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Breaking Bread in Ecuador

8 Jun

Meeting your spouse’s extended family can be a dizzying experience, especially when you happen to be in a country you’ve never visited and there is a slight language barrier. There are so many new faces, names and relationships to navigate.  Last September, my husband and I, along with his parents and aunt, visited Ecuador for a family trip. We visited many of his family members and I was enchanted by their warm and welcoming demeanor. Although I have many fond memories from that trip, one will always stay especially close to my heart.

We visited my father-in-law’s oldest sister, Lidita, at her home outside of Quito. She and her husband, Felix, have a beautiful home on a large plot of land, with rolling green lawns and fruit trees everywhere. In the corner of the property they had a great wood-burning oven and I was delighted to hear we were going to be making bread and using that oven for baking later in the day. After lunch on the lawn, we traveled to the patio where the oven was awaiting us. The fire was lovingly tended to until the flames roared then subsided.  A large, oval, wooden bowl was brought outside and the bread dough was kneaded by hand in that vessel. It was heartwarming to see all the children intently watching how the dough turned from a wet and soggy mass to a soft and pliable dough. Once the dough was rested and ready, everyone helped to form it into different shapes. Some were filled with cheese or jam and others just rolled into balls. I loved seeing all the flour-covered hands and laughing faces.They were brushed with a wash and placed in the oven, near the fiery logs. When they emerged they were perfectly golden brown, and everyone could hardly wait to enjoy the soft, pillowy rolls.

I didn’t write down any recipes that day, but that memory will be one I won’t soon forget. Instead I have a recipe for a bread dough that has the same characteristics and can be made in a electric standing mixer. Soft and slightly sweet, they are perfect alongside coffee in morning or can be eaten as dinner rolls. Whenever you choose to make them, be sure to have a few people nearby to spread the love (and flour) around.

Pan de Familia (Family Bread)

Makes about 12 rolls

1 package of dry active yeast

3/4 cup of warm milk (body temperature)

1 tablespoon of sugar

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons of salt

1 large egg

2 large egg yolks

1 stick of melted butter (unsalted)

milk, for brushing

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the yeast sugar and milk. Let sit for 10 minutes or until it gets foamy. Meanwhile combine the flour and salt in a large bowl and whisk to combine.

Place 2 cups of the flour mixture in the mixer and begin to beat on a medium low speed for 2 minutes. Combine the egg, yolks and melted butter in a small bowl and stir to combine. Add the egg/butter mixture to the flour in the mixer and beat for 3 minutes. Add the 3rd cup of flour and beat on medium speed for 8-10 minutes or until the dough collects around the hook and is smooth to the touch. Place the dough into a lightly oiled bowl and let it rest for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Tear off pieces of the dough (about the size of a lime) and roll them until they are rounded. Place them on greased baking sheets and allow to rest in a warm place for 15 minutes. Brush the rolls with a little milk and bake on the center oven rack until golden, about 18-20 minutes, being sure to rotate the pan half-way through to ensure even browning. Remove from the oven and enjoy immediately or transfer to wire racks to cool.