Pan de jamón is the traditional Venezuelan Christmas bread. It means simply ‘ham bread’. It is much more than that in terms of deliciousness.
What is pan de jamón history?
Pan de jamón was allegedly developed in a Caracas bakery at the start of the 20th century, by a thrifty baker called Gustavo Ramella who had some leftover ham he didn’t want to waste. He used it as a filling for soft bread dough, rolled up like a log.
His creation became so popular it gained an iconic status of the star Christmas bake in Venezuela.
What is the recipe for the pan de jamón dough?
Since its original creation, more and more households started baking their own pan de jamón and, as is often the case, the recipes started to become varied.
I have trawled both the English-speaking, American immigrant recipes as well as the original Venezuelan ones and they come in a wide variety indeed.
They often involve simple bread dough, sometimes cut all the corners using ready-made puff pastry, and oftentimes the ham and other fillings are stuffed into laminated pastry: like Danish, only savoury.
That was also my choice for this recipe, not least because it makes the lightest and tastiest bread which keeps incredibly well for a few days.
Laminated dough the easy way
But, you will cry, laminated dough is impossible to make by an averagely skilled home baker! The rolling out of butter blocks, the folding of the pastry to create zillions of layers, the chilling and rolling out that takes whole days! I agree and I’m not keen on making laminated pastry myself. But here’s a surprise.
This ingenious recipe for easy Danish pastry is not an oxymoron: it’s Samantha Seviratne’s version of Danish that streamlines the process, eliminates the butter blocks and minimises the folding. And, unlike some ‘easy’ versions of difficult recipes, it actually works.
How to make the easy laminated dough?
It takes a few days to complete because mixed dough needs to chill in the fridge for between 3 hours and 3 days, then another day when finished and before shaping and baking. So it takes a little planning, but it’s a small effort compared to the marvellous outcome.
The dough is leavened with yeast, and after mixing all the dry ingredients by hand or in a standing mixer, an inordinately large amount of butter is added to them. Well – after all it’s the buttery, laminated pastry we’re aiming for.
So far, so shortcrust: the butter needs to be very cold and diced quite small. You can cut it with two knives into the flour mix, or give it a minute of a standing mixer paddle attachment action.
You absolutely do NOT want to get to the breadcrumb/wet sand stage though: the butter globules should be very much visible, just a bit smaller, dispersed and coated in flour.
That mixture needs some binding, and that’s going to be an egg beaten with cold milk. Fold it in with a spatula or a wooden spoon – mixer is really not essential in this process.
Now the dough will be wrapped in cling film and go to the fridge for a few hours or a couple of days.
Rolling, rolling, rolling
There is some rolling and folding involved, I won’t beat around the bush. But I promise it’s supremely doable.
Just dust the dough and the rolling pin with flour and try to keep it to a rectangular shape.
First roll it out into a long rectangle, about 40 x 20cm (15 x 8 inch). If the butter tries to peek through, smother it with a little flour.
Fold the top third of the rectangle into the middle, then the bottom third over it and turn it 90 degrees to one side.
Roll out again, fold over and turn. After the third folding, rewrap the dough and dispatch it to the fridge.
It will need to be all done again, the same way, but only once, and this time the dough should be much smoother, with less distinctly visible butter blobs. Off to the fridge and it can stay there overnight or up to two days again.
What filling for pan de jamón?
Traditionally and plainly – sliced ham. But the addition of briny olives and sweet raisins is so gorgeous, you can’t resist it.
Bacon is in my view important to add too, for the variety of flavours but also because it will help the inside layers of pastry bake properly thanks to its fat content. Just make sure not to overload the pan – it’s tempting to be lavish, but the slices will fall apart messily if you do.
Shaping pan de jamón
When the dough has had its long, final rest, it will be easy to roll out reasonably thinly – into a rectangle of about 30 x 40cm (12 x 16 inch).
Arrange the bacon and ham slices side by side, to cover the whole surface, then scatter raisins and thinly sliced olives all over.
Roll it up as tightly as you can into a log. Seal the seam, using beaten egg to make the pastry edges stick, and sit it on the seam, on a parchment lined baking tray. It will now need to proof for about an hour or an hour and a half though don’t expect a huge rise, just a slight puffing up.
It will bake for about 40 minutes in the lower part of a hot oven. Don’t worry if butter pools out around the loaf – with this simple method it’s impossible to incorporate it wholly into the pastry, but a little leakage won’t impair the end product. The loaf might also crack along a side but again, no harm to the taste experience.
You’ll have to let pan de jamón cool down a little before slicing it. It is delightful on the day: delicate in taste, savoury with the unexpected bursts of sweetness from the raisins.
But it keeps incredibly well and doesn’t need toasting or warming up for up to three days. All that butter doesn’t go in there for nothing!
More Christmas bread recipes
Pompe à huile, sweet olive oil brioche traditionally served in Provence, South-East France, at Christmas. With orange flavour and a strange name (‘oil pump’), it’s one of 13 Provençal Christmas desserts.
Joululimppu, Finnish Christmas bread with rye flour, buttermilk, aniseed flavours and treacle – quite an unusual and wonderful Christmas bake. In Finnish it means just that: ‘Christmas bread’.
Dabo - traditional Ethiopian honey and milk bread. Delicious Ethiopian yemarina yewotet dabo, which means honey and milk bread, includes indeed a generous amount of honey in the ingredients.
More laminated pastry recipes
Danish bagel wheels: easy Danish pastry recipe shaped into savoury pastry pinwheels with sesame, poppy seeds and almonds. Savoury Danish pastries with seeds and nuts are just the thing for brunch.
Kouign amann, pronounced kween ah-mon, is Breton butter pastry, similar to croissants but with added sugar and extra butter. My recipe is a cheat’s kouign amann, easier to make and not quite as calorific as the traditional pastry from Brittany.
Rough puff, or flaky pastry, is quick and easy to make especially if you own a food processor. It might not be as delicate as traditional puff but it’s easy and enormously satisfying to make.