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Grandma’s Portuguese Sweet Bread Recipe Made from Scratch

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This Portuguese sweet bread recipe was traditionally baked for Easter celebrations at my house. It’s sweet and perfect fresh out of the oven with a pat of butter. Turns out, this deliciousness doesn’t have to be reserved for just holidays!

Slather it with some butter and lilikoi jelly!

BRAIDED Portuguese sweet bread

Mom’s Portuguese sweet bread recipe

Growing up with a Portuguese mother meant that besides anticipating colorful Easter eggs and chocolate bunnies, our holiday prep included a day of whipping up her Portuguese sweet bread recipe. Mom would twist the dough into braids and tuck eggs between the folds, just like her mom did.

From the fragrance of the proofing yeast to the dough rising and then baking into golden brown loaves of Easter bread, this family tradition – above all others – is my favorite. Nothing compares to a slice of sweet bread, still warm from the oven and topped by a pat of real butter.

sliced bread with butter

Kneading the Portuguese sweet bread

Kneading is a method of repeatedly folding and stretching dough until it’s smooth. The old-school way to knead bread, of course, is by hand. Turn the sweet bread dough out onto a floured surface and sprinkle more flour onto the dough. This prevents the dough from sticking to your hands.

Use the heel of your hand to push the dough, making an indentation in its center. As you push, use your fingers to lift and pull the dough toward you, placing it back over the dough. Repeat with the opposite hand. Lift and turn the dough, adding more flour as necessary to prevent sticking. (Use just enough added flour to prevent sticking; too much will dry out the dough.)

It’ll take about 15 minutes. You know you’re done when the surface of the dough feels smooth and not sticky. If you look closely, you might be able to see tiny air bubbles starting to form under the surface.

Modern day bread making allows us the use of a stand mixer equipped with a dough hook to do the kneading.

process images of bread dough rising

The rising process

Making bread is not difficult. It does take time, though. The cool thing is that most of that time is hands-off. You can go do something else while the yeast is doing its work. Once you’ve kneaded the dough, you’ll set it aside to rise for a couple of hours until it has doubled in bulk. Punch the dough down by pressing your hand into the soft dough; the dough will deflate.

raw bread dough, punched down

Now you’re ready to form the dough into loaves and allow it to rise again for another hour.

Forming the sweet bread dough

This Portuguese sweet bread bread recipe can be formed into a simple loaf, a braided loaf, or rolls. No matter how you choose to form it, start by dividing the dough in half after the first rise.

For a round loaf:

Form each half of the dough into a ball, working to put the “loose” ends on the bottom so that the top is nice and smooth. Place each dough on a cookie sheet and set aside to rise.

How to make a braided loaf of bread: 

Divide each half of the bread dough into three equal pieces. Roll each into a rope, about 1-2 inches in diameter. Press the ends of the ropes together and braid. When you reach the end, tuck ends under slightly and place bread on a cookie sheet for the second rise.

braiding bread dough

To make sweet bread rolls:

Form each half of the dough into a log. Cut the log into (roughly) two inch lengths. Roll each small portion into balls and put in a pie pan. Allow to rise, then bake until nice and brown.

braided sweet bread

★ Did you make my mom’s authentic Portuguese sweet bread recipe? Don’t forget to give it a star rating below!

Grandma's Portuguese Sweet Bread Recipe

Grandma's Portuguese Sweet Bread Recipe

Yield: 20 servings
Prep Time: 2 hours 50 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 3 hours 20 minutes

From the fragrance of the proofing yeast to the dough rising and then baking into golden brown loaves, this family tradition – above all others – is my favorite. Nothing compares to a slice of sweet bread, still warm from the oven and topped by a pat of real butter.

