Low Carb Jabberwockey

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Family Traditions: Portuguese Sweet Bread January 21, 2013

Back in December NPR (National Public Radio) had a GREAT spot on Portuguese Sweet Bread. The show brought back a lot of memories of traditions that I think we are sadly losing in my family.  My Mom’s side (the Bragas) emigrated from Portugal to the USA via Hawaii several generations ago…

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Christmas and Easter ALWAYS involved great family get-togethers.  All the Cousins, Aunties, Uncles totally overflowing someone’s house.  Usually it was Alice or Emma’s place (they were sisters), and I will fondly refer to them as Nana and Aunty Emma from here on out.  Coincidentally the two sisters married two brothers….

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Back to the bread……First, there was the pan – I’m pretty sure it was aluminum.  It was huge, and could hold 10 pounds of flour.  As the written portion of the NPR article stated, one could indeed wash a toddler in the bread pan!

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Next there were EGGS.  LOTS of eggs.  And the sugar! Nana was the keeper of a special bowl used only for Portuguese Sweet Bread sugar measuring. I don’t recall what became of the bowl, either it was lost or broken, but I do recall my Mom lamenting that the bread just didn’t taste the same after the bowl went away.

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After that came the melting of the butter, and warming of the milk on the stove – with a wee bit of sugar.  This would be removed from the heat, to cool to the PERFECT temperature at which to add the yeast.  Nana and Aunty Emma had no kitchen thermometers….their fingertips knew the EXACT temperature at which to remove the milk/butter from the heat and add in the yeast.

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When the yeast was ready, then came the addition of all the liquids to the dry, and subsequently the POUNDING.  Yep. Pounding.  With fists.  Nana, Aunty Emma, Mackey (my Mom), and Aunty Chickee (my Aunt) all took turns.  This pounding would go on for a good 15 or 20 minutes….it always seemed to take forever.  My job was to help hold the pan down to the high chair along with other various cousins assistance.

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And all along the way Nana and Aunty Emma were testing the elasticity of the dough (it’s somewhat wet and sticky) – and tasting.  Aunty Emma liked moist bread, Nana like dry so there was always quite alot of back and forth to get the dough to a consistency that the sisters could agree upon.  Finally came the ritual “crossing” of the bread….basically pulling dough across the 10 pound pan, and covering with blankets and putting the giant bread pan somewhere warm to rise.  At Nana’s house it was usually in her bed.

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When the dough had risen enough to satisfy the four ladies involved (lots of debate here amongst them), they would punch it down, and give it a little bit more time, and FINALLY split the dough up, knead, shape into loaves, KiKi’s, and save some off for fried sugar covered donuts (otherwise known as Malasados in Hawaii). THIS is the moment all us kids had so patiently waited for…..the eating of the leavings of dough left behind in that giant aluminum pan !

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So, how to eat it ?  All this baking was a two day experience so we would spend the night, sleep on Nana’s floor, and wake up for a fabulous breakfast of pork spare ribs, sweet bread with butter, and coffee (Postum for the kids) to dunk it in.  Sweet bread in my family was only eaten at breakfast.  Period.

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Thanks NPR for reminding me of these family traditions.  Sadly, modern convenience has eliminated making 10 pound batches – the secret family recipe now has two versions….the one above, but the second “adapted for dough hook”.  Honestly I can’t recall the last time any of us got together specifically to make sweet bread the old fashioned way – Bragas, we need to bring this important piece of our heritage back !

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