When we woke up Monday morning it was brisk in our house. This is not that unusual—we have had a few nights in the 50’s where we turned off the A.C. and opened the windows, leading to early morning chilliness in the house.
The difference Monday was that it stayed cool. Really cool—maybe low 70’s (at most) but with no humidity and a cool, stiff breeze. Which meant my kitchen was actually cool.
Well this could only mean one thing—I needed to make bread.
In retrospect it was a little crazy, given that we are packing up to move and I am supposed to be winnowing my kitchen down to the bare essentials, not frantically searching for loaf pans. But it was bread weather; I don’t know how else to explain it.
Possibly because I was still feeling a little bummed about missing out on the Daring Bakers Danish Braid, I decided I did not want to make regular sandwich bread. I picked up Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, one of the only cookbooks left in my house, and immediately opened it to Sweet Portuguese Bread.
It was like a sign.
I am in love with this bread. Its dough was amazing to work with—silky smooth, soft and not at all sticky. Granted, I used my mixer to knead it, but for once I actually really wished it I could finish it by hand (I couldn’t—our counters are too packed right now). The flavor was fantastic—although I am curious to try the basic dough with other flavors (i.e., in place of citrus). And holy cow it made fabulous French toast.
Unfortunately I did not grab any photos of the French toast—because I made it tonight, and we move tomorrow, which leads me to my farewell for the next week or 2. We will not have internet service until the middle of next week and then I leave for Columbus, for my family’s annual hog roast. I need to get there early as I am in charge of cookies—for a LOT of people. Gulp. So I will see you all later, around July 14, and I promise I will keep track of the good recipes to share when I return.
Check out Wild Yeast on Mondays, where Susan rounds up all of the sightings of yeast in recipes posted the previous week in the foodie blogsphere (is that the word? blogosphere? whatever!) in her weekly “YeastSpotting.” This bread is heading over there–and I have already bookmarked several other recipes I want to try that I have found though YeastSpotting.
One small warning: the amount of dough may seem too small for 2 loaves, but it will rise enough for 2. Have faith!
Portuguese Sweet Bread
Adapted from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, Peter Reinhart
½ cup (2.25 oz) bread flour
1 T sugar
2 ¼ t instant yeast
½ cup (4 oz) water, room temp
6 T (3 oz) sugar
1 t salt
¼ cup nonfat dry milk
2 T unsalted butter, softened
2 T shortening
2 large eggs
1 t lemon extract
1 t orange extract
1 t vanilla
3 cups (13.5 oz) bread flour
6 T water, room temp (3 oz—I only used 1 ½ T—see below)
1 egg mixed with 1 t water until frothy
Whisk the sponge ingredients in a small bowl. Cover and set aside to ferment at room temperature for 60-90 minutes, or until the sponge gets foamy and well risen and seems on the verge of collapse.
When you are ready to make the dough (i.e., after the sponge has risen), combine the sugar, salt, dry milk, butter and shortening in a large bowl (I used a mixer). Cream them together until smooth, then add the eggs and extracts and mix well. Add the 3 cups of flour, switching to a dough hook when the dough becomes stiff. Unlike some other recipes, add all of the flour—you will adjust the hydration with the water. After you have added the flour, add the water slowly, I did about a teaspoon at a time, to make a very soft dough. It should not be sticky or wet, just soft and supple. It will take 10-12 minutes with the dough hook on a mixer or 15 minutes by hand to achieve the right consistency. I used a timer and stopped my mixer periodically to make sure it did not overheat (technically they should not knead bread dough for longer than a few minutes—my mom had one blow out on her and Kitchen Aid blamed it on this, even though every baker I know if has used theirs to knead for longer than that). The dough was truly gorgeous to feel—I only needed 1-2 tablespoons, but it has been very humid here. Transfer the dough to an oiled deep bowl and roll to coat with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and leave to rise for 2 hours, until doubled in size.
Remove the dough from the bowl and divide it into 2 pieces. Reinhart forms each into a boule and bakes them in a pie pan—because we are moving mine are all packed away so I did traditional loaves. Whichever you use, grease them. Either works fine—but be sure (as I did not) to bake the bread for a little less time if using the loaf shapes as they are skinnier and will bake faster by about 5-10 minutes. Cover the loaves or boules very loosely with oiled plastic wrap and let rise for 2-3 hours. He says the boules should fill and rise slightly over the sides of the pie plates—mine were about 2 ½ times their original size, but all I had were 9X5 pans, so they certainly did not come over the sides. When you guess that you have about 30 minutes left, preheat the oven to 350 F.
Very gently brush the loaves with egg wash. Bake the loaves for 40-60 minutes (shape depending) or until they register 190 degrees in the center. At the 25-30 minute mark, rotate the loaves front to back and side to side if necessary. Because of the high sugar content, the loaves may look quite dark but they are not done and they should be quite dark, a beautiful mahogany at the end (mine look a bit lighter than that because the photos were taken outside). So don’t let it fool you into thinking they are done or burning.
Cool completely, at least 90 minutes, on a cooling rack. The bread will soften as it cools—mine did not become super soft but I know I overcooked mine by about 5 minutes—and I am sure it is because the traditional loaf shape is skinnier and therefore faster cooking.