Portuguese Sweet Bread recipe - Macheesmo

Portuguese Sweet Bread

Portuguese Sweet Bread - A traditional Portuguese sweet bread with lots of delicious flavors. A slice is perfect toasted with a bit of butter or Nutella.


Portuguese Sweet Bread

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A space has never been so important in a food name.  Sweet bread is vastly different than sweetbread.

Sweetbread, of course, being the thymus gland of an animal (delicious in Po Boys) and sweet bread being an actual loaf of bread that happens to be sweet.

It can be confusing in writing, but it’s much more confusing in speech.

A recent conversation I had with Betsy:

Bets: What are you cooking today?

Nick: Sweet bread.

Bets: Awesome!  My favorite.  I can’t wait to try it!

Many hours later…

Bets: I thought you said you were make sweetbreads?!

Nick:  Sorry.  I should’ve been more specific.  I was making sweet space bread.

It turns out though that Portuguese Sweet Bread is also a wonderfully delicious thing and one that I’d never made before it won the poll last week.  I was really happy with how it turned out!

Portuguese Sweet Bread

2 loaves
Prep Time:
Total Time:
Portuguese Sweet Bread recipe - Macheesmo
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A traditional Portuguese sweet bread with lots of delicious flavors. A slice is perfect toasted with a bit of butter or Nutella.



1/2 Cup bread flour
1 Tablespoon sugar
2.25 Teaspoons instant yeast
1/2 Cup water


6 Tablespoons sugar
1 Teaspoon salt
1/4 Cup powdered milk
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
2 Large eggs
1 Teaspoon lemon (or almond) extract
1 Teaspoon orange extract
1 Teaspoon vanilla extract
3 Cups bread flour
6 Tablespoons water, room temperature

Egg Wash:

1 Egg, whisked with 1 Teaspoon water


1) Start sponge by mixing starter ingredients in a medium bowl. Stir until it makes a smooth batter. Cover and let sit at room temperature for 60-90 minutes, until the sponge is very foamy.

2) To make dough, combine sugar, salt, powdered milk, and butter in large bowl or with a paddle attachment in a stand mixer. Combine until smooth.

3) Mix in eggs, one at a time, and extracts.

4) Mix in the sponge and flour and switch to the dough hook. Mix on medium with the dough hook until the dough is very supple and soft. If it is at all wet or sticky add more flour by the spoonful. Alternatively, you can knead by hand on a floured surface until the desired consistency is reached. This will take 10-12 minutes with a mixer or 15-16 minutes by hand.

5) Add dough ball to a lightly greased bowl, cover and let ferment until it doubles in size, about 2 hours.

6) Remove dough from bowl and divide into two pieces. Form each piece into a tight round ball (a boule). Lightly oil two 9-inch pie pans and place one boule in each pan, seam side down. Cover loosely and let rise for another 2-3 hours, until the dough doubles in size.

7) Brush loaves with egg wash.

8) Bake loaves at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes until they are a deep brown and sound slightly hollow when thumped.

9) Remove from the oven and let cool on wire racks. Let cool for at least 45 minutes before slicing.

Portuguese Sweet Bread

Making the Starter

Like a lot of real bread recipes, this Portuguese Sweet Bread loaf involves  a starter.  Don’t worry, this particular starter is really easy and doesn’t take days to make.  You just need a few ingredients.

starter for Portuguese Sweet Bread
The basics.

Mix these all together with some water and let it ferment for 60-90 minutes until it gets nice and foamy.  This also has the added benefit of making sure your yeast is nice and lively.

After the rise time, it should be really foamy and on the verge of collapse.

alive - Portuguese Sweet Bread
It’s alive!

Making the Dough

If there is one book for which I’m very afraid to alter the recipes, it’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.  The recipes are so specific that I just always feel like I’m committing some sort of cardinal sin if I change them.

So I feel obligated to disclose two changes that I made to this recipe.  One I made on purpose and one I made on accident.  Neither change made for a bad loaf.

First, I used 4 tablespoons of butter in my recipe while the original recipe called for 2 tablespoons of butter and 2 tablespoons of vegetable shortening.  I made this change on purpose because I didn’t have any vegetable shortening!

Second, the original recipe called for lemon extract but I used almond extract in my version.  The only reason I made this change is because I apparently cannot read.

