When my mother came visiting me from Miami final August, she introduced along with her two loaves of Cuban bread. Each care package deal I’ve acquired since leaving residence almost fifteen years in the past has concerned her meticulously chopping small items off a big, fluffy, slender loaf, measuring typically three toes lengthy, to suit right into a plastic bag, earlier than pushing out all of the air so the bread gained’t develop into stale throughout its transport again to New York, Chicago, Madison, or wherever I used to be residing with out it. My grandparents purchase additional bread in the event that they know I’m coming to go to, often stashing the additional loaf on prime of their fridge, a throwback to childhood after they’d have to cover bread to maintain me from sprucing off all the loaf in a single sitting.
In Miami, Cuban bread is accessible in every single place: from small, native bakeries to each single outpost of our regional grocery chains, Publix and Winn-Dixie. Made merely of flour, water, lard, and salt, it by no means occurred to me whereas rising up that Cuban bread would require clarification—or that it could be nearly unimaginable to search out exterior of Florida. Like a New York slice or a Philly cheesesteak, there’s no single ingredient or secret baking approach. However its legacy and significance within the Sunshine State is all however culinary canon. “The ‘Cuban Bread Line’ (the Mason Dixon line of Cuban pastry) stretches throughout the state simply north of Tampa,” jokes Glenn Lindgren on the web site Three Guys From Miami. “Stray north of the Cuban Bread Line and you've got two possibilities of getting a good loaf: slim and none.”
The distinctive, contrasting, texture and savory but mild taste of Cuban bread is what supplies its distinction from different kinds. It’s skinny and crunchy on the skin, whereas remaining gentle and ethereal on the within, making it the proper bread to get pleasure from pressed—it stays gentle inside however crispy like a cracker on the skin. A tostada, or Cuban bread pressed and buttered, is without doubt one of the commonest breakfast meals served in ventanitas, or walk-up home windows frequent in Cuban eating places in Florida.
“It’s a really Tampa expertise to brush the confetti of crumbs off your lap after demolishing a Cuban sandwich,” writes Gabrielle Calise in the Tampa Bay Times, referring to the way in which the crust cracks while you break off a bit, shattering virtually like glass. However while you get inside, pulling aside Cuban bread seems like tearing off a bit of cotton sweet. It’s not like a baguette or brioche—nor does it style like a mixture of the 2—however it borrows traits of every, just like the size, form, and crispness of a baguette and the crumbly but mild inside of brioche.
There’s a lot lore and mythologizing in relation to the story of Cuban bread, however some issues are sure. In Cuba, Cuban bread initially began as a brief loaf, however throughout the finish of the Nineties, as Cuba fought for its independence, the loaf started reworking into the lengthy, stretched model we all know as we speak. “Cuban bread was altering throughout this time,” says Andy Huse, coauthor of the forthcoming guide The Cuban Sandwich: A History in Layers with Bárbara Cruz and Jeff Houck. “There’s an accepted knowledge round this: when the battle for independence laid waste to the island, hungry Cubans stretched the loaf right into a yard-long, skinny loaf that might be reduce into small slices for rationing. Whereas that is attainable, what’s extra seemingly is that Cuba was strongly influenced by exterior cultures comparable to France and Spain, and that’s how we ended up with the longer loaves.”
Many tales credit score Juan Moré with bringing Cuban bread to the US. He was a soldier, initially from Catalonia in Spain, and he was dispatched to Cuba to combat in 1875, finally touchdown in Ybor Metropolis, a neighborhood simply northwest of downtown Tampa in 1895. “In his pocket he carried a bit of paper that might set the supply of his future,” Gary R. Mormino and Tony Pizzo element of their guide Tampa: The Treasure City. “Scribbled on that paper was his personal recipe for making Cuban bread.”
Moré arrived in Ybor Metropolis earlier than him, however sources cite Francisco Ferlita as the primary business baker of Cuban bread within the space. Ferlita was Sicilian and got here to Ybor Metropolis in 1896, opening La Joven Francesca Bakery the identical yr, which closed in 1973 and is now residence to Ybor Metropolis Museum State Park. Moré bought La Segunda Central Bakery in 1915 after becoming a member of a cooperative of bakers throughout the begin of World Struggle I. So, whereas many tales reference Moré because the originator of Cuban bread in the US, it’s seemingly that it was right here lengthy beforehand. “That’s one other one of many city legends,” says Huse. “From 1885 to about 1910, Cubans outnumbered each different ethnic group in Ybor Metropolis. In case you opened a bakery and didn’t make Cuban bread, you have been out of luck.”
Huse notes that Cubans don’t actually have a historical past of constructing their very own bread at residence. Nitza Villapol, creator of Cuba’s most iconic cookbook, Cocina al Minuto, even inspired cooks to purchase bread at bakeries. “I talked to a whole lot of Cubans who used their ovens for storage,” says Huse. “In Ybor Metropolis, Italian immigrants made their very own bread. However in Cuba, the thought of firing up your oven to make bread within the tropics was repellent, so Cubans by no means made their very own bread.”
If Cuban bread doesn’t sound acquainted to you, a Cuban sandwich would possibly. Eating places throughout the nation have performed with the formulation of ham, roasted pork, Swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard (and salami, when you’re in Tampa). Historically, Cubanos are pressed on a scorching plancha, a preparation that makes the bread selection so integral: the crunch of the bread is as a lot a part of the expertise because the substances inside. Recipes for Cuban sandwiches pop up on meals web sites in every single place, some suggesting Cuban bread substitutes like brioche or Italian or French bread; some are savvy sufficient to provide a recipe for Cuban bread, since they know most readers gained’t have the ability to discover it already made. (I’ve included my very own beneath.)
I’ve lived north of the Cuban Bread Line for over a decade, a spot the place all “Latin American” meals tends to be conflated (I googled “Cuban meals close to Madison,” and the primary consequence was a Venezuelan restaurant). Suffice it to say that Cuban bread continues to be one thing I yearn for.
I additionally starvation for a New York Metropolis slice and Mission-style burritos, culinary staples of different cities I’ve lived in and beloved. Maybe they by no means depart their hometowns as a result of they’re so evocative of place—you possibly can by no means mimic grabbing a burrito on sixteenth Avenue in San Francisco at three within the morning or hopping off the West 4th Avenue cease and grabbing a slice of pizza at Ben’s Pizzeria earlier than strolling into work. And there’s no feeling like strolling as much as a ventanita, ordering a espresso and a tostada, and feeling the crackle of the bread as you chunk in.
Photographs courtesy of La Segunda Central Bakery