What makes Cuban bread distinct is lard—it gives the bread a savoriness and lightness not found in other loaves. If you want to make this bread vegetarian-friendly, you can replace the lard with butter, but you’d lose some of that characteristic richness. Cuban bread goes stale quickly (within 24 to 48 hours). You can extend the shelf life by tightly wrapping it in plastic wrap, or, if you have any leftover bread after making Cuban sandwiches, try toasting it with butter and pressing it to make a tostada, a staple breakfast food often enjoyed with a cup of Cuban coffee.
2 long loaves or 4 smaller loaves
- Combine ingredients for starter. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit on the counter overnight.
- On the next day, mix yeast, sugar, lard, salt, and water together in a bowl or in the bowl of a stand mixer with the dough hook attachment. Add all the starter and mix until combined.
- Slowly add the flour to the stand mixer, starting on medium-low, until all the flour is added. If you’re mixing by hand, start by adding a cup of flour until combined, then continue to add flour a tablespoon or two at a time.
- Knead the dough for 15– 20 minutes on (or less if you’re using a stand mixer, which you should set to medium-high) or until very smooth. Some Cuban bakeries use a sobadora, which looks like a dough sheeter, to pass their bread through. One website even suggests pulling out a pasta roller to knead the bread, since the kneading process is so important. You want to see a totally smooth dough with no lumps.
- Let the dough rest in a warm spot in a well-oiled and covered bowl until doubled in size—this can take anywhere between 1 and 2 hours, depending on the temperature of your kitchen.
- Divide the dough into loaves. It’s generally traditional to make Cuban bread into long loaves. However, I prefer to shape it into smaller loaves, especially if I plan on storing any leftovers overnight. This recipe can make 2 long loaves or 4 small ones. For 2 loaves, roll the dough out to about 14 inches in length and 8 inches in width. Roll the dough into a log with the seam side down. Pinch the sides of the bread and tuck under to seal the sides. If you want to do 4 smaller loaves, roll out to half the length.
- Set the loaves on a baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap rubbed with oil, and proof them again for 1 to 2 hours or until they have doubled in size. At this point, traditional Cuban bakeries would use a palm frond to leave an indentation and “score” the bread. You can mimic this by using a shoestring or a piece of twine, but it’s optional—just make sure to soak it in hot water to disinfect.
- Preheat the oven to 400ºF and place a baking sheet in the oven while the temperature rises. If you didn’t use a frond or a string, score the bread now with one long slash across the top. Place bread on the preheated baking sheet and spritz the sides of the oven with your spray bottle of water to create steam.
- Bake for 15-20 minutes. The crust of your bread shouldn’t get too dark—you’re looking for a light golden-brown color. Let the loaf cool completely before eating.
Ashley Rodriguez is a writer and podcast producer based in Madison, Wisconsin. She hosts a podcast called Boss Barista and writes an accompanying newsletter with articles about coffee, food, and service work