My mother is from Portalegre and my memories of this Easter bread goes back to when I was little. It was traditionally offered by the godfathers to their godchildren at Easter. However, nowadays it is possible to find this sweet bread throughout the year and whenever someone from the family went to Portalegre, or someone from there came to pay us a visit, we already knew that there would be sweet breads in the luggage, along with other local delicacies like white sausages and egg candies. My mother came young to Lisbon, almost like her whole family. In Portalegre remained an aunt who eventually came to live with my mother when her husband died. More than an aunt, she was a kind of borrowed grandmother. A sweet lady, dedicated to others, who made tailormade suits and who liked to write rhymes about the family and the nearby mountains. Now, since there is no one else to bring these Easter breads on a trip, it’s time to bake them myself.
This, like the one from Olhão, is one of the most aromatic Easter breads, intoxicating in the aromas that releases: cinnamon, fennel and brandy. You can eat it like this, plain, or warm and coated with a thin layer of butter. With leftovers, if they exist, you can make toasts for breakfast the next day.
You can make this recipe without great difficulties. Problems may occur when you dissolve the yeast in the milk – be careful that the milk is not too hot, it must be warm at body temperature, otherwise it will kill the yeast – and place the breads on the trays with enough space between them so they can grow without sticking to one another. I like to cover the bowl with cling film for leavening doughs. I think it creates an hermetic environment that makes it easier to leaven. Then I put the bowl into the oven, without heating of course, and let the yeast do its magic. In winter I can still put a wool blanket on top, but this time of year it’s probably no longer necessary. The recipe makes 8 Easter breads, you can offer some, so you’ll need to bake them in two batchs. After 30 minutes in the oven test with a toothpick to check if they are cooked inside.
Easter bread (Portuguese traditional recipe)
- 125ml milk, lukewarm
- 25g fresh yeast
- 8 eggs (7 for the dough + 1 for brushing)
- 250g sugar + a little more for sprinkling
- 100ml olive oil
- 60ml brandy
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1 pinch of sea salt
- 1kg all-purpose flour + a little more for sprinkling
- Dissolve the yeast in the lukewarm milk. In a large bowl, beat 7 eggs with sugar. Add the milk with the yeast, olive oil, brandy, cinnamon, fennel seeds and salt.
- Add the flour gradually and knead well, until obtaining a homogenous and elastic dough, about 10 minutes. You can use the electric mixer equipped with the dough hook.
- Cover the bowl with cling film or a clean kitchen towel, place it in warm sheltered place and let it rise for 6 hours.
- At the end of this time, line two baking sheets with parchment paper and sprinkle with flour. Pour the dough onto a work surface dusted with flour. Sprinkle the dough with a little more flour, make a ball and divide it into 8 equal parts. Take each of these parts and make a small ball, sprinkling with flour, if necessary, so it doesn´t stick to your hands. Place the cakes on the prepared trays, about 10 cm apart. Sprinkle with flour and cover with a clean kitchen cloth. Let stand for 3 to 4 hours in a warm sheltered place to rise.
- PPreheat the oven to 180ºC. Brush the cakes with beaten egg, make a cross-shaped cut to the surface with a sharp knife or a pair of scissors and sprinkle with sugar. Bake in the preheated oven for about 30 minutes, or until cooked and golden brown.
Looking for something different for your Easter lunch? How about these lamb stuffed baked zucchinis?