In Venezuela the typical Christmas bread is called Ham Bread or "Pan de Jamón". It goes alongside the traditional "Hallaca" but that's another posting (coming soon) This is my vegetarian version of the bread, where I substitute the ham for cheese. It's not quite the same but the result is very good. This is a recipe that have been in my family for many years, and it's from my great aunt Luisa. Thank you Tia Luisa! and Merry Christmas. This recipe yields 4 big cheese breads or 8 small ones, but you can cut in half all the ingredients if you want to make fewer breads.
- 3/4 cup warm water
- pinch sugar
- 1 envelope yeast
- 2.2 pounds of unbleached flour, either all purpose or bread flour (you can substitute for 1 pound unbleached flour + 1 pound whole wheat flour for a wholesome bread, this gives a nice texture and hearty flavor)
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 cup milk
- 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 3 eggs
- 2 pounds sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (you can also use Gouda or Jarlsberg if you prefer, or even better a mixture of them!)
- 1 cup pitted "manzanilla" Spanish olives, filled with pimento peppers
- 1 cup raisins
- 1 egg plus 1 tablespoon milk for brushing (optional, but it gives a nice shine and final color)
Mix the warm water with the pinch of sugar in a small bowl and drizzle the yeast on top. Cover with a towel and let it rest for 15 minutes until frothy, all the yeast must be dissolved in the water. In another bowl mix the flour and the salt and set aside. In a large bowl or the bowl of a standing mixer, lightly beat the eggs and add the milk, melted butter and the yeast mixture. Either way add the flour little by little to the eggs mixture and beat until incorporated. If using a mixer use the hook and beat until the dough is soft and separates from the bowl, about 5 minutes. If doing by hand incorporate all the flour and knead for 10 minutes until soft. Let it rest covered in an oiled bowl for 2 hours or until doubled.
Punch down and divide in 4 or 8 parts (depending on the size of bread that you like, the one in the picture was made dividing the dough in 8 pieces). For 8 pieces roll the dough in a 13x10 inches rectangle, cover uniformly with 1 cup of the shredded cheese, 1/4 cup of the olives and 1/4 cup of the raisins. Roll the dough (like making cinnamon rolls) into a log that will measure 13 inch long. Arrange them in a parchment paper lined baking sheet, two breads in each one. Let it rest for 45 minutes. If making 4 breads roll the dough in a 15x15 inches square, cover uniformly with 2 cups of the shredded cheese, 1/2 cup of the olives and 1/2 cup of the raisins. Repeat the same procedure for rolling and arrange them one in each baking sheet, let them rest for 45 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350°. Pinch the breads with a fork several times in the top and brush with the egg glaze. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown. Let them cool briefly in a rack, and cut in slices 1/2 inch thick. I hope you will like this recipe!