Ingredients

  • 4 1/2 tsp. active dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 1 cup granulated organic cane sugar
  • 1 cup milk, scalded and still hot
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 tsp. sea salt
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 6 to 7 cups unbleached organic all-purpose flour

Instructions

  1. Dissolve yeast in warm water. Mix sugar, hot milk, butter, and salt together in a large bowl, stirring until butter melts. When cooled to lukewarm, beat in eggs and yeast mixture. Gradually beat 5 cups of flour into liquid to make a smooth dough.
  2. If you have a stand mixer that will handle this amount of dough, you can use that to shorten the process. Simply complete above steps in your mixer bowl and let your dough hook do the kneading for you.
  3. To knead by hand, heavily flour a board with a portion of the remaining flour. Turn dough out onto board and sprinkle with remaining flour. Knead until very smooth, adding flour to eliminate stickiness as necessary. You should see small "blisters" of air on the surface of the dough. This takes about 15-20 minutes. Consider it your workout for the day.
  4. Place dough in a large buttered bowl. Cover loosely with a towel and put in a warm place until doubled in size (about two hours).
  5. Punch down dough (it will collapse). Using buttered hands, form dough into desired loaves. You can divide dough into two large loaves or try them as smaller rolls. Or you can try the pie pan method you see used by the historical society.
  6. Place your formed loaves on a buttered cookie sheet or in a buttered pie pan. Cover loaves and set in a warm place to rise again for about an hour. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. Baking time will vary a bit depending upon loaf size.
  7. Optional: Use a pastry brush to baste milk over the loaves just as they start to brown. This will give them a beautiful shiny glow.

To make Portuguese sweet bread rolls:

  1. Turn dough onto floured surface. Divide dough in two. Form each half loosely into a two-inch log. Cut log into two-inch lengths. 
  2. Roll dough into balls. Place onto a buttered cookie sheet or in a buttered pie pan, not quite touching. 
  3. Cover rolls and set in a warm place to rise again for about an hour. 
  4. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. 

How to make a round loaf

  1. Form each half of the dough into a ball, working to put the "loose" ends on the bottom so that the top is nice and smooth. Place each dough on a cookie sheet and set aside to rise.

How to make a braided loaf of bread

  1. Divide each half of the bread dough into three equal pieces.
  2. Roll each into a rope, about 1-2 inches in diameter.
  3. Press the ends of the ropes together and braid. When you reach the end, tuck ends under slightly and place bread on a cookie sheet for the second rise. 
Nutrition Information:
Yield: 20 Serving Size: 1 grams
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 80Total Fat: 3gSaturated Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 35mgSodium: 132mgCarbohydrates: 11gSugar: 10gProtein: 1g

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Portuguese sweet bread in Hawaii

When I moved to Hawai‘i, I noticed plenty of differences in the selection at the grocery store. What surprised me more than anything was the sheer abundance of Portuguese sweet bread. It was available everywhere, every day. No longer would I have to wait for the once-a-year baking and kneading session to savor this slice of my childhood.

While the island style bread is a bit airier than those made with my favorite recipe, having access to Portuguese sweet bread on a daily basis certainly makes up for whatever minor shortfall I perceive in the finished product.

 

portuguese sweet bread recipe rising in blue canning pots

Related: Baking Bread from Scratch – What You Need to Know

History in the [baking]

So just why is there such a preponderance of Portuguese sweet bread here in Hawai‘i? The answer lies in the Portuguese immigrants who came to the islands to work the sugar cane fields in the 1800s. They brought this traditional bread recipe with them. It eventually became as familiar as the sticky rice and poi that are staple foods for island residents.

portuguese sweet bread dough on a table with a vintage teal scale behind

Those Portuguese immigrants also brought along the old world style of baking in a wood-fired stone oven called a forno. While most of the bread you’ll find in Hawaii is baked in a more modern manner, there is one place that you can still savor sweet bread that’s been baked in the traditional way.

