In São Miguel, the island I am from, a variation of this bread is present at every religious celebration. Traditionally, someone who knew how to bake this bread would bake a large quantity of it. A loaf would be placed on top a plate of sweet rice, separated by a paper doily. The whole thing would be wrapped in tissue paper and delivered to friends and family. It could be that a household would have a couple of loafs delivered to them.
Interestingly enough, Portuguese sweet bread is not really a bread in the sense that we do not eat it with a meal. We use it as a dessert. At least that is how it is in our family, but just like its recipe, there are so many variations and ways to eat it. I enjoy it fresh out of the oven plain or with some butter. I will not turn it away with some sweet rice spread over it either. But I do really enjoy it toasted with butter with my morning tea, or evening tea. In short, I am not known to turn my nose up to a piece of Portuguese sweet bread.
3 cups milk
4 cups sugar
1 tbsp. salt
476 gr. butter
zest of 1 lemon
1 egg for egg wash
3 tbsp. yeast
1 cup warm water
3 tbsp. flour
1/2 tsp sugar
Prepare the yeast mixture:
Combine sugar, flour and yeast. Add warm water and whisk until well combined. Set aside.
Prepare the sweetbread dough:
In a saucepan, add milk and butter, heat until butter is melted. Do not boil.
In a very large bowl, beat eggs, salt, lemon zest and sugar until smooth, approximately 2 minutes. Slowly add milk and butter mixture and mix until well combined. Add the yeast mixture, mix with hands to incorporate it. Add all the flour and, using your hands knead until you get a smooth dough, for approximately 5 minutes. Dough will be sticky but that is ok. After kneading the dough for 10 minutes, cover and let rest for an hour minutes.
After the hour, fold dough from the edges to the centre of the bowl. Repeat this process until you’ve folded over all dough. Cover and let rest for 3 hours or until doubled in size.
Grease and flour bread tins. Divide dough in equal parts and form a ball, place in centre of bread tins. Cover and let rest for an additional 2 hours or until doubled in size.
Preheat oven to 325ºF. Bake sweet bread for 45 minutes to an hour.