Saturday, December 26, 2009
Yes, as in a midnight Cuban sandwich.
Yes, as in a midnight Cuban sandwich pie.
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When I first read through all the recipes in the book, I read this and took a double take. You first build your own dough for the top and bottom crusts, from scratch, and then build a medianoche sangüiche (midnight sandwich) in between.
It’s scary. It really is. And as you’re going through the process the first time, I’ll advise for someone to hold your hand, or help you balance on one leg because that dough is soft, mushy and very hard to handle.
But when it’s baked to crispy golden perfection and the smell of the hot swiss cheese, ham, turkey and Cuban pork come wafting out of your oven – you know you just have to sit down and realize what you’ve just accomplished.
You’ve achieved absolute homemade Cuban greatness.
Recipe #416: Pastel de Medianoche This recipe starts with a visit to your grocery deli and an incredibly sweet attitude. You’ll need the sweetness because when you ask the deli person what you need for them to do for you, they may not be so customer service friendly.
Luckily, the Publix at Dadeland has a deli person named Julie that is beyond sweet. I’ve done this to her twice already and even after she helped me the first time, she still says hi and helped me out a second time when I made this recipe for my cousin’s baby shower a few weeks after making the pastel the first time.
If you don’t go to the Dadeland Publix and have Julie to help you, then simply write what you need on a piece of paper and just give it to the deli person with a smile. Maybe you don’t need to do it this way, but since I’m a super nerd when it comes to my food prep, this is how I ask for the ingredients:
Hi! I’ll need four different types of bags for my ingredients. They’re all ½ pounders, except for one that’s a ¼ pound. They’re all sliced thin, but not see-through, rippable thin. The slices need to not rip.
The ½ pounders are: sweet ham, swiss cheese and Cuban roast pork.
The ¼ pounder is smoked turkey.
See, simple. Julie helped me find the best way to ask for my order. At first, I was scared to ask her because I actually wanted to make two of these pasteles for a Christmas dinner so I had six ½ pounders and two ¼ pounders…but see, then I start getting complicated.
Leave the order as above and just make one pastel. At least make just one the first time. Then, you can show off and make this your signature dish at baby shower buffets!
Once you get the deli bags home, put everything in the fridge and get the ingredients for the dough out.
You start by sifting flour, sugar, salt and grated nutmeg with Polvo Royal. Polvo Royal is double action baking powder, not gelatin powder like I first thought. That would have made this a real disaster. Thanks to a little asking around and some help from a cashier’s at Sedanos, I found out what Polvo Royal was. And, it seems that in Cuba they didn’t have double action, but only single action, so since this recipe calls for two teaspoons of Polvo Royal, you cut it by half to one teaspoon.
Once you’ve sifted all the dry ingredients, you add a stick of butter, a tablespoon at a time, and mix it well with a pastry mixer. I actually bought mine randomly a few weeks ago at Publix and couldn’t believe it was coming in so handy for this recipe. i had never even seen one in person before - only on Food Network.
Once you have the butter mixed in, you should see a grainy texture, kind of like sand, or like little tiny pellets. Then, you add in the wet ingredients – egg yolks that you have beaten into a whole egg BEFORE you put them into the mix (oops), dry white cooking wine and vegetable oil. Make sure it’s all mixed in well, using a spatula or wooden spoon. Then, knead the dough with your hands, just a little.
Here’s the weird part – the measurements Nitza gives makes this dough too wet to handle easily. It doesn’t drip, but it sticks so much to your hands, you’ve got to work quickly. I learned the second time, that if you divide the dough in half and wrap each half immediately with plastic wrap and throw it in the fridge until you can breathe again, it helps.
I won’t say the measurements are wrong, however, because the end result is just perfect; I’m just saying this masa (dough) is a bear to handle.
While the masa is chilling so it behaves when YOU’RE ready, take out a round 9" glass pie Pyrex. Grease it up with butter, of course. Ack, my arteries.
Get one of the wrapped halves of masa and take it out. Pat it while still inside the plastic wrap. Why? Because Ms. Chef here didn’t own a rolling pin. And when did I realize it? Right at this moment in the recipe.
Why can’t I remember to really read through the whole recipe? Nitza doesn’t even mention a rolling pin. I read over "rodillo" and didn’t even think twice that she was talking about a rolling pin.
But, guess what? The dough is so sticky, the rolling pin I now own – my beautiful Kris Kringle gift from Williams Sonoma that matches the red in my kitchen (thanks, Sandra!) – doesn’t work with this. The dough sticks tooooooo much!
So, you pat it out, into the bottom of the greased Pyrex, with your hands. In the baking, I promise you that all the imperfections get erased. Just make sure you have the bottom fully covered and up the sides fully covered as well. That’s the bottom crust for your pie. It will be fine without being perfect.
Think of this as a rustic dish!
Then, the fun part begins…the layering of the medianoche sangüiche guts. You squeeze out some zig zags of mustard all along the bottom and spread gently (gently!) with a butter knife (or non sharp knife). Now, let your inner obsessive compulsions run free as you lay down the first layer of ham, round and round right on top of the mustard. Then, layer the turkey, then the pork, then the swiss cheese.
And then some more mustard and…the pickles. Slices of kosher dill pickle, just like the ones in the sangüiche you know and love. You can make this half pickles and half non-pickles if you've got picky eaters.
Another round of layering and you end with the ooey gooey swiss cheese, right before closing the pie with the top masa lid. You know that top cheese is just going to seep way, way down and melt all the flavors together.
Now, take the second masa out of the fridge. If you have one of those bendable, thin plastic cutting boards, use it here so that you can pat out the masa with your palms to the size you need to cover the pie. If not, use parchment paper and gently lay the dough over the pie while still on the parchment paper.
Remember that this dough is very forgiving (it better be for the pain it is to work with) and you can actually fix the top if it didn’t land exactly how you wanted it to land.
Then, with a fork, you crimp the edges and with a sharp knife, you make slits on the top, like a real fancy baker would do.
And that’s it. You put it in the oven that had been preheated to 375 degrees and let it bake for 50 minutes.
Other tips that I’ll share, now that I’ve made three of these pasteles –
Don’t offer to bring this as an appetizer, unless you trick yourself and say that your party starts two hours before it really starts. Either that, or just have this served with the main dish. Each time I’ve taken it somewhere, we end up being late because it takes so long to make.
Watch out with dripping juices. I think it’s the ooey gooey cheese that bubbles over, but make sure you use good oven mitts or kitchen towels to take the pastel out of the oven.
Bring a second one. You’ll find yourself serving 16 pieces to feed the army you call your family and then the 17th person, most likely your abuela, will come and she’ll be left empty handed. You don’t want to do that. Bring a second pastel (after you’ve made just one simple one in the kitchen one day with lots of time and no pressure – ha!).
This can be your signature dish. It’s become mine so far. I’ll take this dish anywhere, anytime. Man, I wish the ingredients for Herald Top Chef would have been pickles and sticky dough – I would have taken Top Chef Silvia down for the count!