"Spanish" Bread: subtle sweetness August 18, 2009


spanish bread1      spanish bread2 smiley

Take a bite and it’ll be love at first sight.  This is the second time I’ve made these and the combination of vanilla sugar + evaporated milk caresses the taste buds like a smooth sponge.  The texture was incredible, thanks to the stick of butter (although I used only 3/4 of the stick).

I can’t explain why we call them Spanish bread back home.  Given 300 years of Spanish rule, the country got introduced to this bread.  We then took the recipe and tweaked it to come up with our own version (still calling it Spanish bread).  There are other types of bread we got from the Spanish but this particular bread was a clear winner.  It’s now part of our breakfast/snack repertory.

Like the smiley above, this is the kind of sentiment I have when I think of Spanish bread.  Before I learned to make it, I would drive about half an hour to Côte des Neiges in Montreal – where the ethnic stores rub elbows with one another – and buy about a dozen.  Now that I can make it, I must say that I think my version is much better!  It deserves a grade of A++ for texture and taste.  If my aunts and step mother tasted it, they’d be mighty proud of me (only because I was hopeless in the kitchen when I was younger).

What I know is that the authentic Spanish bread – Pan de Horno – is made with olive oil.  When in Spain, people go to a panadero to buy it.  I’ve seen recipes for Pan de Horno but have not tried any of them.  One day I will.  I suspect that there are many Spanish bread varieties.  If you went to a bread store in Puerto Rico for example and asked for Spanish bread, they’d have one for you right away but the recipe would be different from the one I use.  I imagine it would be the same if you were in Panama, Venezuela or in England!

I nurture an overwhelming fondness for the mildly sweet breads I ate back home:  bread with coconut and sugar (we call them pan de coco), bread with raisins, bread with sweet red bean (mongo bread) and bread with purple yam (matamis na ube).  But Spanish Bread is my numero uno favorite!

It is this kinship with sweet breads that makes me unexcited about  baguettes and the other crusty breads so loved in Europe and North America.  If a French baguette and a sweet bread were dangled in front of me, I’d choose the sweet bread anytime – even if it doesn’t go well with a particular meal.  Years ago, I stocked up on Italian panetone because it reminded me so much of our sweet breads. 

I’ll share the recipe with you because I think your kids will enjoy it for breakfast or for a later afternoon snack.  I use a recipe that calls for 3-31/2 cups of flour and depending on the size and shape you want, will yield from 9 to a dozen rolls.  Because of its mild sweetness, you don’t need jam.  Nor butter.  It freezes well, by the way.  I thaw some pieces the night before in the fridge.  In the morning, I make a slit in the center of each roll before putting them in my toaster oven and heat them for 3-5 minutes, or until the breads turn a dark brown. 

The first bite – indescribable!  Hope I’ve convinced you to give it a try.  I promise – this bread is worth every ounce of effort!

The recipe:

spanish bread recipe


1)  Put yeast in warm water with a pinch of sugar and set aside (about 10 minutes).

2)  In a separate bowl, combine the melted butter, milk, sugar, eggs and salt.  Gradually add the flour and keep mixing with a spoon.

3)  When dough comes away from the sides of the bowl, transfer it to a flat surface and knead for 8-10 minutes until the dough feels smooth and elastic.  If your dough is wettish, add small amounts of flour, but don’t overdo it (your bread might end up too dry otherwise).

4)  Form dough into a ball, place it in a slightly greased bowl and cover with saran wrap.  It should double in size after 60-90 minutes.

5)  While waiting for dough to rise, blend vanilla sugar and softened butter very well.  This is what you will spread on each piece of dough before rolling it up.  Set aside.

6)  After the 60-90 minutes, punch down the dough and “massage” gently (to eliminate gas and air pockets) for about 3-4 minutes.  Spread out into a rectangle or large square (you can also shape it into a big circle – whatever you like).  Using a dough cutter, divide it into equal pieces (again, you choose which shape you want, round or square).

7)  Spread some of the vanilla sugar/softened butter into each piece and then roll into a tube – about 2-1/2 inches in diameter – if you want the bread to look like the ones in the picture) or form them into balls.  Place the pieces in a tray lined with parchment paper.  Cover and let rest for 1 hour.  The pieces will become bigger after 60 minutes.

6)  Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.  In the meantime mix one egg yolk with 3 tbsp of 35% cream (forgot to add these in the ingredients list).  Brush tops of breads.  Let air dry and then brush again with the egg/cream mixture.  Sprinkle the bread crumbs.

7)  Bake for five minutes at 375 degrees.  Then decrease oven temperature to 325 degrees.  After 10 minutes, reduce further to 300 degrees (by this time the tops of the bread should be turning a nice golden brown).  If you think they’re getting too dark, cover them with aluminum foil.  Total baking time should not exceed 25 minutes.

Once out of the oven, transfer into a cooling rack.  You can freeze what you won’t eat in the next 2 days.  If you care to, let me know if you like this bread as much as I do!