Sunday, April 17, 2011

Portuguese Sweet Bread

Every year as a child, I looked forward to two things above all at Easter. My Portuguese grandma would visit the Portuguese bakery and bring us little coconut-filled tarts (which I re-created at home last year) and sweet bread. Back then, the bakery loaves would be wrapped around hard-boiled Easter eggs for a festive touch. I didn't get that fancy, but I did find a good recipe for making sweet bread at home. Master baker Peter Reinhart can do no wrong it seems!

The loaves do tend to look frightfully dark when they emerge from the oven, with a shiny dark brown top. The dark color stems from the high sugar content of the dough; the shine comes from the egg white glaze you brush on before baking.

When my loaves emerged, I panicked. They looked even darker than the book picture and I was terrified they might be ruined. After all, I had invested two expensive bottles of citrus extracts, many eggs and most of my day to the double batch in the oven. Frantically, I cut into a loaf.... and breathed a sigh of relief. Outside, crunchy and brown. Inside, golden sweet perfection. Whew!

Happy Easter, from our family to yours.

From The Bread Baker's Apprentice, by Peter Reinhart


1/2 cup (2.25 ounces) unbleached bread flour
1 T. (.5 ounce) granulated sugar
2 1/4 tsp. (.25 ounce) instant yeast
1/2 cup (4 ounces) water, at room temperature

6 T. (3 ounces) granulated sugar
1 tsp. (.25 ounce) salt
1/4 cup (1.25 ounces) powdered milk
2 T. (1 ounce) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 T. (1 ounce) vegetable shortening
2 large eggs
1 tsp. (.17 ounce) lemon extract
1 tsp. (.17 ounce) orange extract
1 tsp. (.17 ounce) vanilla extract
3 cups (13.5 ounces) unbleached bread flour
6 T. (3 ounces) water, at room temperature

Egg Wash
1 egg, whisked with 1 tsp. water until frothy

1. Make the sponge. Stir together the flour, sugar, and yeast in a small bowl. Add the water and stir until mixed. Cover the howl with plastic wrap for 60-90 minutes, or until the sponge gets foamy.

2. Make the dough. Combine the sugar, salt, powdered milk, butter and shortening in the bowl of an electric mixer. Mix with paddle attachment until smooth, then add eggs and extracts. Switch to dough hook attachment and mix in sponge and flour. Add water as needed and mix until you achieve a soft dough that is not wet or sticky. It will take at least 12 minutes, maybe more, to reach the right consistency. Oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap.

3. Ferment at room temperature for about 2 hours, or until the dough doubles in size.

4. Remove dough from bowl and divide it into 2 equal pieces. Form each piece into a boule. Place boule, seam side down, into an oiled pie plate. Mist tops with spray oil and cover loosely with plastic wrap.

5. Proof at room temperature for 2 to 3 hours, or until dough fills the pans fully, doubling in size.

6. Gently brush the loaves with the egg wash. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. with the oven rack on the middle shelf.

7. Bake the loaves for 50 to 60 minutes (mine were done at 50). After 30 minutes, rotate 180 degrees. Because of the high amount of sugar, the dough will brown very quickly, but it will not be done. The final color will be a rich mahogany brown.

8. Remove the bread from the pie pans and place on a rack to cool. The bread will soften as it cools, resulting in a very soft, squishy loaf. Allow the bread to cool for at least 90 minutes before slicing or serving.

1 comment:

  1. I can almost smell the fragrant aroma as you cut them open. These look great. Happy Easter.


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