Regardless, the one ingredient in this recipe that Mr. Reinhart says you 100% cannot substitute is powdered milk.  I get that.  It gives the final loaf a very specific flavor and texture.  It’s not really negotiable.

other stuff for Portuguese Sweet Bread
Powdered milk is apparently important.

To start the dough, add the butter (or butter and shortening if you’re using both) to a bowl with the salt, sugar, and powdered milk and kind of work them together with a large spoon.

You could also add them to a stand mixer and beat them with a paddle attachment.  You basically want to cream them together and I did kind of a piss poor job of it.  Ideally, it would be one creamy texture.

creaming butter for Portuguese Sweet Bread
Not my best job…

Anyway, then add your eggs one at a time, and the extracts and continue to mix.

Once all that is mixed together, add your starter that has been foaming away along with your bread flour and water.

dough - Portuguese Sweet Bread
That starter is cool stuff.

While you can definitely make this recipe with a stand mixer, I went ahead and made it by hand just to be different.

If you do use a mixer, switch to the dough hook after you get your ingredients together and stir it on medium for 10-12 minutes until the dough ball is a nice, soft texture.

If you’re doing it by hand, stir everything together until you get a rough ball.  Something kind of like this…

dough for Portuguese Sweet Bread recipe

Scoop this out onto a lightly floured counter and start kneading!  Here’s the bad news… this will take 15-16 minutes depending on your kneading skills.  If the dough gets sticky at any point, knead in another spoonful of flour.

The resulting dough ball should be very smooth and soft and easy to work with.

Once you get it there, add it to a lightly oiled bowl so it can rise!

before the rise - Portuguese Sweet Bread

The First Rising

Let the dough rise until it about doubles in size.  This should take about two hours.  This dough is incredibly soft and easy to work with.  It actually reminded me of doughnut dough…

Doubling is about right.

A Strange Step

I was a bit confused about the next step.  Actually, I’m still confused by it so I shouldn’t use past tense.  The recipe calls to divide the dough into two even pieces and form loaves of dough.  Makes sense, but then it says to add those boules to lightly greased pie pans.

I’m completely at a loss as to why you have to bake these in pie pans, but here it goes.

pie pans for Portuguese Sweet Bread
No idea why pie pans are needed.

The Second Rising

Once you’ve put your dough balls into the pie pans (seriously you can just use sheet pans as far as I can tell), cover them loosely and let them rise a second time.

Again, they should double in size which will take another 2 hours or so.

Then brush each loaf with a light coat of the egg wash.

egg wash - Portuguese Sweet Bread
For a nice brown crust…

Baking and Cooling

Bake these guys at 350 degrees for about 50-60 minutes.

After about 30 minutes they will start to get very browned.  Have no fear.  They won’t burn.  Just let them keep cooking until the full 50-60 minutes is up.  They should sound slightly hollow when thumped when they are done.  If you’re in doubt, let them bake for another 5 minutes.

When you pull them out, let them cool on a wire rack.  These are really pretty!

loafs of Portuguese Sweet Bread
Pretty things!

I loved the crust on these Portuguese Sweet Bread loaves.  After you let them cool for about 45 minutes, you can slice into them to reveal a nice crust and a very soft crumb which is awesome.

sliced Portuguese Sweet Bread
Makes great toast!

As you might guess, the dough is slightly sweet but also has great flavor from all the different extracts.

This Portuguese Sweet Bread is great on its own with some butter but is also good as toast with a dab of Nutella.

I hadn’t made a good loaf of bread in awhile so I was really happy with how these turned out!

26 Responses to “Portuguese Sweet Bread” Leave a comment

    1. Hmm.. I’ve never really used a bread machine. I think it would work okay. You would want to make the starter separately and then mix it in.

      Once the dough was mixed, take it out of the machine and divide it into two loafs before proofing it for the final time. I think it would work okay, but never have tried it.

      1. Yeah, this will work in a bread machine — you can manually start and stop the cycles if you’re worried about making the starter separately. And if you have one of the larger capacity bread machines, you probably wouldn’t even need to split the dough in two, but just make one nice large loaf.

  1. Hi there Nick,
    I love making bread but rarely do it because i’m a terrible planner. Even though many bread recipes call for instant yeast, I only ever have regular dry active because it’s so easy to come by, ie. at the bodega downstairs. In your pic, you show the regular dry active. Is this what you ended up using? If not, do you think the starter would still work with regular yeast?
    thanks much!

