Everything about the typical Portuguese sweet bread – Origins, traditions, and much more

Portuguese sweet bread is a traditional sweet bread associated with Easter traditions but also with other typical festivals such as All Saints’ Day or even the day of the city of Santa Maria da Feira.

Nowadays, sweet bread cannot be missing from the tables of Portuguese houses on Easter Sunday. Still, its importance goes well beyond that, as traditionally, godparents offer (offered) sweet bread (named folar) to their godchildren at Easter.

However, there are many types of sweet bread, and each region has its version. Despite this, the essential ingredients are always quite similar – wheat flour, eggs, yeast, sugar, milk, and butter or olive oil.

It is a bread that needs time to rise, and in the past, it was baked in a wood oven. It can be shaped like a cake or small brioches. At Easter, it is decorated with a whole boiled egg; on top, it has a cross made with bread dough.

In addition to being famous and cherished in Portugal, sweet bread is known worldwide, as Portuguese emigrants spread the recipe. The Hawaiian rolls are best known, a version of sweet bread created by Madeiran and Azorean emigrants in Hawaii.

In this article, we will explore the various types of sweet bread from the different regions of Portugal and the associated traditions, often Easter, but many others as well.

Types of sweet bread in Portugal:

Folar da Pascoa – Easter gift

Easter folar is a sweet bread made with wheat flour, eggs, milk, sugar, baker’s yeast, and olive oil or butter. The folar can be decorated in different ways and vary depending on the country’s area. They usually have a hard-boiled egg in its shell encrusted in sweet bread and with a cross made from the same dough.

Folars are traditional for Easter and are a gift from godparents to godchildren. On Palm Sunday, godchildren offer a bunch of flowers to the godmother, and on Easter Sunday, godparents offer “the folar” to their godchildren. The folar is the sweet bread.

Folars may have variations and particularities depending on the region of Portugal:

  • In the North: Folar is mostly salty. It is a round ball of hard dough stuffed with meat and sausages. A good example is the well-known folar de Chaves.
  • In Centro and Beiras: Folar is sweet, made with fennel and cinnamon, and decorated with one or two eggs.
  • In Alentejo: A folar is often shaped like animals such as lizards, chicks, and lambs. Like the famous folar lizard from Castelo de Vide.
  • In the South: Folares are massive and sweeter. We have as an example the folar from Folhas de Olhão, which is very different from all the others we know.
Typical Portuguese sweet bread in Easter
A small home made folar from Portugal

Sweet Regueifa

The sweet regueifa is similar to the folar, the difference comes from the fact that it has the shape of a regueifa (a Portuguese bread) – round with a hole in the middle. It is also made with wheat flour, eggs, baker’s yeast, milk, and cinnamon, but some recipes may use a little port wine. It has a light and fluffy dough with a cinnamon flavor.

It is also traditional at Easter, and godparents offer it to their godchildren at that time of the year. The sweet regueifas are very famous in the Aveiro and Santa Maria da Feira region. Still, others are equally well-known, such as those from Vila do Conde and Marco de Canaveses.

Typical Easter sweet bread in Portugal
Sweet regueifa from Portugal – Traditional Easter sweets

Pão Podre – Rotten Bread

Pão Podre is a typical sweet bread from Marco de Canaveses. It is a sweet bread in the shape of a donut (regueifa) and is brownish. And it’s made with eggs, butter, wheat flour, baker’s yeast, lemon juice, and cinnamon. It has to rise for 24 hours, and at the end, it is brushed with butter. It is said to have medieval origins and has been manufactured for two centuries.

It is traditional at Easter, used as an offering and also to receive the compass.

Sweet bread from Vila do Conde

The sweet bread of Vila do Conde, or sweet bread thread, is a slightly sweet bread. Brushed with butter, it is brown and shiny at the end of cooking. It’s a light, fluffy, and very voluminous bread.

In the old days, sweet bread was baked in wood-fired ovens in farmhouses, typical in Mindelo, Modivas, Guilhabreu, Labruge, Vila Chã, and Vilar.

It is traditional at Easter and was offered as a meal to godchildren when they visited godparents on Hallelujah Sunday. However, nowadays you can buy it at any time of the year.

Fogaça, from Santa Maria da Feira

Fogaça is a sweet bread original from Santa Maria da Feira in Central Portugal. The sweet bread is shaped like a castle with four keeps that alludes to the towers of the castle of Santa Maria da Feira. The sweet bread is crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside and has a slight lemon and cinnamon flavor.

Fogaça is eaten all year round, but it is vital at the Fogaça festival on the 20th of January. On that day, there is a procession in which several girls carry fogaças on their heads.

