One of my favorite places to get a sandwich in Los Angeles is Porto’s Bakery. It’s a Cuban bakery that makes all kinds of amazing pastries, sandwiches and other sweet and savory treats. They make all their bread (everything in the bakery, actually) from scratch every day and it is not only delicious, but consistently so. Thousands of people cross through the doors of their two locations every day, so production, as you can imagine, is quite a feat.
Cuban bread is not that different from your basic french bread or Italian bread. It has the same basic components – yeast, flour, water, salt – and actually has a similar flavor. A good Cuban bread should have a thin, crisp crust when it is fresh and a soft, fluffy interior. The bread is usually shaped into long, thin loaves. Since my favorite application for Cuban bread is as a sandwich roll, I opted to cut down the standard size to make the loaves more sandwich-friendly.
I’m not going to claim that my bread identical to my favorite from Porto’s. They’ve had far more time and far more loaves to perfect their recipe, but my version was very tasty and made a very creditable Cuban sandwich when it was toasted and filled with some sliced, roasted pork. The bread has a thin, crisp crust when it is fresh (the crust gets softer if you store the bread in an airtight container, although it will stay fresh for at least a couple of days) and a soft, moist interior. It’s not too dense and presses down well, so the sandwiches aren’t so big you can’t bite into them easily. If you don’t want to use it for sandwiches, it makes fantastic garlic bread and you can easily slice it up and serve it however you like to serve regular baguettes.
2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast (1/4-oz)
1 tbsp sugar
2 cups warm water
4 cups all purpose flour, plus more for kneading
1 tbsp salt
In a large bowl, combine yeast, sugar and warm water. Let stand for 10 minutes, until yeast is foamy. Stir in 4 cups of all purpose flour and the salt and mix well, until dough is smooth and elastic. It will be sticky, but the dough will still pull towards the spoon (or dough hook, if using an electric mixer) as you stir. Cover bowl with plastic wrap.
Let dough rise for 2 – 2 1/2 hours, until doubled in size.
Generously flour a flat work surface. Scrape dough out onto the board and gently knead in additional flour until dough is no longer sticky and forms a smooth ball. You may knead in anywhere from 1/2 cup to 1 cup of flour (high humidity will cause you to need more flour for kneading). Don’t be afraid to let your hands get sticky as you work. Let dough rest for 15 minutes.
Divide the dough ball into 4 pieces and shape each into a baguette about 1 1/2-inches thick. Place all baguettes onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and cover with a clean dish towel.
Let shaped dough rise for 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400F.
Bake baguettes for 30-35 minutes, until an instant read thermometer inserted into the bottom of one of the loaves reads 200-210F.
Cool loaves completely on a wire rack before slicing.
Makes 4 sandwich-sized baguettes.