    1. No problem Ruby… I listed instant yeast in the ingredients b/c that was what was in the original recipe. I use the dry stuff though. Honestly I use them interchangeably in recipes. For the dry stuff, just make sure you start it with plenty of water (like the starter in this recipe) so they can re-hydrate.

      I’ve never had a problem subbing one for the other. Good luck!

      1. i’m generally a master-subber, but i never play around with breads. pysched to know i can on the yeast front! thanks for the info. cheers!

  2. Oh! That has been one of our family’s favorites for years! And our friends, as well. Although I didn’t use powdered milk or the extracts. It’s great for giving – any reason. Thank you for including it in your journal. Happy.

  3. Mmmmm! Sounds (and looks!) delicious! Definitely will be trying this one. Question: Do you think you could make it in loaf pans and use it as sandwich bread?

    1. Yes, absolutely. And (with and without the flavorings) this makes the best French toast!
      You can even form them into smaller rolls and/or use them for hamburger buns! Again, leaving the flavoring out for that ;)

  4. Such lovely loaves. On a guess, I’d say the pie pans were to surround the dough with radiant heat, helping with crust formation. Bonus tip, if you proof the dough under the bowl you don’t need to grease it. Cheers.

  5. This sounds very similar to a flavored Challah bread, shaped in a boule. Great type of bread to make without a machine! Bread is one of those foods that I’ve got down. :) No bread machine here!

  6. two questions:

    do you think it would be cool to sub Bird’s Custard Powder for the milk powder?

    Can you freeze one of the loafs to bake at a later time?

    wait…one more question: can I use orange zet instead of extract..I’m too lazy to go to the store



    1. Hmm… no idea on the custard powder. Never seen it. My guess is that it must have some gelatin like things in it to make the custard form and that might affect the bread…

      You can definitely freeze it. Bake it and then let it cool completely and double wrap tightly. Should freeze fine!

      Definitely on the orange zest. Should work great.

  7. I love the look of this bread, the texture is perfect. I like the changes that you made, but I know what you mean by not wanting to change his recipes. I can’t wait to try this.

  8. I made this today without the flavorings as a sandwich loaf, it was awesome!!!!! So easy too. I almost think I am a baker. Hahahaha, it is my 5th time, i baked the wheat sandwich loaf 4 times already, but i think i like this one better.

  9. I was thrilled to find that “instant yeast” is mentioned in the list of ingredients, however I noticed that “active” yeast is in the photo. Have you made it with instant yeast?

    Can’t wait to try it!

    1. Hey Lee, looks like you figured it out, but yea.. you can use either. If I use the granulated stuff I just let it proof a bit to dissolve fully and then use it just like any other yeast. Good luck!

  10. Sorry! Just read an older post about the yeast. I wasn’t aware that I could use the instant yeast and “proof” it.

  11. I wonder if I can make it into one big loaf, using a 9-in X 2-in round pie pan, as my dough seems rather small for 2 loaves. If yes, are there any further tips, such as temperature setting, baking time, etc or would it turnout too dark for longer oven time? Please, hurry, I am doing the last rise in a pan!

    1. Hey Fatima, I would keep it in two loafs… I’m not sure what changes would need to be made to combine into one loaf.

      Good luck!

      1. Thank you, Nick, for your quick response. As the dough was rising nicely I let it be and baked as just one loaf. And what a beautiful one it turned out to be. The crust came out great, all cooked through (it took 80 minutes in the oven), and yielded big slices the way I love. I used 2 small eggs and 1 yolk, and instead of 2 tablespoon of butter, I used 2 tablespoons of lard, just to do like farm people. Water was not necessary, as the yolk, the lard and the natural humidity in the flour (and in the air) did the trick. Love your recipes and techniques. This is the third one I try with a complete success!

  12. My mom had a recipe called a sunbeam cake to use the 12 egg yolks up. I will look for the recipe, with the price of eggs in Canada everything has to be used up and not thrown out.

    1. I will reply to myself, the memo about the 12 egg yolks should be attached to the angel food cake recipe…..Sorry

  13. Hi Nick! Thanks for this traditional portuguese sweet bread recipe. I’m looking for a new recipe to try in the bread machine, and traditional Portuguese sweet breads, fresh from portuguese bakeries, have been a family favorite, growing up in Massachusetts.
    Note: The traditional shape of the Portuguese sweet bread is similar to a huge mushroom… the top of it looks like your loaf, resting on the shorter, ‘pie-shell’ base of the bread. Yum!

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