Throughout the month of December, Venezuelan bakers produce countless loaves of pan de jamón — sweet dough rolls containing ham, olives, raisins and sometimes bacon that are baked and sliced. Served alongside hallacas (tamales), pernil (roast pork), ensalada de gallina (chicken salad) and ponche de crema (eggnog) on Christmas Eve, the recipe hails from a bakery in Caracas, Venezuela. It is simple to prepare and often shared with loved ones.
When I return to Florida for the holidays, I am greeted by one of my favorite adopted traditions: a pan de jamón prepared by family friends or neighbors in place of the traditional fruitcakes and panettones. While roasted pork and glazed hams dominate holiday tables throughout Latin America, the lighter and varied seasonal dishes like Venezuela’s pan de jamón are all the more special for coming only once a year.
Pan de Jamón Navideño: Christmas Ham Bread Recipe
Serves 8 to 10
This recipe was given to me by my friend Alberto Ferreras, who also substitutes a refrigerated baguette dough. If using a premade dough, roll out the dough to the desired thickness, then fill and bake as directed.
For the bread:
1/2 cup warm water (110 to 115 degrees F)
1/2 cup whole milk (110 to 115 degrees F)
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
2 large whole eggs, well beaten
2 teaspoons kosher salt
4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
Olive oil plus more for greasing the bowl
For the filling:
1/2 pound boiled ham, thinly sliced
1 cup pimiento-stuffed green olives, sliced
1/2 cup dark raisins
3 slices slab bacon
1 large egg beaten with 1tablespoon water
Prepare the dough. Combine the water, milk, sugar and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer. Let it stand until it begins to foam, about 10 minutes.
Using the paddle attachment, add the eggs and salt to the yeast mixture; stir at low speed until well-incorporated, 1 to 2 minutes. Use the dough hook attachment and add the flour one cup at a time, alternating with the butter until both are well incorporated, about 3 to 5 minutes. Increase the speed to medium and continue to beat until the dough is smooth and elastic and pulls away from sides of bowl, about 10 minutes. Pour the dough onto a lightly floured surface and shape into a ball.
Lightly oil a large mixing bowl. Place the dough in the greased bowl, punch it down, reshape it into a ball, then turn it over once. Cover the bowl with lightly oiled plastic wrap and place in a warm draft-free place. Allow to rise until it doubles in bulk, about 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a large 13-by-18-by-1-inch baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick liner.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll out the dough to a 1/4-inch-thick rectangle.
Cover the dough with an even layer of ham. Sprinkle with the olives and raisins. Lay the bacon horizontally across the dough. Starting with the long end closest to you, roll the doll tightly and evenly to form a log. Transfer the roll seam-side down to the prepared sheet. Allow to rise in a draft-free place, about 1 hour.
Brush the tops of the rolls with the egg wash. Bake until golden brown, about 35 to 40 minutes. Remove the loaf from the oven and allow to cool before slicing, about 20 minutes. Slice and serve.
Ana Sofia Peláez covers the spectrum of Spanish and Latin American cuisine on her blog, hungrysofia.com. From the rich smells and flavors of the Cuban food she grew up with to modern Peruvian causas, hearty Brazilian feijodas and delicate Mexican flor de calabaza soup, she’s always looking for her next great meal.