Many pans of Portuguese sweet bread on a wooden table

Related: Homemade Light and Fluffy Dinner Rolls

The Kona Historical Society has created a replica of a traditional forno in a field below the old Greenwell Store in Kealakekua. Every Thursday morning, volunteers light a fire in the forno in the wee hours. By 10 am the action begins as more volunteers help to prepare the dough for authentic Portuguese sweet bread recipe or pao doce.

Visitors are invited to watch the baking process, then take some bread to go. The posted hours for this event are from 10 am to 1 pm every Thursday. Note that I’ve arrived during the latter part of this window only to find the bread sold out. If your heart is set on fresh bread, get there early! Want to try the Portuguese sweet bread recipe from the historical society? You can get that here.

pie tins filled with raw portuguese sweet bread dough, browned

Originally published in October 2014; this post has been updated.

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Meet the Author

Kris Bordessa

Kris Bordessa founded Attainable Sustainable as a resource for revitalizing vintage skills. Her book, Attainable Sustainable: The Lost Art of Self-Reliant Living (National Geographic) offers a collection of projects and recipes to help readers who are working their way to a more fulfilling DIY lifestyle.

36 comments… add one
  • Chris Oct 24, 2014, 7:46 pm

    That looks like so much fun. I would have loved to have seen that wood fired oven in action. This recipe reminds me of a bread recipe of my childhood that they called “Sunday buns”, the idea being that you mix them before church and pop them in the oven while the potatoes or veggies are cooking for Sunday dinner. I didn’t have a recipe, for them but now I do. (thanks). I’m going to make these on Sunday for my dinner guests. Soup and buns is on the menu.

  • Nicole Mar 26, 2016, 2:42 pm

    I didn’t get the 2 extra cups of flour but maybe that was just for dusting purposes and it didn’t tell how long to knead the dough if using a mixer with hook. Also the 1st time it didn’t turn out so the second time I proofed the yeast with sugar like it says on some sites. It worked out better the second time.

    • B Mar 16, 2017, 8:30 pm

      Using a stand mixer usually halves the kneading time

  • Michelle Mar 24, 2018, 7:38 pm

    I’ll definitely make this again.

    • Rena Apr 24, 2020, 3:50 pm

      My ohana loved this recipe! I made the rolls…it was heavenly! The first pan of rolls rose perfectly but my second portion didn’t rise as much. Did I take too long to roll into balls or did I miss a step? It didn’t rise as much but it still tasted ono!

      • Kris Bordessa Apr 28, 2020, 7:05 am

        It could simply be the delay between batches, as the yeast could have “spent” itself before baking. If it was tasty, it sounds like you didn’t do anything wrong!

  • Mel Apr 15, 2019, 2:46 pm

    Texture is different. Hawaiian sweet bread is not really authentic Portuguese Sweet Bread.

    • Kris Bordessa Apr 20, 2019, 4:30 pm

      The texture IS different.

  • Lara Apr 19, 2019, 11:45 am

    Can this be refrigerated and baked later? Or frozen and baked later

    • Kris Bordessa Apr 20, 2019, 4:27 pm

      I’ve not tried it. That said, I *have refrigerated yeast dough overnight. If you want to try it, I’d pop it in the fridge once it’s made, then pull it out and let it rise when you take it out.

  • Betty Teves Alcorn Apr 23, 2019, 7:23 am

    I am from Honolulu, and Portuguese sweet bread brings back so many memories. I was raised in California and now live in Pioneer, CA which I dearly love. My recipe is just like yours, except I use one block of butter. I made some this Easter and shared it with my family. I am 78 years young and love to make sweet bread as it is healing to my soul. I always make the sign of the cross over my rising dough, and yes, I too am Portuguese.

    go

    • Kris Bordessa Apr 25, 2019, 7:29 am

      Traditions like this are just so special!

      • Sandra May 2, 2020, 10:00 am

        Mine was a little dry. What can I do to over it?

        • Kris Bordessa May 21, 2020, 11:53 am

          I’m not sure I understand the question, but try reducing the bake time? Your oven might be calibrated differently than mine.

