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Carrying on Tradition

God help us all if us millennials are in charge of carrying on cultural traditions.

Sweetbread is an absolute staple in Portuguese cuisine. Even more so at Easter time. The special Easter variety of sweetbread includes an egg (still in its shell) baked into the top center of the bread, for reasons I could never comprehend. You can't eat the egg, right? I'm going to assume it's decorative until someone tells me otherwise.

I grew up in probably the most Portuguese area in the United States. Portuguese population second only to actual Portugal, maybe. I never had to make a sweetbread. It was sold fresh at every bakery and store within a 60 mile radius, in addition to the homemade versions that would show up for every occasion.

I have since moved out of state, but typically return home regularly enough to get my hands on sweetbread. Enter 2020, when I realized I would be spending Easter in quarantine. My social media pages were flooded with pictures of family making homemade sweetbread. None of it was going to make its way to me this year. I, however, was determined to see to it that I did not go an Easter without my "massa" (sweetbread).

I sucked up my pride and posted a desperate cry for a massa recipe on my Facebook page. One recipe came up in a few recommendations so I went with the popular vote. Only it wasn't a recipe so much as a You Tube video of a Portuguese woman going through the act of baking a massa, in Portuguese. I put my years of Portuguese classes to the test and watched the video on repeat, pausing to take notes on what she was doing. Her measurements were all "mais ou menos" (more or less), which is sort of a death sentence in baking, but I soldiered on nonetheless.

I spent an entire day measuring, mixing, kneading, and waiting. I even created a little mini sauna room to promote rising. But, by the end of the day, my dough had not risen as expected. I blamed the yeast that I used from the back of my cabinet that was 5 years past the expiration date. In a rogue attempt to salvage my efforts, I doubled-down and added a second packet of expired yeast and let it sit overnight.

It worked. By morning, my dough had risen and was ready for baking. Apparently, there is a very specific type of pan that is used to bake massa, which I of course did not have. I did, however, have two stainless steel dog bowls that were about the right size. I filled both bowls with dough and baked them until they had perfectly golden brown tops. I was so impressed; they were even more beautiful than I could have imagined for my first attempt.

After they cooled, I cut into the first one.

You don't have to be Portuguese to know it wasn't supposed to end like this.

Determined to have something to show for my two-day baking process, I ate around the raw parts, fully expecting it to still taste delicious. It didn't.

In conclusion, if carrying on the tradition of baking Portuguese sweetbread relies on me, future generations will know it as "raw beer-bread".


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