Saturday, April 25, 2009

Portuguese Sweet Bread: A Lazy Bakers Project

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.

--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.

Egg Wash
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).

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Chris in Rhode Island's Whole Wheat Bread

Saturday, April 11, 2009

A few months ago, when I made whole-wheat bread and was complaining about how I don't much care for whole-wheat bread (something I seem to have been doing on an almost weekly basis), reader Chris in RI told me to try a recipe from King Arthur.
I was hoping to give you a link to the recipe, but I've had no success. Apparently King Arthur has some program to protect its readers' recipes from outsiders. You can get it on the King Arthur site yourself, but you have to sign in and get a password, and go through a bunch of different steps. But once you get in this privileged and secret zone, you'll find an amazing number of recipes. Here's what you do:
1. Go to
2. Click on "Community"
3. Click on "Baking Circle Message Board"
4. Sign in. (This is where you'll have to get a screen name and password if you're not already a member).
5. Click on "Recipe" tab
6. Click on "Member Recipes"
7. Click on "Search by Member"
8. Type in "Macy"
9. Scroll down to "Macy's 100% Whole Wheat Bread"
10. Voila!
Chris in RI recommended this because she said her family, who are not whole wheat lovers, love this bread. Although I kind of messed the loaf up, it's not the fault of either Chris or Macy, and I thank them both. (As an aside, several of you have been nice enough to send me recipes you think I might like--I do get around to making them eventually. They're all on my to-bake list, which increases much faster than I get around to baking things. When I retire....)
I had two problems that contributed to the bread's odd shape, which I suppose I will have to show you eventually. First, I misjudged the size of loaf pan I should use. I put it in my biggest pan because I thought there was more dough than there turned out to be. I took out enough dough to make six dinner rolls, and still thought I had enough for a big loaf pan. I could tell right away it was going to be a problem because I could barely see it in the bottom of the pan, but I decided to forge ahead. Second, I was using the oven for other things all afternoon, so I had to put off baking the bread, and I think I folded it one too many times. Third, I was having guests for dinner, and by the time the oven was ready, the bread wasn't, but it had to be, so I just put it in the oven. The rolls turned out great.

The bread tasted excellent; it was just, shall we say, aesthetically lacking.

I am filled with admiration for Macy, whoever she might be. Macy is the kind of baker who tweaks recipes many times until she gets them perfect. And she is scrupulously detailed in her directions about mixing and shaping. She also has many hints, which, if you get around to reading them, would be quite helpful. Such as: "Press the dough into the pan with your palm so that it fills into the corners a bit and has a nice, even top." Did I do this? No. Should I have done this? Yes.

See? It looks like it has a goiter. That's because it wasn't even when I put it in the pan, and one side heaved up even more while it was baking.

While I was making Chris and Macy's bread, I tasted a bit of dough. I made a terrible face. "Ugh! This is so bitter," I complained to myself. "See, this is my gripe against whole-grain bread." But don't judge a bread by its dough. The bread itself wasn't bitter at all; on the contrary, it was tender, mellow, and sweet. It really is a 100% whole-wheat loaf that's perfect for people who complain repeatedly about whole-wheat bread. In fact, I liked the taste even better than some breads that are only about 30% whole wheat. Macy says that it's the egg that counteracts the bitterness, although I think that in her heart of hearts, Macy has no truck with people who claim that whole wheat is bitter.
In case you were wondering what was in the oven all afternoon, I made a fabulous dish from salmon with pearl couscous and slow-roasted tomatoes with lemon oregano oil. It was wonderful, and, although it looks fancy, it was easy. But it does require roasting plum tomatoes in a 250-degree oven for about 2 1/2 hours.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Jeffrey Hamelman's Rustic Bread

