Sweet bread makes a very nice weekend treat. If you've ever wanted to bake bread, this is a good beginner project. It pays dividends because it's always a big hit.
About Portuguese Sweet Bread
The secret ingredient in Portuguese baked goods is egg -- lots of it egg -- and especially egg yolk, which adds richness.
Here's the old story of Portuguese breads and desserts:
Historically, Portuguese sweets and breads were produced in abundance by the nuns of local community churches. It was a way for them to make extra money. Since nunneries often used egg whites to make starch (to keep their habits looking neat), they typically had plenty of egg yolks on hand for baking. They used the yolks in their recipes, which then became famous for their richness and golden color. Those recipes were copied, improved and then handed down from one generation to the next throughout Portugal.
Sweet bread is a big favorite in many parts of the U.S. and elsewhere, too. In some locations, it's also referred to as Hawaiian sweet bread. Both breads are very similar.
What to Look For
A good Portuguese sweet bread recipe will contain lots of eggs. The addition of a little mashed potato (or potato flakes) helps make the bread tender and moist, too. Potato was frequently used as filler during times when flour was scarce or expensive. The only disadvantage to using potato in baked goods is that it produces a somewhat wet dough that isn't as shelf stable as standard flour dough. That shouldn't be a problem here, though. This sweet bread is so tasty it'll disappear in no time.
The following recipe was adapted from mother's version, which she adapted from my grandmother's version -- and so on.
Portuguese Sweet Bread Recipe
1 package active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water (about 105 degrees F)
1-1/2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup mashed potato (You can reconstitute dried potato flakes for this recipe, too)
Pinch powdered ginger
1/4 cup milk
1 teaspoons salt
4 eggs (use 5 if they're small)
1 cups sugar
1/4 cup butter, melted
4 to 5 cups bread flour
In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water.
Add 1-1/2 tablespoons sugar, mashed potato and ginger.
Cover with a damp cloth and set aside to rise until the mixture has doubled. You want a robust yeast colony. (This should take about an hour).
In a separate pan, heat milk to just below boiling, add salt and stir. Cool to just warm.
In small bowl, beat eggs and 1 cup of sugar.
Gradually pour the egg mixture into the yeast mixture, stirring constantly.
Add butter and stir to incorporate.
Add half the flour and stir.
Add the milk and continue stirring.
Add the remaining flour, less 1/2 cup, and stir for three to four minutes.
Note: If the dough is too moist to handle, add some or all of the remaining flour.
Place the dough on a floured board and knead for 7 to 10 minutes. This is the hardest part of the recipe, so keep at it. The dough should be elastic and look smooth and glistening.
Place the dough ball in a large bowl coated with butter or olive oil.
Brush a little oil on the top of the ball, too.
Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and place it in a slightly warm location for an hour or so. (The ball should double in size.)
Grease two large (9" x 5" x 3") loaf pans.
Divide the dough into two balls and shape each into a loaf.
Place the loaves into the pans, cover with a towel and set aside to rise for another hour, or until they've doubled in size.
Bake both loaves in the center rack of a preheated 325 degrees F oven for 45 minutes.
Note: You can also form the dough into round (traditionally Portuguese) loaves, braided shapes (nice for holidays) or individual rolls, too.