Thursday, February 02, 2006

Cooking School: Hawaiian Sweet Bread

Hawaiian sweet bread was my favorite sandwich bread growing up, though I did not have it often. Even better was the fact that not only could I use it to make my peanut butter and jelly before school, but when there was a loaf of it in the house I could have really delicious toast for breakfast, too.
Hawaiian sweet bread seems to be the same thing as Portuguese sweet bread, a name which is slightly more common. The brand that I always bought was King's Hawaiian Sweet Bread, which was soft, buttery and, of course, sweet. Hawaiian sweet bread is similar to breads like challah and brioche in that it is enriched with both egg and butter. Unlike those two, however, it has a tiny bit less added fat and a lot more sugar. Because it is also found in the Philippines, it seems likely that the recipe for the bread was spread by Portuguese sailors and settlers, traveling through the East Indies and other parts of the south Pacific.
Working with the ingredients of King's Hawaiian as a guide, I tracked down a recipe that seemed as though it would be a reasonable facsimile. The ingredients list flour, water, milk, sugar, margerine, eggs, butter, yeast and potato flour. A few ingredients, like high fructose corn syrup, I chose to disregard. The inclusion of potato flour is what keeps the bread moist and soft for several days after it is baked. I almost never use potato flour, preferring instant mashed potato flakes instead (potato flour is essentially the same thing, but approximately five times the price). This recipe, and slightly variations thereof, can be found all over the web and it is the one I decided to base my own recipe on.
The best way to mix this bread is using an electric or stand mixer, as it takes some time for the dough to come together. You can work the butter and extra flour in by hand, of course, but it really is much easier if you have a mixer. The dough is soft and heavy, with a lovely yellow tinge from the egg yolks. I chose to make free form loaves, but this dough can be put into two loaf pans, as well, for more traditional sandwich sized bread. It is sweet, buttery and everything that I hoped it would be - minus the high fructose corn syrup.

Hawaiian Sweet Bread
(based on this recipe)
1 package active dry yeast (2 1/2 tsp)
1/4 cup water, warm
1 cup sugar, divided
1/2 cup boiled potatoes, mashed (* see note)
1 tsp lemon juice
1/4 cup milk, warm
1 tsp salt
3 large eggs
1/4 cup butter, very soft
4-5 cups ap flour

In a large bowl, preferably the bowl of an electric mixer, conbine yeast, warm water, 1 tablespoon of sugar and the mashed potatoes. Let stand for 5 minutes. Add remaining sugar, lemon juice, milk, salt, eggs and 2 cups of flour, mixing very thoroughly with the paddle attachment of your mixer. Switch to dough hook. Add 1 1/2 cups more flour and butter, cut into chunks. Mix on low speed until smooth, then add remaining flour a few tablespoons at a time until dough comes away from the sides of the bowl and clings to the dough hook. Place on a lightly floured surface and knead for 2-3 more minutes to ensure smoothness. Place bdough in a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled, 2-3 hours in a warm place.
Turn dough out on a lightly floured surface.
Divide dough in half. The dough can be shaped into two loaves as desired: two round loaves, two oblong loaves, two clover loaves (made with balls of dough) or shaped into rectangles and place in two, lightly greased loaf pans. Place free form loaves on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Cover dough with a clean dish towel and let rise for 45 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350F.
Bake for 35-40 minutes, until golden. Loaves will sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. The best way to check for doneness is to insert an instant -read thermometer (like a meat thermometer) into the bottom of the loaf a few inches. The temperature will read 200F when the bread is done.
Let cool completely on a wire rack before slicing.
Store in an airtight container or ziploc bag.
Makes 2 loaves.

*Note: Instant potato flakes make a great substitute for mashed potatoes. Use about 1/3 cup potato flakes with 1/2 cup hot water and let it cool slightly before adding to the yeast.