Portuguese (or if you live on the West Coast, Hawaiian) Sweet Bread

Yes, I know it isn’t Thursday.  But, we missed the first Thursday of the month so I’m making up for lost time.  Consider this Saturday school.

One of my goals for the new year is to work my way through Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.  While I bought this book last summer, it sat on the shelf for a couple of months until I was reminded of its genius for last month’s Daring Bakers’ Stollen Challenge.

I don’t have much experience with bread.  But, I like to learn new things. It will just be you, me and a whole lot of yeast.

Because starting at the beginning is just so predictable, my first Peter Reinhart recipe comes from about 3/4 of the way through the book.  If you live near, have traveled on or have ever been within sniffing distance of the 405 freeway, you are most likely well-versed in the delicacy known as King’s Hawaiian Bread.  This eggy, slightly citrusy bread is fairly irresistible.  It’s fantastic with sandwiches, as french toast or as an addition (in roll form) to any celebration from summer BBQs to Thanksgiving dinner.

While plowing through the Bread Baker’s Apprentice, I was delighted to learn that what I know as Hawaiian bread really originated as Portuguese sweet bread.  I was also delighted that this bread would serve as my introduction to sponge.

Sponge is a wet pre-ferment, or levain levure en Francais.  The purposes are multiple but, if we are going for parsimony in description, a pre-ferment basically makes the final product taste better through all kinds of magic that happen between the yeast and flour.

In this recipe, the pre-ferment is quick, only a couple of hours.  It begins by mixing flour, sugar, yeast and some water into something that looks a lot like pancake batter.

You let it rest for an hour or two and the mixture rises and takes on some…wait for it…spongey qualities.

When all seems on the verge of collapse, it’s time to get boogying.  In a separate bowl, sugar and the fats are creamed together.

And then some eggs are added.  Once the eggs are beaten in, it’s sponge time.

To the now sponged-dough, flour and water are mixed in to create a soft dough.

Several minutes with a dough hook later and a lovely smooth dough results.

The dough is formed into a ball and left to rest in an oiled bowl for a couple of hours until it doubles in size.

Then it goes into a pie tin (starting to look familiar isn’t it?) for another nap.

Once the dough reaches the sides of the tin, it’s ready to go into the oven after an egg wash.  Because of the high sugar content, the crust of the resulting bread is dark brown and gorgeous.

And now comes the hard part.  It’s important to wait at least two hours before cutting the bread.  But, it’s worth it.  Soft, and sweet with a tender crust, this bread makes me wish I was Portuguese, or Hawaiian just so I could stake just a little heritage claim.

Portuguese Sweet Bread

The Bread Baker’s Apprentice

Peter Reinhart, 2001

Makes 2 round loaves

Note: I used the weighted measurements


  • .5 C (2.25 oz) unbleached bread flour
  • 1 T (.5 oz) granulated sugar
  • 2.25 t (.25 oz) instant yeast
  • .5 C (4 oz) water, room temp


  • 6 T (3 oz) granulated sugar
  • 1 t (.25 oz) salt
  • .25 C (1.25 oz) powdered milk (DMS)
  • 2 T (1 oz) unsalted butter, room temp.
  • 2 T (1 oz) vegetable shortening
  • 2 large eggs (3.3 oz)
  • 1 t  (.17 oz) lemon extract
  • 1 t  (.17 oz) orange extract
  • 1 t  (.17 oz) vanilla
  • 3 C  (13.5 oz) unbleached bread flour
  • about 6 T (3 oz) water, room temp.

To make sponge

Stir together flour, sugar and yeast in a small bowl.  Add the water and stir until all ingredients are mixed into a smooth batter.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and ferment at room temp. for 60-90 minutes or until the sponge is foamy and on the verge of collapse.

To make dough

Combine the sugar, salt, powdered milk and fats into a 4-quart mixing bowl (or bowl of a standing mixer).  Cream together until smooth then add in eggs and extracts.  Switch to a dough hook or knead by hand and mix in sponge and flour, adding in water as needed to make a soft dough.  The dough will be very supple and easy to knead and not wet or sticky.  It will take 10-12 minutes with electric mixer or 15 minutes by hand.  Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer dough to bowl, rolling it to coat in oil.  Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let proof for two hours, until the dough doubles in size.

Remove the dough from the bowl and cut into two pieces.  Form each of the pieces into a boule (ball).  Lightly oil two 9-inch pie tins and place one boule, seam-side down in each.  Mist dough with oil and cover loosely with plastic wrap.  Proof dough two to three hours or until the dough fills the pans.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, placing racks in center of the oven.

Gently brush boules with egg wash.

Bake the loaves for 50-60 minutes rotating 180 degrees halfway through for more even baking.  The dough will brown very quickly and get darker as the center gradually catches up with the outside.  Remove from tins and place on a rack to cool at least 90 minutes before slicing.

One thought on “Portuguese (or if you live on the West Coast, Hawaiian) Sweet Bread”

  1. I loved Hawaiian bread as a kid but haven’t had it for ages. Reading your description, I’m wondering if the recipe is similar to brioche? Gorgeous loaf of bread — I bet it would make delicious sandwiches, too.

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