I put it off for as long as I could, but finally I’ve decided to translate some of the recipes into English, beginning with the Venezuelan ones. A couple of months ago there was an End of Summer Party at Diego’s crèche, and I made some “cachitos de jamón”. The literal translation would be something like little ham horns, a sweetish bread rolled like a croissant and filled with ham (or turkey, or ham and cheese –use your imagination). I couldn’t have imagined how popular they’d become. Some friends have asked me for the recipe, so here it is, with some history as to where they come from and how important they are to Venezuelans. As you know, English is not my first language, so please forgive any grammatical atrocities you may find below…
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The list of things that make a Venezuelan expat homesick is long: family, the beach and the good weather, the Ávila hill (if s/he’s from Caracas), partying for no good reason, the easygoingness towards the law, cheap gas… But the very thing that we miss the most, even more than our own mothers, is a ham horn.
The cachito, diminutive of horn, is a sweetish yeasted bread (though not terribly sweet) which is traditionally filled with minced ham. We never make it at home. We go to any of the countless bakeries in any corner of Venezuela, get a cachito and a coffee and have a lovely snack.
I’m not sure about its origin. I presume it was the creation of some nameless Portuguese genius at some point in the early 20th century. For those of you unfamiliar with our history, a little context: at the end of the 19th century and during the first half of the 20th, Latin America received several migratory waves coming from Europe, mainly Spain, Portugal and Italy. In Venezuela, the Portuguese immigrants began to open bakeries (among other things), and they mixed the flavours of their homeland with ours. The result is wonderful, albeit little known abroad. Both savoury and sweet bakery in Venezuela are outstanding, if I may say so myself!
Here you have my personal recipe for cachitos, very close to the real deal you get in bakeries. It looks lengthy, but they’re really easy to make. I hope you like it!
For 32 horns
1 tablespoon fast action dried yeast (or a 7 g / ¼ oz sachet)
½ cup white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup melted butter or vegetable oil (NOT olive oil)
¾ cup milk
4½ - 5 cups all-purpose flour (plus a little extra to dust)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
800 g / 1.8 lb / 28 oz wafer-thin ham, finely chopped (I recommend using ham with added water)
1 egg, to brush
2 tablespoons molasses, grated (or muscovado sugar)
- In order to activate the yeast, warm up ¼ cup of water and dissolve 1 tablespoon of the sugar. Sprinkle the yeast and stir to dissolve. Let it rest for 10-15 minutes until froth forms on top.
- Remember the water can't be too hot as it kills the yeast. If the water and yeast mixture doesn't form froth, it means the yeast doesn't work.
- In a big bowl, lightly beat the two eggs until they are well blended. Add the milk, the rest of the sugar, melted butter (cooled down a bit so that the heat doesn't cook the eggs) and salt. Mix in the yeasted water and add the flour one cup at a time, mixing really well (especially the first two cups) in order to dissolve any lumps.
- Once all the flour is added, you can either knead it using an electric blender with a kneading hook or by hand.
- If using a blender, just leave the dough in the bowl and knead at low to medium speed for 5-8 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic.
- If by hand, dust the kitchen top with some flour and pour the dough. Knead it vigorously for 8-10 minutes or until you get a very smooth and elastic dough. You may need to add some more flour as you knead, but do it a spoonful at a time, so that the dough doesn’t dry up. After some kneading, the dough shouldn’t stick to your fingers.
- The exact amount of flour depends on the brand you use (some are finer than others and tend to absorb more liquid), or on the size of the eggs. I usually use medium sized eggs, and end up using a bit over 4½ cups of flour. If, on the other hand, you notice the dough is too dry, just add a bit of milk.
- Once the dough is kneaded, put it back on a big (clean) bowl and cover it with a moist tea towel. Let it rest inside the oven (switched off!) for 1½-2 hours. The dough should double its size.
- It seems like a lot of time to wait, but you have to allow for the yeast to do its job. Don’t rush it and don’t add more yeast than what’s called for. By allowing the dough to grow, you’ll get spongy and soft rolls.
- Once the dough doubles size, lightly dust the working surface and pour the dough back on the table. Using the tip of your fingers or your knuckles, gently punch the trapped air out until it’s back to its original size. Make a flat disc with the dough and divide it in 4 equal portions using a sharp knife.
- Work with one portion at a time. Try to make a nice round ball with the portion of dough and dust a rolling pin. Flatten the ball trying to keep a uniform round shape until it’s around 25-30 cm / 10-12 inches in diameter. Don’t worry if the circle isn’t perfect. The thickness of the dough is really up to you (you’ll get thinner but bigger cachitos, or smaller but more doughy ones). Just be careful not to thin them out too much, as they may break when you bake them.
- Once you flatten the dough, divide it in 8 portions using a sharp knife, as you would do with a pizza. Each triangle will be a cachito. Usually you will need to flatten each triangle a bit more with the rolling pin before putting the filling.
- Place a handful of ham in the base of the triangle (adjust the amount to the size of each one) and roll it up to the vertex (assuming it’s an isosceles). Two tricks to avoid spillage:
- Before beginning to roll it up, fold the external borders of the triangle as if forming a pocket around the ham.
- When placing the cachitos on a greased baking sheet, put the vertex facing down. Leave enough space between each cachito, as they will grow considerably in the oven.
- Originally, cachitos are only filled with minced ham, but there’s nothing wrong with experimenting a bit. A mixture of ham (say 600 g) and grated cheese (about 300 g, edam or a mild cheddar) are great together. Another option is using turkey ham and softened cream cheese (since turkey ham tends to be dryer than pork ham, the cream cheese gives a nice extra moisture to the roll). When buying the ham, read the label and make sure to buy ham with added water (the other kind is way too dry and salty for this recipe).
- The first rolls always come out horrible, but you’ll get the hang of it soon enough!
- Once on the baking sheet, brush each cachito with a mixture of 1 beaten egg and 2 tablespoons of molasses. This will give them not only a nice golden colour (and avoid cracking), but also an extra sweetness. You’ll have some mixture left. Save it! Let the cachitos rest for another hour in a warm place.
- Finding molasses is not hard. I’ve seen it sold in Tesco, but if you don’t want to buy a whole package just for this recipe, you can substitute it with muscovado sugar, which is type of dark and rich brown sugar.
- Preheat the oven at 175º C / 350º F. Right before putting the cachitos in the oven, give them a second brush with the egg and molasses mixture. Bake them for 15 minutes in the middle of the oven, until they’re golden brown.
- If 32 cachitos are too much, this dough can be frozen. Once you punch the air out, put a few drops of oil inside a plastic bag, rub it a bit and place the dough inside. Close it tightly and freeze until you crave some cachitos again. When you thaw it, remember to open the bag or, preferably, put the dough in a bowl, as it will grow again (though maybe not as much as the first time).