuban pork sandwiches or for making Cuban toast. Any way it is delicious. Buen Appetito... Enjoy
8The above picture is not mine. It is a picture of Cuban bread from the Cuban Bakery. They do not show the distinctive ridge across the top. I am planning baking some Cuban bread for the holidays. I will post a picture of my own home made bread then. The picture above is of good Cuban bread.