The origin of this feast and procession dates back to 1505 when the region was affected by an outbreak of the plague. The people promised the martyr S. Sebastião the offer of fogaça if he helped to eliminate the plague. Since then, the procession of fogaças has taken place, which is distributed among the population at the end.

The fogaças are especially good warm and accompanied by a slice of cheese.

Best sweet bread in Portugal
Fogaças in Santa Maria da Feira

Pão de Deus

Pão de Deus (which translates directly to the bread of God) is a sweet bread covered with a coconut filling. The dough is typical of sweet bread, and the filling is made with coconut, sugar, eggs, and butter. Generally, Pão de Deus is the size of small brioches, but it can exist large in the form of a cake.

This recipe is not associated with Easter and is currently eaten at any time of the year and can be found in any Portuguese pastry shop. It can be eaten plain (our favorite) and with butter, ham, and cheese.

The origins of Pão de Deus are unclear, but it is believed to come from the Portuguese tradition of Pão por Deus (Bread for God) on All Saints’ Day. On this day, the poorest (and later the children) would go door to door and ask for food, bread, and cakes. One of the offerings was a cake that, being the children’s favorite, began to be called Pão de Deus.

Pão de Deus is very famous in Lisbon, especially those from Padaria Portuguesa, which are their specialty. A bakery Portuguesa is a chain of bakeries in Lisbon and one of the best and easiest places to eat Pão de Deus.

types of sweet breads from Portugal
Pão de Deus from Padaria Portuguesa – Types of Portuguese sweet bread

Folar de Olhão

Folar de Olhão is a sweet bread typical of the city of Olhão in the Algarve and It is pretty different from all the others. It is traditional for Easter, although nowadays, it is available all year round. But it’s especially pleasing at Easter.

This folar is also known as the folar of leaves since it has interspersed layers of dough with butter and brown sugar. The dough is made with flour, yeast, lemon or orange juice, milk, cinnamon, and fennel. It is a very moist, sweet bread due to the abundant butter and sugar.

The folar takes on a golden brown color due to the caramelization process of sugar and butter.

different kinds of Portuguese sweet breads
The unique Folar of Olhão, Portugal

Bolo lêvedo

Bolo lêvedo is a sweet bread from Vale das Furnas on the island of S. Miguel in the Azores. It is a slightly sweetened disc-shaped bread. The dough is porous and has a crispy crust.

This sweet bread is made with eggs, flour, sugar, butter, baker’s yeast, milk, and salt. It is fried in a frying pan or metal plate. It can be eaten plain or with butter or jam. Are delicious.

Arrufada from Coimbra

Arrufadas are a traditional sweet bread of conventual origin in Coimbra. They are small, bagel shaped, sweet, and fluffy and may have a cinnamon flavor. On top, they are adorned with a crown made with a dough ring and sprinkled with sugar.

In the past, they were used as a wedding gift; the bride and groom would visit their family’s homes and offer arrufadas and rice pudding. There were also the Aarufadeiras, ladies who sold arruçadas along the roads of Coimbra on trays covered with lace cloths.

Nowadays, you can find this sweet bread in several pastry shops in Coimbra, such as the popular Briosa.

best Portuguese sweet breads
Arrufada from Briosa pastry shop de Coimbra – Portuguese sweet breads

10 Massa Sovada

Massa Sovada is a sweet bread from the Azores traditionally eaten at Easter and on the feasts of the Holy Spirit. They are made with flour, sugar, milk, eggs, milk, and potatoes. It can be flavored with fennel or fennel. They are fluffy with a yellow core and brown crust.

There may be variations from island to island in format and size. At Easter, they are served with a boiled egg in a shell encrusted in bread. It is said to be the main origin of Portuguese sweet bread, now famous in Hawaii and the USA.

Portuguese sweet bread abroad

Portugal is a country of emigrants, which has meant that many Portuguese recipes have spread around the world. An excellent example of this is sweet bread.

There are several adaptations of sweet bread in the United States (especially in Hawaii) and Canada, where Portuguese communities are concentrated. One of the most famous sweet breads in the US is the Hawaiian rolls.

Hawaiian rolls are a sweet bun in the form of small Brioches. These rolls were influenced by the Portuguese, especially from Madeira and the Azores. The Portuguese in Hawaii adapted to existing ingredients. As sugar was too expensive, they used pineapple juice or honey. They also adapted the recipe for massa sovada, creating the now-famous Hawaiian rolls.

Nowadays, there is a sweet bread manufacturing chain in Hawaii called King’s Hawaiian, which is very famous in the United States.

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