A traditional recipe for Portugal's famous sweet bread.
In the Portuguese culture, food is the highlight of popular celebrations, with some dishes only making an appearance on special occasions. Massa sovada, or Portuguese Sweet Bread, is one such celebratory treat. It is a light and airy bread with a subtle sweet taste that makes for a delightful morning toast topped with butter or jam - or prepared all on its own -with a cup of tea or coffee. In Portugal and its islands, it's also served alongside savory dishes, especially as an accompaniment to fish and seafood.
Massa sovada inspired the creation of the famous Hawaiian sweet bread.
Massa sovada originated in the Azores islands, but can also be found in Portugal, where it is more popularly called pão doce, meaning sweet bread. In Portuguese communities throughout the U.S. and Canada, it's also common to find massa sovada at community celebrations such as their annual festa. Portuguese families in Hawaii even introduced the tropical state to massa sovada, inspiring the creation of the famous Hawaiian sweet bread.
Traditionally, massa sovada is baked in Portugal for religious holidays such as Easter and Christmas but is commonly made for other celebrations as well. On Easter specifically, a variation of the sweet bread is prepared, called folar da páscoa, and it represents the bread served at the Last Supper. The difference between massa sovada and folar is that a folar is baked with a whole egg on top to represent the rebirth of Christ, covered by dough in the shape of a cross representing the crucifixion of Christ.
One of the Portuguese community's favorite home chefs, Maria Lawton, also known as the Azorean Green Brean, has graciously shared her recipe for massa sovada with us. We've also included instructions on how to turn your massa sovada into a folar de páscoa. Enjoy!
Maria is host of the Rhode Island PBS show, Maria's Portuguese Table, and author of the cookbook, Azorean Cooking: From My Family Table to Yours. You can find a link to purchase her cookbook at the end of the recipe.
Massa Sovada Recipe
Servings: Five to six 9-inch round loaves
Prep & Cook Time: 8 - 11 hours prep time; 45 min - 1 hour cook time
For the yeast:
3 (1/4-oz) packets of active dry yeast (Fleischmann’s Rapid Rise preferred)
4 tbsps flour
1 cup warm water
For the dough:
4 cups whole milk
4 sticks butter - room temperature
12 large eggs - room temperature
5 cups sugar
5 pounds all-purpose flour
3/4 tablespoon salt
+1 egg for egg wash
Additional ingredients for folar:
5 or 6 eggs (1 for each loaf of bread)
1. Proof the yeast. Put all of the yeast ingredients (yeast packets, flour, warm water) in a small bowl and mix together to dissolve. Set aside until the liquid becomes foamy and begins to rise, usually about 10 minutes.
* If it doesn't rise after 20 minutes, your yeast might not be active and you need to start again with new yeast.
2. Heat the milk and butter in a large saucepan over medium to low heat. Stir frequently until the butter has completely melted. Let mixture get very hot, but not boiling. Set aside.
3. In a large bowl, use a mixer to beat together the eggs and sugar. Start at low speed until the ingredients are incorporated together. Then raise the speed to high and whip the mixture until it becomes light and fluffy and air bubbles start to form. The mixture resembles a light batter, and when left standing for a minute, foam should form at the top. Set aside.
4. Pour the 5 pounds of flour into a very large bowl, and then sprinkle the salt over it. Form a well with the flour by pushing the flour to the sides of the bowl. Add the egg and sugar mixture into the well and, with a wooden spoon, start mixing it all together.
5. Then add the milk and butter mixture very slowly. Continue to mix. Once all of the milk and butter has been added, the dough might get harder to mix with the spoon. If that happens at any point, you’ll need to start kneading with your hands.
6. Once all of the dough ingredients are mixed well, add the yeast to the dough. Knead it well, using a slight slapping and hitting motion. Always check for lumps, since you don't want lumps in the dough. Once well kneaded, cover the dough and let it rest for a half hour.
7. After half an hour, knead the dough again, bringing the sides of the dough up to the middle and punching it down again. Repeat several times. Then sprinkle the top of the dough and sides of bowl with flour. Cover the bowl of dough with kitchen towels or a blanket to keep warm and away from drafts. Let the dough rise until it doubles in size. This can take a while, sometimes up to 5 hours or more.
8. Grease the baking pans (9"diameter, 3" tall) well with butter and set aside.
9. Once the dough has doubled in size, flour your hands, then punch down the dough, kneading it several times.
10. Rip off pieces of dough and knead each one in your hands into a ball-like shape and place in baking pan (always flouring your hands lightly before you grab the dough). A large baking pan can take up to 3 balls of dough. If making a folar, set aside a large grapefruit-size piece of dough; you’ll be using it to create strips over the raw egg.
11. After placing the balls of dough in the baking pan, let the dough rise while covered again in a warm, draft-free spot until doubled in size, about 2 to 4 hours.
12. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Position rack in the middle of the oven and remove any extra racks.
13. Once the dough has doubled, beat one egg to create an egg wash. Brush the egg wash generously over the top of each loaf. If making a folar, before adding the egg wash, place one whole egg into the top of each loaf leaving the top of the egg exposed. With the extra dough from step 10, place 2 small strips over the egg forming a cross.
14. Bake for 45 to 60 minutes, until golden brown. Test with a toothpick; it should come out clean when the massa sovada is done. Watch the bread closely because you don’t want to overbake it and get too dry.
*If the top of the bread is a perfect golden color but the dough is not done, cover the loaf with foil while the dough finishes baking. This should keep the top from burning.
15. When done baking, transfer the baking pan onto a baking rack to cool for 20 minutes.
16. After 20 minutes, remove each sweet bread from the pan and let cool completely. Wrap generously in plastic saran wrap and the massa sovada will last for two to three days. You can also freeze the loaves to store them longer.
As mentioned above, Maria Lawton is the author of the cookbook Azorean Cooking: From My Family Table to Yours, teaching readers how to bring a taste of the Azores into their own kitchens. Get more of Maria's authentic Azorean recipes by purchasing her cookbook on Amazon.
*psst...it includes this recipe ;)