From those long hours of running around in the kitchen, me and my sister, helping my mom, and asking all the time tips of her recipes, I learnt how to make the 4 main dishes from Venezuelan Christmas food tradition.
Pan de Jamón (Ham Bread) is one of the most loved Christmas food from Venezuelan cuisine. It was invented by a baker from Caracas, who was looking for a way to get new clients and give something special to the people during Christmas times. He added typical elements from the Spanish cuisine, like olives and raisins, plus ham and bacon. The result is a delicious bread that slowly is making its way in the international cuisine as long as we, venezuelan food lovers, learn to make it and spread it.
Pan de Jamón (Ham Bread)
Typical Venezuelan Christmas Ham bread
For 2 big breads (32 cm - 12.5 inches aprox.), or 4 smaller breads (25 cm- 9.8 inches aprox.)
- 1kg (or 2.2 Lbs, or 4 cups and a bit more) Wheat Flour (all purpose)
- 2 cups of milk
- 6Tbs. Sugar
- 2Tbs. Yeast (fresh the better) + 1Tbs. sugar
- 6 eggs (complete) + 1 egg yolk (yellow of the egg) to decorate
- 100 gr. (or 3.5 oz) Margarine room temperature
- 1Tbs. salt
- 1kg (or 2.2 Lbs) Cooked Ham
- 250gr. (o.5 lbs) Bacon
- 1 cup Raisins
- 1 cup olives filled with paprika (you can avoid them if you don't like olives, like me!)
Warm half of the milk and add the yeast and sugar (1Tbs). Mix well and cover until it ferments, keep covered until use.
Clean very well the surface where you will work. Form a "volcano" with the fluor (make a mountain and open a hole in the center until you reach your work table). Add all the ingredients for the dough in the center, except the salt that has to be spread around (outside) the "volcano". Be specially careful to add the liquid milk with yeast in the center to avoid a river out of the volcano!, if happens, mix all very quickly.
Mix all from inside to outside and and add liquid or flour if needed when kneading (if too sticky add flour, too dry add the rest of the milk by portions, its a matter of how the dough feels when touching it). Be patience and keep on kneading and kneading until you get a homogeneous dough.
Let the dough rest for 1 hour or more, in a warm place without wind. Place it in a bowl covered with a warm wet towel (I usually put it in my previously light-warmed -and then off- oven). After 1 hour, the dough size should have grown the double. Place it in the working surface and hit it with your fists (to release the air inside the dough). Knead again for some minutes until you feel the dough soft and firm.
Cut in half, or in 4 pieces. For each piece (one by one) spread the dough with a roller in a rectangular form. Cut the borders to make it even and keep them apart. Then add the ingredients for the filling as follows:
First the Ham slices, covering the whole dough, leaving 5 cms (2 in.) on one of the ends of the long side of the rectangle, then spread the bacon leaving spaces between, parallel to the long side of the rectangle. Spread the raisins, and the olives.
Now its time to roll up. From the opposite end of the rectangle to where you left the 5 cms (2 in.), begin to roll up carefully but not tight (so when baking the bread won't open), when reaching the end, brush water in the 5 cm (2 in.) left of the dough, roll up and paste. Keep the union on the down side of the bread.
Use the rest of the dough you have reserved when cutting the borders of the rectangle off, to decorate as you wish. (Laces, lines, balls. I used Christmas cookies form for one of the breads). Mix one egg yolk and 1 Tsp sugar and using a cooking brush, paint all the surface of your bread. This will make its surface get shiny and a beautiful dark brown color. Pinch the bread with a fork or a stick to release the vapor when baking.
Place in the oven plate with baking paper, brush with the egg yolk thoroughly and let it rest for 30 mins. before baking.
Bake at 180°C-200°C (356°F - 392°F) for 35 mins or until you see its golden brown on the surface. Enjoy the smell and keep an eye on it while baking!
Serve warm, cut in slices and enjoy !