Pan de jamon in Venezuela is for everyone who loves bread, everyone who loves ham, and everyone who loves holidays, explains one of our favorite homecooks Liliana Hernandez. Which pretty much means every single person in her home country, she says. Except vegetarians, of course, and they are likely to just ditch the ham and still make this beloved bread. Because it is a traditional must-eat every December.
”We can’t even imagine Christmas without pan de jamon. Impossible!“ Liliana is one of our favorite Venezuelan homecooks here at Familia Kitchen, and you can find many of her family-famous recipes in our Familia Kitchen Cookbook. Pan de jamon is so popular that bakers back home start making it months before Christmas, she says. ”There is so much demand that everyone starts eating it early. We can’t wait for December.”
And so every end of year, Venezuelans around the world start craving this bread made with yeast, flour, eggs and a little sugar. The dough is pressed into a flat square or rectangle and layered with slices of ham, Manzanillo olives, and sweet raisins. Finally, the mixture is rolled into a loaf and baked for 45 to 50 minutes.
When the bread comes out of the oven, so toasty-golden and salty-sweet delicioso, that’s when you know: The holidays are almost here, says Liliana. And everyone goes pan de jamon crazy. ”We eat it for breakfast, lunch, dinner. We eat it as a snack with a cup of coffee.” Liliana closes her eyes and savors the memory of panes de jamon past.
”I love it most when it it still warm, just out of the oven, with that aroma maravilloso that fills the whole house,” she sighs.
Today Liliana and her family live in the Atlanta, Georgia area, so she can’t just pop over to a local bakery and get her pan de jamon fix. “When you don’t live in Venezuela, we have to make it ourselves, because we must have it for Christmas. It’s just not Christmas without it.”
And so Liliana did what so many Latinos who long for the sabor of the homelands they left behind do. She taught herself to bake this traditional bread and started a new family tradition.
A Starring Role at the Christmas Feast
A second reason pan de jamon must be baked: It is an essential component of Venezuela’s classic plato Navideño, or Christmas meal, says Liliana. Whether you host your party on Christmas Eve (like her family does) or Christmas Day, you will find the following comida on just about every Venezuelan table, says Liliana. Each person is served all four of this traditional quartet. One: pan de jamon. Two: hallaca, the Venezuelan take on tamales, using banana leaves. Three: pernil, a slow-cooked hunk of crispy-skinned pork that is fall-of-the-bone juicy. And four: chicken salad.
What makes pan de jamon different from its three Christmas cohorts is that it is served at the big holiday feast and throughout the entire holiday season, says Liliana.
”Pan de jamon is the main reason everyone in Venezuela has to go on a diet very January,” she jokes. ”We eat too much of it. We can’t stop. We all love it so much.”
For more of Liliana’s family-famous Venezuelan recipes, try her life-changing bienmesabe cake, festive-main asado negro main dish, can’t-stop-at-one cheese-stuffed tequeños, handmade toasted corn flour arepas, with their reina pepiada and carne mechada arepa fillings, and her mother’s traditional potato salad: ensalada rusa . All are delicioso—we have made them all and love them. To watch her in action, be sure to check out Liliana on her YouTube channel Mi Show de Cocina, where she is working her way through favorite Venezuelan dishes like these this pan de jamon, pernil and more!