  • Marion Winik Jun 7, 2019, 9:26 am

    Love the rolls idea. Overall, I like this recipe very much. Simple and straightforward. Came out even better than the one at King Arthur Flour (which is a great site for baking.)

    • Kris Bordessa Jun 9, 2019, 3:43 pm

      Glad to hear it!

    • Denise Kaleiki Mar 28, 2020, 9:02 pm

      I plan on making this bread real soon I am Portuguese and have been to Portugal. My Mother was born and raised in Honolulu so we have always eaten for holidays this bread! Thanks so much for sharing your recipe❤️

      • Kris Bordessa Mar 29, 2020, 1:13 pm

        I hope you love it!

  • Janet Russell Sep 28, 2019, 2:50 am

    Hell
    o. I have an indoor grill. Do you think I could make bread on it? Will try your sweet bread over weekend [email protected] thanks.
    tr

    • Kris Bordessa Oct 2, 2019, 3:53 pm

      I’ve only done pizza dough and tortillas on a stovetop grill.

  • Li Nov 16, 2019, 9:58 pm

    Can you recommend sources to buy “real-kine” P. sweetbread? I would love to give some to an older Portuguese couple who are caregivers and homebound. King’s and Ani’s are at all the grocery stores but I’d like to find a brand that is like back home Kauai bread! Thanks!

  • Mar Mar 19, 2020, 12:01 pm

    My family is from Hawaii also. My mom made Portuguese sweet bread all the time. But her recipe has 3 medium potatoes peeled,sliced and mashed. It gives it a heavier texture. Love the smell when it it baking.

    • Kris Bordessa Mar 29, 2020, 1:30 pm

      Ah, I love hearing how different bakers bake!

  • Debbie Mar 21, 2020, 1:27 pm

    Can this be made into loafs instead. This will be my first ever attempt to make bread.

    • Kris Bordessa Mar 29, 2020, 1:22 pm

      Yes, absolutely. Form loaves and place on baking sheets.

  • Belinda Mar 27, 2020, 10:10 am

    I only have instant yeast, do I still activate it in the water?

    • Kris Bordessa Mar 29, 2020, 1:17 pm

      You should not have to proof this in water, but note that I’ve not tried this replacement.

  • Lindsay Apr 1, 2020, 10:53 am

    I am looking forward to trying this recipe. Do you think it could be make with non-dairy milk? We usually have oat milk on hand?

    • Kris Bordessa Apr 1, 2020, 4:09 pm

      I haven’t *tried it, but I would. I think it would work fine.

  • Nicole Apr 9, 2020, 9:00 am

    This recipe looks like it makes 2 pans of rolls. I would like to half it. Would you reccommend using 1 or 2 eggs?

    • Kris Bordessa Apr 12, 2020, 2:13 pm

      I suppose I’d use 2 medium sized eggs.

  • R. Terry Meredith Apr 19, 2020, 2:22 pm

    This can’t be near as good as the recipe that I have from an actual Portuguese grandmother! Her granddaughters were with her when she made a batch and they documented everything that she did. And measured what she was using. This doesn’t have Near enough sugar or butter and doesn’t take near as long as what I used to make. I would get up at 4:00 AM to start a batch in a medium size plastic wash pan and wouldn’t finish until around 10:00 PM at night! It was a chore but it was Great and especially sliced and toasted! My 1st wife’s Grandmother was from Portugal and had been making this since she was a child! Grandma Gertrude Pine (Americanized.)

    • Kris Bordessa Apr 19, 2020, 2:35 pm

      Well, it sounds like you should stick with your recipe, rather than trying my Grandma’s!

    • JANET Apr 27, 2020, 11:17 am

      That’s a bit rude. Did you try this? Maybe it is just as good only easier. Most people would never want to spend that much time!

  • Vicky Jun 21, 2020, 1:33 am

    I’m hopeing to try this today with Father’s Day dinner; I’m a true amateur baker, coo

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