Friday, September 22, 2006

Ask a Cuban-American, Installment #2

Dear Cuban-American

Why is cuban bread shaped the way it is (making it so inconvenient to carry with the other groceries), and why does it have a blade of grass on top of it???

I had no earthly idea what this guy was talking about so I called in the Cuban food experts at that have written two great cook books: Celebrate Cuban and Cook Cuban.

This is what they said:

Why is the bread long? We guess the long loaf may have come from Spain, where today a similar bread is popular. (You see it in tapas bars to make various sandwiches.) It may also have been influenced from the French baguette. In any case, it is a bread that is made for sandwiches.

In the larger cities of Cuba (BC), people would drive a long nail into a post or wall on their front porches and the bread man would come around each morning and hang a loaf of fresh bread from the nail.

You should also know that Tampa Cuban bread tends to be longer and skinnier than its Miami cousin. Miami bread looks more like an Italian loaf than a French one and tends not to be as chewy as the Tampa version.

The one with the blade of grass on top? Only in Tampa! Actually, it's a palmetto leaf and it's placed wet on the loaf before the uncooked bread is put in the oven. The steam from the wet leaf causes the top of the bread to crack. In Miami, bakers typically cut a couple of slits in the top of the bread to achieve the same effect. The palmetto leaf is a trademark of El Segundo Central Bakery on the outskirts of Ybor city in Tampa, although others may have copied it.
Any more questions for the Cuban-American? Send them via email.

Disclaimer: This feature is a complete rip-off of Gustavo Arellano's column "Ask a Mexican".


Val Prieto said...

Pan cubano pictures and more info here:

Experts? Schmexperts! said...

Cuban bread beacme long and narrow during Cuba's war of independence as a means of rationing, partitioning,and distribution. Flour was in short supply, therefore the "long and narrow" was adopted as a means to ration bread for the Mambises-the width of the piece of bread each soldier received depended on the number of loaves available.

The palmetto leaf is placed over the length of the bread to keep it from bending out of shape during the baking process (it acts as a rib or a backbone) given that cuban bread is baked without any type of a mold to maintain its shape. This feature, which dates back to 19th century Cuba and was common there until 1959, existed in Miami in the 1960's, but has since vanished, probably due to its being labor intensive. However in Tampa, bakeries such as "La Segunda Central" and "Faedo's" Bakery" which were founded by Cuban expatriates decades prior 1959 have maintained this style of bread with no changes. See the Babalublog archives pictures cited by Val above. This is true Cuban bread. The pictures were taken in Tampa. This information was provided by the guy who took those pictures. He sounds like he really knows what he is talking about.

Henry "Conductor" Gomez said...

I smell a rat. Omar was the guy that sent Val those great photos and "Omar" sent me the question. Obviously "Omar" knows all about Cuban bread. He has a Cuban bread fixation. LMAO.