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Making Pan de Coco de Samaná

Pan de coco de Samaná is the American biscuit’s Caribbean cousin, from, you guessed it, Samaná, which is a northern coastal province of the Dominican Republic. The area is heavily Americanized, though not in the way you’d think. Free black Americans began moving there some 175 years ago. And when they came, they brought their food traditions with them. That included biscuits, which were already a “thing” in the early 1800’s. The trouble there, of course, was that dairy products were in relatively short supply in Samaná back then. But then as now, there were all kinds of coconuts around.

Trial and error no doubt yielded a recipe that looked an awful lot like this, with coconut oil standing in for butter, coconut milk for buttermilk. It produced a bread that tasted not entirely unlike a biscuit, but fluffier, with a non-dairy, mildly coconut-ish inflection.

Mrs. Pastry, a former D.R. resident, would not allow any sort of adulteration to the panes I made here, however it’s clear the like traditional American biscuits, these quick breads are ripe for additions — from local herbs like cilantro and oregano to cheeses, sweet inclusions, even coconut meat. But try them plain first. They’re a whole lot of easy fun.

Start by setting a baking stone on the floor of your oven, removing the other racks, and turning the device up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit (or to 550 if it will go that high). Next, prepare the dough. Combine the dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Whisk lightly to spread the salt and leavening evenly.

Add the coconut oil.

Rub the oil in as you would with biscuits, but don’t leave any large pieces at all. You’re not going for a flaky crumb here. Incorporate it as evenly as you can.

Now add the coconut milk.

Stir that in with a spatula.

As soon as it comes together in a ball, turn the dough out onto a well-floured board. Knead the dough WAY more than you would American biscuits — about four or five minutes. You want a lot of good gluten development. Good pan de coco de Samaná has some chew.

When the dough is somewhat smooth and springy, cut it into six pieces about three and a third ounces each.

Roll them into a rough ball shape.

The roll the balls with a pin out into circles 4-5 inches thick, depending on how thick you want your finished product.

When your oven is hot, simply drop the rounds onto the hot stone and close the oven door. You want a rapid heat infusion here for a big, quick CO2 release. FOOSH. Bake the for 8 minutes until lightly browned on top.

If all goes well you’ll have a slightly thick and bready pan. Of course these can be thicker if you like. My disks were about 5 inches across, four inches makes for a still thicker, slightly domed finished product. In the D.R. these are made much larger, about 14 inches across. They’re flat, and about two inches high. I was going for a similar aesthetic, just in miniature. It worked very well I thought.

You can see that the bottoms look biscuit-ish as well. Serve them this way if you like. It’s kinda cool.

But however you serve them, I think you’ll agree that pan de coco de Samana is hands-down one of the world’s premier vegetable soup or stew breads, superior for sopping up broth, or heaping bites of cooked greens upon.

We liked these so much we ate them with roasted cauliflower and lentil soup two nights in a row. You will too I’m betting.

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