Feature Foreign Food: Pan Amasado
On this blog, I’ve had a series of posts on foreign fruits I’ve encountered “so that even if you don’t come visit us in each country we live, you’ll get a little taste of what it’s like in each place” (see the original post for more explanation). However, I’ve decided in this post to expand it to a feature foreign food: pan amasado.
Pan amasado (literally “kneaded bread” in Spanish) is a traditional and very popular Chilean bread. I was introduced to it on my very first trip to Chile in 2003. In Albert’s family, it is served both at breakfast and “once.” Once is the afternoon/evening meal in Chile that involves, at its most basic, tea or coffee and bread with butter, “manjar” (aka dulce de leche), jam, mashed avocado and/or ham & cheese. It is the Chilean version of English high tea or Spanish merienda.
Pan amasado is actually a pretty simple recipe (see end of this post) and I’ve made it myself with some success. But, the really good pan amasado comes from (a) someone who is an excellent kneader and (b) someone who has access to an adobe oven.
As for the kneading…My mother-in-law, Haydee, and her mother before her, Abuelita (little/dear grandmother) as everyone calls her, are both amazing kneaders. Talk about ambidextrous: they knead a ball of dough in each hand at the same time. To me, it would be like tapping my head and rubbing my belly at the same time: I can do it really slowly if I really think about it but there’s no way I could do it as well or as fast as they do. When people make pan amasado, they generally make a lot of them—usually a couple hundred at a time. So Haydee, Abuelita and other women in Albert’s family have to be efficient and there’s no more efficient way to do it than to knead bread in both hands at the same time!
As for the oven…most people in Albert’s family (and Chile overall) that live in the countryside have an outdoor adobe oven. To heat it up, they start a fire and let it burn inside for an hour or two. Then, they scrape out the coals and put in the bread to bake. As the fire itself was in the oven, the bottom of the bread often has a bit of ash on it and somehow that adds to the flavor. Although pan amasado is good when it is baked in a regular gas or electric oven, there’s just no comparing it to when it is baked in an adobe oven. It has a more complex and satisfying flavor. Plus, the crust seems to be more crunchy and the inside more soft when it is baked in an adobe oven. Finally, to me, there’s something more satisfying about the experience itself when the bread is baked there. Waking up in the chill morning hours to huddle around the adobe oven, watching the bread bake with the early-morning light streaming in, all the while chatting with family…it’s special. And then, of course, when the bread is taken out a few at a time on a long wood spatula, dumped in a basket and finally offered to anyone who’s been waiting to grab a first bite…there’s nothing better.
But don’t let the kneading and the lack of adobe oven prohibit you from trying the bread yourself! It’s simple but satisfying and definitely worth the effort.
Pan Amasado Recipe
6 cups bread flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 envelopes yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup melted shortening
about 2 cups water
Stir the yeast and sugar into 1/2 cup lukewarm water. Set aside until almost doubled and foamy. If it does not foam, start over. Put flour and salt into a large bowl. Make a well and add 1 1/2 cups lukewarm water, the yeast and the shortening. Mix until it forms a ball. Add more water or flour if needed. Knead until smooth and elastic. Turn in greased bowl until ball is greased, then cover and let rise until doubled in bulk. Turn ball out onto floured board. Divide into pieces, form into somewhat flat circles and place on cookie sheet. Cover with damp paper towels and let rise again for about 30 minutes. Bake at 400 degrees until quite brown, 15-17 minutes. Remove and cool on racks.