Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Pan de Jamón

 A crappy bike and 6.4 ft of pink flesh

A long time ago we were working on a movie in Bogor, Java, Indonesia. Our hotel was up on a hill, the set down in the valley. There were guys, with bicycles, that would take you up and down for a nominal fee. A very nominal fee for Western standards.

We were very happy the guys were there; they were part of the local infra structure and knew their way around like no one else; perfect! So, we decided to reward them for their services with a fee, three times the amount they were used to.

The next morning, depending on our cyclists to get to set on time, we found they had gone. And we didn't see them again until we were almost done shooting on that specific location, about three days later.

When I saw one of them, swinging in his hammock on the porch of his house, and asked him why he didn't come back, and make more money, he seemed puzzled and answered: "Why? I have enough for 3 days".

Suddenly I realized the crossed looks that I thought we had been getting from the other locals using the cyclists' services were very much reality. We had seriously interfered with the town's mobility, and our incentive backfired, or rather... just didn't work.

These guys didn't want to gather capital, they didn't go out to buy a bigger bike, or another one and rent it out, like you and me probably would have done. They just worked as much money together as they needed to support themselves and their loved ones, and were happy they could spend time with them instead of dragging 6.4 ft of slightly pink young Dutch adult flesh up on a hill on the back of a crappy bike.

Take as much as you need

Pan de Jamón is a traditional Venezuelan bread served around Xmas and New Year's Eve. It originates from the times of slavery and was made with the plantation owner's Xmas dinner left overs. Another Venezuelan dish, hallacas, stems from the same tradition and can also be found on many a dinner table around this time of the year.

Pretty much every family in Venezuela has their own Pan de Jamón recipe that they cherish. Being married to a Venezuelan myself for almost two years now, I have been making my share of Pan de Jamóns. It is still pretty much a work in progress and light years away of ever becoming as legendary as Granny's, but I'll get there over the years, I guess.

There are beautiful specimen of Pan de Jamón floating around out there, intricately shaped, upgraded to fit the festive dinner table of the 21st century. It's a basic white dough with a nice filling of ham, olives, raisins and sometimes smoked bacon. The bread in the picture is made by Nelson Alfonso Suarez Navarro, from Venezuela.

Eating Pan de Jamón always reminds me of the cyclists in Indonesia. This bread, lovingly put together from bits and pieces by people who owned nothing. Those cyclist guys that didn't even bother trying to get the concept of taking more than you need.

And, oh yes! It also reminds me of the little girl in Benin, Africa, a few years ago. On the back of a moped this time on the way home from a shoot, my "driver", who had been speaking the local language to me for the last two weeks and hadn't showed the slightest sign of being bothered about the fact I couldn't understand a thing he was saying, suddenly hit the brakes.

There was a little girl, walking home from school. And my driver decided to give her a lift. The girl was smiling from ear to ear and handed to me on the back of the moped. I gave her back, because I had no clue what to do with a smiling African child on the back of a moped at 45 miles an hour.

When she eventually found her space, standing between the legs of the driver, barely looking over the steering wheel, and holding on with dear life, all the time with that full blown smile over her face, she started humming. The driver finally shut up and started humming with her, and I've never felt more content than with those two on that moped on the "Route de Pêches" in Cotonou now 6 years ago.

Pan de Jamón

1 loaf (4 to 6 people)


    •    3/4 cup (185 gr.) warm milk
    •    4 tablespoons (60 gr.) unsalted butter
    •    2 tablespoons (25 gr.) sugar
    •    1 teaspoon (6 gr.) salt
    •    1 (1/4-ounce) package (7 gr.) active dry yeast
    •    1/4 cup (60 gr.) lukewarm (110°F/43°C) water
    •    3 1/2 cups (450 gr.) all purpose flour
    •    1 beaten egg
    •    2 tablespoons (30 gr.) melted butter 
    •    1/2 pound (225 gr.) ham, thinly sliced
    •    1/2 cup (80 gr.) raisins
    •    1/2 cup (225 gr.) Pimento-stuffed olives 
    •    2 egg yolks


1.    Add the milk, 4 tablespoons butter, sugar and salt to a saucepan and heat, stirring until the butter is melted and the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and set aside to cool to lukewarm.

2.    Mix the warm water and yeast together in a small bowl and set aside for 5 to 10 minutes to activate the yeast.

3.    Add 3 cups of the flour to large mixing bowl. Add the yeast mixture, warm milk and beaten egg. Mix and bring the dough together. Knead by machine or hand until it's elastic and silky and doesn't stick to your hands any more.

4.     Transfer the dough to a large, lightly oiled bowl. Cover with a clean towel or plastic wrap and set in a warm corner until about doubled in size, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

5.     Preheat oven to 375°F/190°C. Roll the dough out into a rectangle about 12 inches wide and 15 inches long. Brush the top surface of the dough with the 2 tablespoons of melted butter. Spread the the ham, raisins and olives evenly over the dough, leaving a margin of about 1 inch/2½ cm around the edges. Starting from the bottom, roll the dough up into a loaf. Pinch the seam and fold under the ends to seal.

6.     Place the loaf seam-side down on a baking sheet and cover it lightly with a clean towel. Set aside to rise for another 30 to 45 minutes.

7.     Beat the egg yolks with a tablespoon of water. Brush the top of the loaf all over with the egg  wash. Place the bread in the oven and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the bread is golden brown on top and has a hollow sound when you tap on it. Remove and cool before serving.


    •    Some recipes include smoked bacon in the filling.
    •    Try adding some sliced Cheddar, Old Amsterdam or Swiss cheese to the filling.

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