Sunday, April 5, 2009

I'm kind of a sucker for anything called "rustic" or "peasant." It makes me feel better than eating something named "aristocratic" or "royal." Both Jim and I are from peasant stock as far back as we know about, and I'd feel silly trying to claim to be an aristocrat. Although I'll admit that I used to have fantasies about meeting a British lord and being swept off my feet by him. Then I read enough novels to realize that I had nothing to offer said British lord, so I gave up on that daydream.
But I wonder if there isn't some hungry British lord somewhere who would be say "Oh my darling, I care not for a dowry as long as you make me such wonderful bread." Probably not. Fortunately, when he first met me, Jim cared not about my dowry.
As usual, my good angel ("Eat more fiber! Eat whole grains!") was at war with my bad angel ("Why do you think people switched to white flour? Because it tastes better."). So I compromised with rustic bread which has some white, some rye, and some whole wheat.
As with most of Hamelman's breads, this one is a two-day process because it requires a pre-ferment that sits overnight. When you look at it in the morning, it's nice and bubbly, with a pleasantly yeasty smell. The pre-ferment (all white bread flour) gets thrown into the mixer in blobs after the final dough (made with all three flours) has started to coalesce.

Tossing these blobs into the dough while the KitchenAid was running was my favorite part of making this bread. I think it's because it seems like something you shouldn't do. I was a very obedient child, so it doesn't take much to make me feel like I'm doing something daring and possibly even illegal.
After all that fun, there wasn't much else left to do except fold the bread twice. (Jeffrey Hamelman is very big on folding dough).

Then the loaves are shaped and left to rise again. I used my bannetons again, which I love because they make such professional-looking bread.

During this rising, Jim and I made a quick trip to Smith & Hawken to look at their garden furniture, which was all 30% off. The trip took longer than I thought it would, and I was worried that the dough was going to be a sunken mess by the time I got home, but it still looked hale and hearty. It probably survived because my kitchen is still cold because it's still snowing in the far northland even though it's April.
A friend and neighbor of ours just came home from the hospital after surgery, so I wanted to bring her some bread, and I made chicken soup with asparagus, snowpeas, orzo and tarragon, and also Dorie Greenspan's apple bars with brown sugar-butter glaze. But for some reason I forgot to take pictures of either the soup or the apple bars, even though they were both quite successful. I do have lots of pictures of the patterns the flour makes on the bread, e.g.,

And the bread itself? It's just so ... rustic!

I'm going to give the recipe pretty much as written, but let me tell you that the first 100 or so pages of Hamelman's book are complete, detailed instructions of the various stages of bread-making, so if you really want to understand what's going on, you may want to pick up a copy of his book from the library and check it out.

Rustic Bread
--adapted from Bread, by Jeffrey Hamelman

1 lb (3 5/8 cups) bread flour
9.6 oz. (1 1/4 cups) water
.3 oz. (1/2 T) salt
1/8 tsp instant dry yeast

Final Dough
9.6 oz. (2 1/4 cups) bread flour
3.2 oz. (7/8 cup) whole-rye flour
3.2 oz. (3/4 cup) whole-wheat flour
12.5 oz. (1 1/2 cups) water
.3 oz. (1/2 T) salt
.06 oz (1/2 tsp) instant dry yeast

1. Disperse the yeast in the water, add the flour and salt, and mix until smooth. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let stand for 12 to 16 hours.

2. The next day, add all the remaining ingredients to the mixing bowl, except the pre-ferment. Mix on first speed of a mixer for 3 minutes until dough is formed. As the dough is coming together, add the pre-ferment in chunks. Finish mixing on second speed for about 2 1/2 minutes. The dough should be supple and moderately loose.

3. Let dough rise for about 2 1/2 hours, folding it twice during that time, once after 50 minutes and again 50 minutes later.

4. Divide the dough into two 1.5 pound pieces. Preshape lightly into rounds, cover with plastic, and let rest for 20 minutes. When it's relaxed, shape into round or oval loaves, place them in floured bannetons or between folds of floured baker's linen, and cover with plastic.

5. Let rise about 1 1/2 hours.

7. Preheat oven to 450F. Invert loaves on peel. Slash with a blade. Presteam the oven, load the bread, and steam again. Bake for 35-38 minutes.