Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Psst! Secret Portuguese Sweet Bread

It's been a while since I've made Mom's Secret Portuguese Sweet Bread. Oh, I'll try other sweet doughs like brioche and challah, but none can top Mom's. She would not divulge the recipe for many, many years but eventually revealed it to me -- I think when I turned forty!! I'd always suspected it was based on a version that comes from Our Favorite Recipes, a series of self-published cookbooks put out by the Maui Assoc. for Family & Community Education. 1996 marked the 50th anniversary of their publishing the cookbooks, and they put out a fat compilation to celebrate. It's worth getting, and a must if you're interested in Hawaiiana (like the fascination with the processed meat Spam). Though there's no recipe for Portuguese Sweet Bread in it, there's so much more you won't miss it. Order your copy by writing to the organization at PO Box 1784, Kahului, HI 96733 (no price is listed, but you can also get it from Amazon, here).

This recipe came about through my Mom's attempts to recreate the old King's Hawaiian bread we used to get from the actual King's Bakery in Honolulu -- not the fluffy tasteless crap that King's, or whatever conglomerate owns them now, churns out for supermarkets. Mom's version, in my eyes, is a smashing success -- it surpasses any other sweet bread I've ever tried, homemade or commercial. It's also a wonderful all-around sweet dough to use for cinnamon rolls, sticky buns, etc. But I'll always like it best plain and warm, perhaps with a schmear of butter and topped with sweet memories.

Mom's Secret Portuguese Sweet Bread (updated method)

Microwave one peeled and cubed potato in water for approx. 4 minutes or until potato is soft. Reserve 1/2 c. of the water and let cool. Mash the potato.

1/2 c. potato water
1 c. mashed potatoes
3/4 c. milk
2 tsp. salt
1/2 c. butter, melted but not hot
1 c. sour cream
6 large eggs
2 c. sugar
4 tsp. yeast
9+ c. all-purpose flour
melted butter for brushing

Optional: cinnamon/sugar, chopped dried fruit or nuts, milk, powdered sugar

Combine the potato water, mashed potatoes, milk, salt, butter and sour cream in a blender until smooth. Make sure the liquid is not hot before blending in the eggs. In a mixer bowl, combine the sugar, yeast and 4 cups of flour with a batter attachment on low speed; gradually pour in the liquid mixture until incorporated, then beat on medium speed until smooth.

Continue to add the rest of the flour 1/2 cup at a time until the dough stiffens up. Switch to a dough hook and alternate beating in/adding flour until the dough starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl a little. Turn off the mixer and press your fingers into the dough; it should be sticky but not too gooey, and the indentations should remain.

Dump the dough out onto a generously floured surface. Knead the dough, adding sprinkles of flour if necessary, until it is smooth and elastic (5-10 minutes). The dough will remain slightly sticky due to all the sugar. Place the dough into a large, well-greased container, flipping it over so the greased side of the dough is up. Cover tightly with a lid or plastic wrap and let the dough rise until doubled. This can take from 3 to 8 hours, depending on the warmth of the room and strength of the yeast.

The recipe will easily fill at least four 9" x 5" x 3"H loaf pans or three 9" dia. x 3"H pans (round springform type). I usually do 7 balls, with 1 in the middle, in a springform pan. Decide whether you want to add any extra ingredients, like sugar/cinnamon swirl, dried fruits or chopped nuts, and get them ready.

When the dough has fully risen, plop the mass out onto a floured or greased surface and press the excess air out (no punching). Knead the dough a bit. Add in or roll up the optional ingredients if you wish. Divide(1) and shape the dough as desired(2). Place the loaves into well-greased pans, lightly covering with plastic wrap that's also been greased or sprayed with Pam. Do not overfill pans. Let rise again until almost double.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Remove the plastic wrap gently, then optionally slash the tops, do a milk wash for a very dark crust, or sprinkle sugar on top before placing in the oven. Leave plenty of oven headroom for the loaves to rise higher. After 20 minutes, reduce the oven to 325°F. Bake for a total of 35 min. to 50 min, depending on your loaf size (check loaf pans at 30 min., balls in round pans at 40 min.). I usually bake this bread until the internal temperature reaches about 190°F-200°F, which is slightly undercooked but I like it that way.(3)

Remove the loaves from the oven and let sit for 5 minutes in the pan before running a knife around the edges if necessary, popping out of the pan and allowing to cool on a rack. Brush tops with melted butter while still warm. Dust with powdered sugar when fully cooled if desired. Serve with sweet butter.

(1) Use a scale to apportion dough and get dough balls the same size. (2) If you know how to "round" dough, do it -- if the dough is lumpy or ragged, the bread will bake up that way. (3) To take the bread's temperature without making obvious holes or removing the loaf, insert the thermometer from the side of the loaf just above the pan rim, aiming down towards the middle.


  1. Niko, that looks fabulous! No way should you be scared of puff pastry if you can make this. Yum :D

  2. Oh you know how to tempt this gluten free eater! My mom used to make rolls that looked and I bet smelled just as sweet!

  3. These are gorgeous. I would like to eat one, or twelve, now, please:D Love the addition of sour cream--it's like a baked potato in a bread.

    If the King's that is in the grocery store is "tasteless crap," I hope I never have the original. I would be ruined forever, I'm afraid!