Portuguese Sweet Bread (Massa Sovada)

Recipe by PJ Hamel

This soft, comforting bread is a mainstay among Portuguese bread lovers, especially at Christmas (and Easter, when it encloses a boiled egg). In this country, the round, mahogany-colored loaf often includes subtle hints of both lemon and vanilla. While it's traditionally served plain or with butter, it also makes delicious toast (or French toast). Our version of this bread isn't as sweet nor rich as some; we found that a high ratio of sugar, eggs, and butter to flour slows down the yeast so much that the loaf doesn't rise well. But we're sure you'll enjoy this mildly sweet bread just the same.

15 mins
35 to 45 mins
3 hrs 50 mins
one 9" loaf
Portuguese Sweet Bread (Massa Sovada)


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  1. Combine the milk, butter, sugar, and salt in a microwave-safe cup, or in a saucepan. Heat to lukewarm, stirring to soften the butter. Set aside.

  2. Weigh your flour; or measure it by gently spooning it into a cup, then sweeping off any excess. In a mixing bowl, the bowl of your stand mixer, or the bucket of your bread machine, combine the flour, yeast, and lemon zest; stir to combine.

  3. Add the milk mixture, stirring first to make sure the sugar and salt aren't left in the bottom of the cup or pan.

  4. Add the eggs, yolk, and vanilla. Mix and knead until the dough is cohesive and smooth; it'll be very sticky at first. If you're using a stand mixer, beat with the flat beater for about 3 minutes at medium-high speed; then scrape the dough into the center of the bowl, switch to the dough hook, and knead for about 5 minutes at medium speed. It will have formed a ball somewhat, but will probably still be sticking to the bottom of the bowl. If you're using a bread machine, simply let it go through its entire cycle, and skip to step 6.

  5. Lightly grease the mixing bowl or a large (8-cup) measure, round the dough into a ball, and place it in the bowl or measure. Cover, and let rise until very puffy, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. If you're using a bread machine and the dough hasn't doubled in size when the cycle is complete, simply let it rest in the machine for another 30 to 60 minutes.

  6. Lightly grease a 9" round cake pan, or a baking sheet. The round pan will make a somewhat taller loaf.

  7. Gently deflate the dough, and round it into a ball. Place the ball in the pan or on the baking sheet, and tent the dough gently with lightly greased plastic wrap. Or cover it with the cover of your choice; we use clear shower caps here in the King Arthur test kitchen.

  8. Let the loaf rise for about 2 hours, until it's nicely puffy. Toward the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 350°F.

  9. Mix the reserved egg white with 1 tablespoon cold water, and brush some onto the surface of the loaf; this will give it a satiny, mahogany-brown crust.

  10. Bake the bread for 15 minutes, then tent it lightly with aluminum foil. Bake for an additional 20 to 25 minutes, until it's a medium golden brown and its internal temperature registers 190°F on a digital thermometer.

  11. Remove the bread from the oven, and gently transfer it to a rack to cool. Cool completely before slicing.

  12. Store for several days at room temperature, well-wrapped; freeze for longer storage.