The holidays are a time when we are thankful, we are giving, and, most noticeably, we are gluttonous. Not in a bad way, but in a, “I wore these jeans because they are the most stretchy” sort of way. That is why, for me, the most enjoyable way to celebrate during this time of year is to cook and eat the dishes that are so sinfully delicious. I have to take advantage of the holiday situation while it lasts. A traditional dish in Venezuela served during Christmas is Pan de Jamón, a sweet bread filled with Black Forest ham, raisins, and stuffed olives. It is a tangy, sweet, and salty roll that hits all the right notes.
The first time that I made Pan de Jamón, I was in a frenzy to find something new to make for my family’s big New Year’s party. I felt like I needed to start making the traditional recipes my parents grew up so that I could not only pass the recipes down to my own children one day, but also more importantly, so I could make them on my own during the “off-season.”
The traditional recipe is very involved; of course, it was in grams, and I felt like each measurement had to be exact. I followed mi abuelita’s instructions to the gram to ensure that mi Pan de Jamón would be as traditional as could be. Because of that painful attention to detail, my first attempt was delicious. However, I found that the amount of margarine used in the recipe was exorbitant and truly unnecessary. The end product didn’t have enough meat, the melted margarine overpowered the sweetness of the raisins, and the olives were few and far between. The great thing about working the recipe myself is that I could tinker with it and really pull out the flavor of all of the ingredients, adding some extra surprises to the mix.
Fast forward two years, Happy 2012! I made the Pan de Jamón once more. This time around, I did some research to see all of the different variations of this delicious stuffed bread. In my recipe, I added smoked bacon and capers, ditched more than half of the margarine, and increased the amount of raisins to round out the flavor. The result was a moist, flavorful explosion of sweet, savory, smoky, sinful goodness that was a little taste of Venezuela, and a new tradition that I started with my family, which I am now sharing with you.
Pan de Jamón
El Pan/The Bread
500 grams of all-purpose flour
2 TB yeast
4 TB sugar
1 tsp of salt
200 ml of warm milk
4 TB of melted butter
1. Add all of the dry ingredients together. Mix well to combine.
2. Add warm milk, lightly beaten eggs and the melted butter. Mix until all of the liquid is absorbed and the bread separates from the bowl.Tip: In a stand mixer, knead dough with hook on speed 2 until it separates from the bowl. About 2 minutes.
3. Knead the dough, adding flour as needed, until the bread becomes elastic. The bread will be sticky at first, just keep kneading adding a little bit of flour at a time.
Tip: In a stand mixer, knead dough on speed 1, sprinkling flour in the bowl until it appears smooth and elastic. Do not fret if very sticky, just continue adding flour.
4. Place the dough in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Place the dough in a place that is warm with no drafts, such as an oven that is not in use, for about one hour or until the dough has doubled in size.
5. Sprinkle the board and the rolling pin with flour. Roll the dough in the form of a rectangle that is the same size as your cookie sheet.
1 ½ pounds of ham
8 ounces (or more) of sliced smoked bacon
1 – 1 ½ boxes of raisins (personal, 1.5 oz snack size boxes)
½ – ¾ cup halved stuffed olives
¼ cup of capers
1. Ham first. Lay each slice down, with slices overlapping at the edges. Fill up to ½ inch from the edge of the bread.
2. Bacon next. Place slices of bacon on top of the ham, spaced 1 – 1½ inches apart. Again, make sure the slices go to the edges of the dough.
3. Sprinkle the raisins, olives, and capers evenly on the dough. This will ensure that your bread has the correct balance of sweet, salty, tangy and smoky.
4. Roll the bread, as if you were rolling a jellyroll. With yours hands or a brush, wet the edges of the bread to seal. Proceed to fold in the edges on either side of the bread to make a stuffed bread loaf, meaning you cannot see the filing or the spiral of the bread.
5. Place bread on lightly sprayed (only where you are placing the bread, horizontally) cookie sheet, cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place with no drafts, perhaps the oven again, for another hour.
6. Remove plastic wrap from bread. Beat one egg and with a brush, or your hands, rub the egg mixture all over the outside of the bread until it is glistening with egg goodness.
7. With a fork, score the bread 1 inch apart, on all three sides. This will allow the steam for the filling to escape without damaging the shape of the bread.
8. Place bread in 350 degree oven for 40 minutes or until golden.
Let the bread rest a few minutes.
Now slice, grab a glass of wine and enjoy! ¡Buen provecho!