In the Azores there’s a very popular annual religious festival called “Festas do Espírito Santo” or “Holy Ghost Festival”. This festival is celebrated in the spring, roughly 7 weeks after Easter. I think I’ve talked a little bit about the festival in previous posts, but I’ll give you some more information. This celebration began in the early 1300’s with Queen St. Isabel of Portugal. She made a promise to the Holy Ghost because of a conflict between her husband and son. She promised to gather food for the poor. This devotion to the Holy Ghost quickly spread through regions of Portugal, especially the Azores islands. From there, these traditional celebrations also made their way to other regions of the world where there were Azorean immigrants, like the United States, Canada and Brazil.
Growing up, I really looked forward to this festival. The build up was huge and it usually involved many of the town’s residents. It was a time of processions, church celebrations, brass bands, many visitors, lots of delicious food and a true feeling of belonging to a tight knit community. Everyone helped with the preparations for the festival, no questions asked and never expecting anything in return. This festival shows a real spirit of giving as each of the town’s families would make a batch of 60 to 75 of these “Rosquilhas” (or round, dense sweet breads) to hand out to guests and other towns people.
I wanted to paint a picture of the festival before explaining the connection to today’s post. In a nutshell, the day begins with a mass in the town’s church. After the mass, people gather in the local hall for the traditional “sopas” lunch (we’ll post this recipe in the near future). After lunch everyone lines up outside and the procession begins–travelling down the town’s main road. Traditionally, women would carry large wicker baskets full of Rosquilhas as a symbol of their devotion to the Holy Ghost and as an offering to the festival’s guests. At the end of the procession, the sweet breads were all stacked in a small house called the “Capelinha”. This building was made for; and is used specifically for this purpose.
The festival would continue with bands playing and people walking around socializing. During this time, the people from the festival’s organizing committee would distribute the Rosquilhas amongst residents and festival visitors. I always saw this as an incredible act of generosity and it was something I looked forward to every year.
One other special aspect of today’s post is that my mom is here visiting with us from the Azores, and she taught me the recipe and how to make this bread. This is so special! I really appreciate that she’s willing to pass along these traditions to me. Hopefully one day I can do the same for my kids. As I grow older, these things have become more important to me than ever before. I feel grateful.
I hope you have a tradition in your life that brings you joy – even if it’s a memory for you now. This one is really meaningful for me. And now…it’s time to eat sweet bread – eat well, friends.
Some of the steps to make Rosquilhas:
- 2 lbs (900 gr) of unbleached flour. Separate ½ lb (all-purpose flour is also fine).
- 1 cup sugar. Separate ¼ cup.
- 2 tsp sugar for yeast mixtures.
- 6 eggs at room temperature
- 4 tbsp butter at room temperature
- 2½ tsp traditional active dry yeast
- ¼ tsp salt
- 2 tbsp tbsp warm water for the first yeast mixture
- 3½ tbsp warm water for the first dough kneading
- 2 tbsp warm water for the second yeast mixture
- ½ cup + 1 tbsp warm water for mixing the final dough
- First yeast mixture:
- In a small bowl, mix 1 tsp yeast, 1 tsp sugar and two tbsp warm water and set aside for 12 minutes.
- First dough kneading and rising
- In the mixer bowl, add ½ lb of flour and ¼ cup sugar.
- Make a small cove in the centre and add two eggs, the yeast mixture and 3½ tbsp warm water.
- Using the dough hook attachment, knead for 6 minutes. I used the number 2 setting. Note: The dough will be quite soft and sticky. This is expected.
- Scoop the dough out of the mixer bowl (scrape the sides) and place it in a medium bowl in the form of ball. Sprinkle a touch of flour over-top.
- Note: This bread is made with lots of faith and devotion. Once the dough is in the clean bowl, using her fingers, my mom makes the sign of the cross 3 times on the top of the dough while saying a prayer. She does this because she believes this will help the dough rise.
- Set aside and let the dough rise for 2½ hours covered with a towel to keep it warm. The dough should double in size.
- Second yeast mixture:
- In a small bowl, mix 1½ tsp yeast, 1 tsp sugar and two tbsp warm water and set aside for 12 minutes.
- Second and last dough kneading and rising
- In a large mixer bowl, add 1½ lbs flour, remaining sugar (3/4 cups) and salt.
- Make a cove in the centre and add remaining 4 eggs, previous yeast mixture, previously risen dough, butter and ½ cup + 1 tbsp warm water.
- Using the dough hook attachment, knead the dough on the lowest setting for 14 minutes. The dough will have a soft and slightly sticky consistency. This is expected.
- Move the dough (scrape the sides) to a large bowl.
- Note: Once again, my mom makes the sign of the cross 3 times on the top of the dough while saying a prayer. She does this because she believes this will help the dough rise.
- Cover with a towel and set aside for 2½ hours to rise. See the note below for additional instructions on how to know when the dough is ready.
- Shaping the bread
- Place a large tea towel on a flat surface and sprinkle a little flour evenly over the towel.
- Once the dough is ready, divide the dough in two equal parts inside the bowl.
- Slowly knead the first piece in your hands to smooth out the dough and then form it into a ball.
- Place the ball on the towel and poke a hole down the middle with your finger.
- Open up the hole wider and insert both hands into the hole from opposite sides.
- Now rotate your hands around each other inside the hole to evenly widen the hole. You're trying to form a donut shaped piece of dough.
- Place the dough on one side of the towel and repeat the last four steps for the second piece of dough.
- Cover the shaped dough and let it rise for another hour.
- Place the oven shelves on the second and fourth levels.
- Preheat the oven to 350 ºF.
- Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Uncover the shaped dough.
- Place each dough on a baking sheet, widening a touch while moving the dough.
- To reduce the chances of the holes closing up during baking, place small bowls (buttered on the sides) in the middle to help keep the hole shape.
- Using a very sharp knife point, cut 1 inch deep rounded lines (half moons) on the top of all four sides of each dough.
- Place the two baking sheets in the oven on each shelf, close the door and set your timer to 35 minutes.
- After about 17 minutes, open the oven door and rotate the baking sheets, moving the top one to the bottom shelf and the bottom one to the top shelf.
- Finish baking for the remainder of the 35 minutes.
- Take the baking sheets out and place the breads on a cooling rack.
- Dab paper towel into soft butter and spread it over each bread to coat it.
- Cool the bread completely before cutting... waiting is the hardest part of this recipe!! 🙂
- Enjoy your freshly baked bread with butter or other favourite topping.
My mom uses an additional technique to know when the dough is ready. Once the dough is kneaded and moved to the bowl. She takes a pinch of dough out, about the size of a grape and shapes it into a ball. She flours this dough and places it in a glass of room temperature water. Once the ball of dough rises to the top, the dough has finishes rising. This really works!
Make sure to set aside enough time for the dough to rise. This can be up to a total of 7 hours.