Saturday, April 25, 2009
Melinda said, "Even if it's not my turn, I'd like to make the Portuguese bread in The Bread Baker's Apprentice. Is that okay with you?" "Sure," I said. Melinda is such a sweet talker. Also I'd never made Portuguese bread, or, to my knowledge, tasted it, and I figured it would be some relative of French or Italian bread. When I looked at the recipe, though, I got a little uneasy. First, it's Portuguese sweet bread, not just Portuguese bread, and it's got quite a bit of sugar in it. Also vegetable shortening, which seemed odd. And vanilla, orange, and lemon extracts, which seemed even odder. And a description of a loaf that turns out "squishy." Not so appetizing. Also I couldn't figure out what I was going to do with it. It sounded like it wouldn't make great sandwiches, and, although Peter Reinhart says it makes excellent bread pudding, I didn't see a bread pudding in my future.
Here's what Wikipedia says:
Portuguese sweet bread (Massa Sovada or simply Massa, Pão Doce and the Easter version with eggs is better known as Folar) is a bread made with milk, sugar and/or honey to produce a subtly sweet lightly textured loaf. It was traditionally made around the Christmas and Easter holidays (often with hard boiled eggs baked into the loaves for the latter holiday) as a round-shaped loaf, but today it is made and available year round. The bread is usually served simply with butter and is sometimes eaten with meals (breakfast in particular), but often as a dessert. Portuguese sweet bread is common in both Hawaiian cuisine and New England cuisine as it was brought to those regions by their large Portuguese immigrant populations.
That description sounded okay (except for the baked-in hard-boiled egg part--thanks for not choosing that version Melinda!)
This is an easy bread, although it does take most of the day to get it to the ready-to-eat point.
You start out with a sponge, but it's a very simple version: just stir together yeast, water, bread flour, and sugar, and let it alone for a few hours until it's bubbling away.
Mixing the dough is also pretty easy, but there were a few things that gave me pause. After I added the orange and lemon extracts, the smell of fake citrus and alcohol was very strong and not particularly pleasant. Also, although the dough was easy, it took about 15 minutes to mix it in the KitchenAid. If you mixed it by hand, you'd be ready to shoot yourself by the time it was done. Portuguese ladies must have biceps of steel. I advise adding all the water (the recipe calls for 6 T. of water, to be added "as needed" to make a soft, supple dough). The dough seems pretty soft, even without any extra water added, but I think it needs the entire amount of water to get to the point where the gluten is developed.
It's a slow riser. It took over two hours--maybe closer to three--until it had risen enough to be shaped into two boules.
Reinhart says to shape them and put them into pie pans, which is just what I did.
Another hour or two to let rise as shaped, and I had long ago given up on the idea of having bread with dinner. In fact, the whole idea of dinner had fallen by the wayside, and we settled for crackers and hummus and wine for dinner. I personally love having appetizers for dinner, but Jim looked pretty morose at this offering. I appeased him with assurances of fresh bread and butter as a midnight snack. This is another recipe with an egg wash, which I love because of the shininess it imparts.
It's so shiny it almost glows in the dark!
The aroma coming from the oven during the last half-hour of baking is fabulous! I don't know if I've ever baked a bread that smelled better (or maybe it was just because I hadn't eaten dinner). It smelled yeasty, and sweet, and the three extracts somehow merged to add something faintly exotic but not at all overpowering.
When I ate the first piece, I still wasn't quite sure whether I liked it. The bread was very soft and tender, but it was definitely sweet--a surprisingly sugary first bite that mellowed to a more subtle sweetness. By the second slice, I decided I liked it, and by the third slice, spread with soft butter, I decided I liked it a lot.
I remembered that my neighbor Laurel loved to go to Portuguese restaurants and bakeries when she was visiting New England, so I gave her the second loaf on Sunday morning. She said she'd made French toast, and the bread was so flavorful and sweet that it didn't need syrup--just butter.
Lazy Bakers--I hope you like this as much as I did.
PORTUGUESE SWEET BREAD
--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 temp.
1 egg, whisked with 1 tsp. water until frothy.
1. Make the sponge. Stir together the flour, sugar, and yeast in ia 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. The finished dough should not be wet or sticky. It will take at least 12minutes, 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 divice 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 iin 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. (The bread looks very dark, but it really didn't burn).
8. Remove the bread from the piei 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. (But the sky won't fall if you only wait an hour).