Panquecitos de Narajna
If my posts have been Miami-centric lately it’s because two weeks at home leaves a lot to unpack. I had one more Miami-inspired recipe I wanted to try and I finally got around to it over the long weekend. Since I’ve started this blog, I’ve slowly become less dependent on my trips home for Cuban food. Though I miss the fresh tropical produce and stock up on cans of cascos de guayaba, Brazilian condensed milk and Café Llave when I visit, there is very little (and increasingly less) that I can’t find locally. The restaurants that I loved are long gone or not quite how I remember them though I keep going back — nostalgia adding its own flavor. I promise myself I’ll seek out new spots but fall short and mostly play catch-up from the moment I land.
After a few days in this in-between state, it’s soothing to come across any one thing that’s consistent and unchanging. This time it was Panques de Jamaica. Set under identical square shaped cake stands, guarding the windows of Miami’s coffee kiosks, it couldn’t be more fitting that their logo is a rooster. Plain as madeleines but denser (and fatter), they go well with tea but are really built to stand up to a heaping café con leche. More pound cake than muffin, with a tight even crumb, they’re topped by a smooth dome that can’t be cleanly taken apart but only pecked at like a bird.
The only nod to time passing is that they’re now sold sealed in loose plastic bags like ill fitting uniforms. Noticing the new label, I was struck by the short, simple ingredients list that not even Michael Pollan could object to. Having assumed that they fell into industrial Twinkie category along with everything else I used to love but have learned to fear, I felt so much affection for the tight little cakes that had held their own against the over-processed onslaught. The “panqué legitimo” stamped at the bottom of every one sold, seemed less like a logo, and more like a creed.
Of course the illegitimate ones are great too and there are a million variations. I loved the miniature panquecitos that were brought to your table at Versailles if you were early enough for breakfast, one of my favorite rituals whenever I’m home. Regardless of the hour, we were welcomed by Ernesto, the maitre’d who’d been there as long as I could remember, always perfectly pressed in a three piece suit whether it was 8AM, 8PM or 80+ degrees outside. When he wasn’t there last year, I had the terrible feeling that something was wrong and learned he’d passed away a few months before. I also noticed that the panquecitos never made it to the table though it only seemed right that something should be missing. When I went back again this Christmas, they were still gone and Versailles was irrevocably different in the same way. In the conceit that you’re hometown should stand still, Brigadoon-like when you’re not there, these two events felt somehow connected, and I couldn’t help but feel that Ernesto had taken them with him.
Panquecitos de Naranja
Adapted from Nitza Villapol’s Cocina Criolla. Finding a recipe to follow was more difficult than I imagined. I used to have trouble with cakes and finally found tricks and techniques to make them airy and light. Panques on the other hand can be a little plain, dense and best the next day for dunking. Though literally “pound cakes” with an accent, I couldn’t find any recipes that were even close to the traditional quatre-quarts proportions of 1-lb each of flour, sugar, butter, and eggs.
I made the first batch like madeleines, letting them chill a few hours to get the smooth bump, but they came out too crisp (and a little pretentious). Trying a different recipe altogether, I carefully folded in the flour the ingredients and they were too tender, more cupcake than poundcake.
I knew that I wanted to add some orange and almond flavor and finally found a version to play with that included milk for added moisture. The crumb was even though they didn’t quite dome as prettily as Iwould have liked. While they were still warm, I brushed them with a quick orange glaze for additional sweetness.
4 oz. unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon almond extract
Freshly grated zest of one orange
2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup whole milk
1/3 cup orange juice
¼ cup orange juice
¼ cup sugar
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter ½-cup muffin pan and set aside.
Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and set aside. Combine milk and orange juice in a small cup or bowl and set aside.
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter on medium speed for one minute. Gradually add the sugar and continue to beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating for about 30 seconds after each addition. Beat in almond extract and orange zest. Batter may separate. On low speed or by hand, add flour mixture in three batches alternating with the milk mixture and ending with the flour.
Pour batter into prepared pan and bake in the middle of the oven until a tester comes out clean, about 25-30 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on a rack for about 5 minutes. Unmold and set upright on cooling rack.
To prepare the syrup, combine the lime juice and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir until sugar dissolves. Lightly brush panques with orange syrup.