Guilty Cuban Pleasures

As a kid, after a hard day’s “work” with my old man, Mom would have usually requested that we bring a few items with us on our way home. Sometimes it would be a gallon of milk or a dozen eggs. Other times it’d be viandas – platanos, calabaza. malanga.

Yet there was one thing the old man and I stopped to pick up everyday on the way home even without Mom telling us: pan cubano. Cuban bread. A Cuban meal – whether breakfast, lunch or dinner – just isnt complete without Cuban bread. There is no other bread like it that I’ve ever had.

But there was – and still is – always a problem with taking pan cubano home.

Dad would give me a dollar and send me into the local bakery and I’d come out with a big ole pan cubano in one hand and some change in the other. And I’d get in the truck, the old man would start for home and then BAM. The aroma of hot, fresh pan cubano would float around in the truck and hypnotize us. I dont think I can describe that aroma, exactly. It’s quite unique and unbelievably intoxicating.

And there we’d be, Dad and me in the truck driving home after working all day with this loaf of bread on the seat between us and its delicious aroma driving us crazy. My stomach growling and me staring at that pan sitting their out of the corner of me eye.

It was only a matter of time, of course. Because it’s Cuban bread and because youre hungry and because the aroma is filling your very soul and because you just cant help it. Dad knew I always wanted a piece of el culito, the round end of the loaf. And he’d look at me, then the bread, then back at me and give me the nod. I’d tackle that culito de pan immediately, getting crumbs all over the seat and myself. And the minute that warm, little crunchy part of the bread, along with that soft, white piece of the masita clinging to it would hit my mouth, it was heaven. Obviously, dad had his ulterior motive in letting me have a piece of pan: he’d get his share as well.

Me and Dad on our way home in the late afternoon munching on fresh Cuban bread and feeling a little guilty. “Save some for your mother,” he’d always say.

The problem with a loaf of Cuban bread is that it never, ever, makes it home in one piece.

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Babalú reader Omar sent me a few mouth-watering photographs of pan cubano from his panaderia that Id like to share with you.

Here’s a close-up of truly authentic Cuban bread, con la palmita and everything:

pancubano2.jpg

Here’s a stack of fresh, hot panes cubano:

pancubano3.jpg

And last but not least, pan cubano heaven:

pancubano.jpg

All we need now is un poquito de aceite oliva con ajo y un cafe con leche. Aint nothing like a piece of cuban bread swabbed in olive oil with a little garlic and a cafe con leche chaser.

Lo que diera yo por un culito de pan ahora mismo.

16 thoughts on “Guilty Cuban Pleasures”

  1. Wow …. this takes me back, waaaay back. When I was a kid, I’d carry these home by my mom’s hand,’cause they smelled hmmmm so good, con palmita y todo. They were almost bigger than I was. Thanks so much … I will print and mail it to my dear mother, who will get a kick out of it.

  2. You guys did not mention pan cubano on a plancha, with butter, and of course cafe con leche with a mixture of evaporated and condensed milk…

    Or Pan Cubano with chorizos off la plancha, or with ham and cheese?

    hmmmmm……

  3. Pardone, but what is that green rope/thread running through the pan loaves? I’ve never seen that before, but then I probably haven’t had true Cuban pan before.

    However, it does look delish and the thought of hot bread and garlic is making my mouth water at this very instant…

  4. The world is divided into two kinds of people — those who like the crust and those who, like me, tunnel their way through the middle.

  5. You are worse that Steve for posting those photos!
    I blame about 20 pounds on having lived in Lafayette, LA for about 30 years where every little corner store has its own delicous French bread that looks remarkly like Cuban bread.
    BTW it took me about 15 trys of my numberous type key names and passwords, mostly misspellings from the past, to get on to your comments. Luckily I have Firefox and that is a giant help.
    Congratulations are in order to me!

  6. Oh, man that looks good! Almost cruel to show that to us in the hinterlands. Going to Miami in June. Going to bring back bread, that’s for sure. Damn, that brings back memories of my grandparents!

  7. The palm frond is placed into the dough prior to cooking to keep the bread straight. It achieves this by slightly splitting open the bread, which in turn gives it its appearance (see how the “top” of the bread looks). Some people claim that it enhances its taste.

    Without the frond, however, the dough would twist itself into a curly Q or something other than a “Pan Cubano”.

  8. Note to Ventanita and Luis. Don’t get your hopes up on finding this bread in Miami. The pictures were taken in Tampa, a five minute drive from where Jose Marti made one of his best speeches.

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