James Beard Award-winning Cookbook Author

Portuguese Sweet Bread: The Recipe

My last post described how Portuguese Sweet Yeast Bread dough is shaped into rolls at the Kona Historical Society’s stone oven (forno) on Hawaii’s Big Island. Baker Lewis Draxlir and his wife, Carla, are masters at the task. The photo above shows the shaped rolls in the pan, and here’s a video showing how Lewis does it.

As the rolls rise under a towel, Lewis sweeps the ash out of the oven. This is a messy task and he wears a mask so that he doesn’t inhale the dust.

Here’s what the inside of the oven looks like as the last of the ashes are swept out.

Now to the baking. Once the rolls have risen, they’re brushed with an egg glaze before going into the oven. The darker rolls are made with half whole wheat flour.

The first pans go into the oven when the temperature is close to 500 degrees. Carla sets a pan of rolls on Lewis’s baker’s peel and he slides the pan in quickly. They work together at a rapid pace to get the pans into the oven as quickly as possible without losing too much oven heat.

After about 20 minutes the rolls are done and Lewis slides the pans out as fast as he can and he and Carla reload the oven lickety split. By this time the oven heat is around 400 degrees and the second batch of rolls takes a few minutes longer to bake.

bread has an aroma like nothing else, and just before the rolls come out of the oven they perfume the air with their alluring aroma. I just want to eat one right away! When the rolls come out they are a gorgeous deep golden brown and they have an irresistibly sweet, inviting yeasty smell.

Lewis cuts into a few so that we can taste them within minutes of baking. The rolls are dense, sweet, and buttery and are very easy to eat. We helpers get first crack at buying the rolls at $7 a pan. What we don’t buy gets moved up to the highway, and within a couple of hours all the rolls will have disappeared into the hands of passersby.







Okay. Enough said. Now go bake.

Portuguese Sweet Bread (Pao Doce)

I’ve adapted this recipe from the one at the Kona Historical Society web site to make 2 pans of rolls instead of 4, and I’ve changed the method slightly. The amount of flour is approximate and will depend on humidity and dryness of the flour. When in doubt it’s best to err on the side of a moister dough.
Course Breakfast
Cuisine American



  • 1 cup warm water
  • 2 packages active dry or rapid rise yeast packages (1/4 ounce each)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 oz butter melted
  • 2 eggs large, lightly beaten
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 4 cups unbleached flour Unbleached all-purpose flour or bread flour (dip dry measure into flour container to overflowing and level off excess)

Egg Glaze

  • 1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water


  • Put the water into a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer and stir in the yeast and 1 teaspoon of the sugar with a wooden spoon. When the yeast is foamy, in about 10 minutes, add the remaining sugar, the butter and eggs.
  • If making the dough by hand, gradually stir in 3 cups of the flour. Beat vigorously with the spoon for several minutes until the dough becomes quite elastic (if you lift a spoonful of dough up from the bowl it should stretch for about 1 foot). Stir in another 3/4 cup flour to make a thick dough. Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup flour on your work surface and scrape the dough onto it. Knead about 5 minutes to incorporate the flour and to make a very smooth, soft, but supple dough that may be only slightly sticky.
  • If making the dough with a stand mixer, attach the flat beater and add 3 cups of flour to the mixing bowl; beat it in on low speed. Increase the speed to medium and beat for 5 minutes, until the dough begins to mass on the beater and is very stretchy. Scrape the bowl and beater and attach the dough hook. Add 3/4 cup more flour and knead on low speed for about 5 minutes, until the dough is smooth, soft, elastic, and a bit sticky. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of the remaining 1/4 cup flour on your work surface and scrape the dough onto it. Knead about 2 minutes to incorporate the flour and to make a very smooth, soft, but supple dough that may be only slightly tacky. If too wet, knead in the last of the flour.
  • Wash and dry the bowl you used and either rub it with vegetable oil or coat it with cooking spray. Shape the dough into a ball and place it in the bowl. Turn to coat all surfaces with the oil or spray the top of the dough with cooking spray. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let the dough rise at room temperature until almost tripled in size, about 2 hours.
  • Place the dough onto your work surface and pat it gently to deflate it. Don’t punch it. Divide the dough in half.
  • Roll one piece of dough into a “snake” and pinch off 7 equal pieces. Shape into round rolls and arrange in an ungreased 9-inch round pie tin. Repeat with the remaining dough. Cover loosely with a kitchen towel and let rise at room temperature until puffy and light and doubled in size, about 1 hour.
  • Brush with egg glaze and bake in the center of a preheated 400 degree oven for about 25 to 30 minutes, until rolls are golden brown and cooked through. Bottoms of rolls should be brown.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating