A spectacular holiday loaf from Venezuela that's kept in the family. It's a challenging culinary project that will take you all over the kitchen and all over your palate. So let's get right to it.
You will need sliced pork of some sort, basic bread ingredients, olives, capers, butter, dried fruit, 1 beaten egg, and a functional kitchen.
Step 1: The Meat
Jamón is ham, and this loaf traditionally features plenty of it. I make mine with roast pork loin because it is better in every way. It's just about cheapest and leanest cut of meat you can buy, easy to prepare, tasty, and has little waste.
Do everything you can to add flavor. I bury it in spices and let it pickle in the fridge overnight. Roast, water bath, or grill to an internal temperature of 145F. Then let it rest until cool. Slice as thin as you can and bag it to have ready. About 2 pounds is good.
But you can use ham if you want to be old-fashioned.
Step 2: Set Up to Succede
There is a lot of assembly, so gather your ingredients while the dough is rising. We'll go through all of them, but the point is you have to be ready to do a job here. Preparation makes it fun and you will look like a wizard, serenely performing each step.
Step 3: The Dough
This recipe scales, but I suggest you go big. In the highly unlikely scenario there is any left, it can be zipped and frozen.
Here's a nice ball of dough made with 22 oz flour, 13 oz water, 1 tablespoon yeast, 1 teaspoon salt. I want about 60% hydration. We need a lot of gluten structure, so bread flour is better. Knead with a hook for a half hour or so. Cover the bowl to rise and get ready.
Step 4: Roll Out
Hand form the dough into a retangularish shape. Then cover it with plastic and let it relax. You don't want any fight rolling it out.
When it yields, I roll it into an even sheet with a 2:1 shape. My target is 24 by 12 inches, because I use a tiny oven. It is generally made wider.
Controlling hydration, dusting, and a silicone mat help to keep the dough from gluing down. Rolling on top of cling wrap works too, and I'll show that in a later step.
Now lightly butter the whole thing except for a 2 inch strip down the far end.
Step 5: Bring It
This is the fun part. Start just off the edge with a row of green olives, and butt them end-to-end. No spaces. Don't get cheap now — buy the jumbos.
Next dish out the meat. Try to cover every inch except that strip down the far end. Get crazy. Tip: Blot the slices with paper towel if they are wet.
Sprinkle on capers. You can't have too many. Besides, what the heck are you saving capers for anyway?
Same thing with the fruit. Raisins are traditional, but I use Craisins. Everybody agrees they are better, and the color is more festive for holiday gatherings. Lay'em in there.
Step 6: Roll Up
This step can induce some anxiety, but it is far easier than it looks. Take your matt or cling wrap edge and gently start to roll the dough. Keep the roll straight and remember to breathe. No pressure, no slop. Move your hands around to surf the whole wave.
Remember that end strip? Now you can smear it with some egg to make a seal.
Then roll the loaf onto a sheet of baking parchment. Once in place on the baking sheet, go over the whole loaf with egg.
Step 7: Bake to GBAD
Set your EZ Bake to 350F for an hour. You want golden brown and delicious on the outside and a clean skewer coming out of the inside.
Testing with the skewer is essential. *DING*DING*DING* This loaf is very moist and prone to undercooking in the center. But we don't ever fall into that trap, do we? If it needs more baking, do not raise the temp. Just give it another 12 minutes and retest. If the top is brown enough, tent with foil.
Do not stop baking before you are sure that center is done or you will be mad. That's just a theory; it's never happened to me personally.
Step 8: Serve With Restaint
Let the loaf rest on a rack for 15 minutes or so. Then use a serrated or electric knife to cut 1 inch slices for service. See — everybody gets an olive bullseye when you do it right. Nice bread structure right to the core.
The last step is critically important, so you should practice this beforehand. As your dinner guests are chanting 'we are not worthy,' retain a dignified but modest posture. Running around the room with wild fist-pumping or touchdown gestures will tarnish the occasion. Trust me on this.
Step 9: Why Have I Never Heard About This Before?
South Florida is home to many Venezuelan immigrants, and it has been my pleasure to associate with them. Maybe it's a coincidence, but every Venezuelan male I've met loves to cook and hates to talk about it. Pan de Jamón is traditionally made by men. Not one of them would reveal the tiniest detail of how they do this. These are otherwise very gracious people, but it was like I was trying to steal the family jewels. The women think it's nuts and apologize for this rudeness, but they won't say a peep about Pan de Jamón either.
With that frustration off my chest, I hope you will accept this culinary challenge with the disclosure that I pieced it together by guess and by golly.
Toasting makes leftover slices very appealing. You get a whole mouthful of flavors that change from bite to bite. I find mustard and honey/mustard sauces are complimentary, but you could spread jam on the slices. It is a special meal for a special time of year when we break a lot of rules.
Cheers from Sarasota.