There has been no small amount of grumbling in this household recently.
The complaints are rather monotonous — they all go something like this: What happened to the bread baking?
It is true that not too very long ago, there had been great ambition on this front. The idea had been to make a bread every week along with dozens of bakers around the world in a quest to bake our way through The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.
But then, of course, life intervenes. (In my case, that would be the months spent traveling for research and then writing The Book.)
Gradually, my smoke-filled kitchen (thank you, ciabatta) and bygone bagels were becoming faded adventures in our memory.
During a break in the hubbub, however, I decided this nonsense had gone on long enough. The bread-baking bible was dusted off and my trusty KitchenAid mixer was resuscitated.
On the docket was a bread I’d been curious about: Portuguese sweet bread, a type of loaf, lovely, soft and sweet, that’s popular in Hawaii and New England. (It was introduced to those regions by Portuguese immigrants.)
Now, in the times that I’d tried it, it had always reminded me of the slightly sweet buns and loaves I grew up eating in Hong Kong and Singapore. It was time to see how this recipe would turn out in my own kitchen …
To start, you mix together flour, sugar and yeast to form a sponge in a bowl…
… then, you cover that bowl and let it sit at room temperature to ferment for an hour to 90 minutes.
When I peered into the bowl after this fermentation time, it didn’t seem like it had risen to “the verge of collapse” as author Peter Reinhart had mentioned in the book. But it did look adequately foamy.
Next, some sugar, butter, shortening and salt went into a mixing bowl together with powdered milk, which is what gives this bread its distinct sweet and milky flavor.
Once that lot was mixed together, in went the sponge and some water …
… and after just over 10 minutes of kneading, we had a lovely looking dough on hand.
At this point, all the dough has to do is sit and rise. So I left it alone for two hours, waiting for it to double in size as the book said it would.
This, however, did not look anything like a doubling of size.
After letting it sit for an hour more, it was clear this dough was not budging. So, on we went.
The dough was divided in half and formed into two round boules …
… which were left to proof at room temperature for a few more hours — “until the dough fills the pans fully, doubling in size and overlapping the edges slightly.”
Doubling? Overlapping? None of this was happening. The dough looked like it had swelled, yes, but just ever so slightly.
I was beginning to think the bread gods were punishing me for being so lax about this bread quest.
It was too late to turn back, however — this Portuguese sweet bread train had to leave.
So into the oven they went, filling the apartment with the scent of sweet, sweet loaves. And they came out looking … not bad.
I did wonder, though, about the alarming look of my loaves.
I had heard other bakers refer to certain breads as “crack bread” because they taste so good. With my Portuguese sweet bread, though, it wasn’t the taste of the loaf that would have earned it the name.
Getting over my shallow disappointment, I sliced open a loaf and slathered it with butter and a smidgen of fresh, summery jam. The loaf was delicious — it made me think of Hawaii, my last trip to Nantucket and Hong Kong all at once.
Perhaps you can judge a book by its cover, after all.
This Portuguese sweet bread? It’s definitely crack bread.
Check out other Bread Baker’s Apprentice bakers’ crack Portuguese sweet breads here:
Daniel‘s at Ährelich Gesagt
Heather and Jeff‘s at He Cooks She Cooks
Kelly‘s at Something Shiny
Maggie‘s at The Other Side of 50
Sally‘s at Bewitching Kitchen
Sara‘s at Three Clever Sisters
Check out Yeastspotting for other Portuguese Sweet Breads.