In every country across southern Europe, you’ll find bread, but none so dedicated as the Portuguese. Each table in every home and restaurant has an assorted basket of Portuguese bread to choose from. Flaky crusted pão with soft chewy interiors are perfect for smearing pate or butter, while dense softly sweet broa is the ideal hearty accompaniment to authentic rustic soups. But if you’re looking for something truly unique, seek out Broa de Avintes.
This dark, dense, intensely bittersweet flavoured bread originated in the quaint hilly town of Avintes, but is now ubiquitous throughout Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia where its served with everything from soup to sardines. Interestingly, northerners appreciate it to such a degree that the annual Festa da Broa (Broa Festival) gives a considerable amount of attention to this style alone. Ever try a freshly baked loaf of chouriço stuffed Broa de Avintes? You will now!
For those of us who are more inclined to whip up this bread at home, there are a few recipes to experiment with, but many of them don’t include the old-school methods the good people of Avintes employ. One such secret is the quintessential wood burning oven. Traditionally this bread is laid upon fresh cabbage leaves and baked for approximately four hours under the crackle of a well tended fire. It makes all the difference in the world for this bread, but unfortunately, most of us don’t have one. Hence, alterations to the recipe must be made.
Another not-so-secret “secret” is the addition of farinha de malte, or malt flour. It’s just not available in my area unless it’s ordered online, so it had to be left out of the recipe.
Last in a not too long, but seemingly critical list of recipe diversions, is the amount of ingredients used. As most recipes are intended for large quantities, from grandmothers who are used to baking for billions, I had to fiddle around to get something more manageable for a family of 3. This was not easy!
Don’t let the gorgeous photo above fool you. The alterations to the original formula resulted in a very different looking bread in my kitchen. That said, the flavor was no less tasty, especially when added to a saucy dish! Dipped in a warm bowl of caldo verde on a chilly day, the imperfection wouldn’t even be noticed…unless you’re a passionate broa aficionado.
Let’s be honest, this wasn’t easy! These bakers are gifted, but don’t let that deter you. If you love baking and a bit of Portuguese tradition, then do give it a try. If not, then a trip to the Porto region should be on your to-do list in order to get a fresh loaf of real Broa de Avintes straight from the oven by the professionals who know exactly what they’re doing in the land known for their bread!
If you’re interested in learning how to bake Broa de Avintes, or simply experiencing a Portuguese cooking class, let us know! We’d love to show you the ropes during your visit.
- 5 ounces (142 g) white corn flour
- 5 ounces (142 g) yellow corn flour
- 8 ounces (227 g) rye flour
- 1 tablespoon (12 g) malt flour (for darker color)
- 1 cup (237 ml) hot water (115F/46C), plus extra if needed
- 1 packet (7 g) dry yeast
- Pinch of salt
- Pour the yeast into a bowl with the water and allow it to proof for 5 minutes. It should be foamy and creamy looking on top when ready.
- Put the flours and salt into a bowl and knead together with the hot water. For denser bread use less water, for a lighter bread use more. I used about ¼ cup more water just to get it to come together. Once the bread is kneaded well, add in the yeast and a pinch of salt and knead again for 1 to 2 minutes. Cover with a damp kitchen towel, place in a warm area and allow it to sit 1 ½ -2 hours to rise.
- Preheat the oven to 500F (260C) or to as hot as possible.
- Shape the dough into a tall cylinder with a rounded top, reminiscent of a bell tower. Place the bread on a baking sheet and bake 45 minutes to an hour until a browned crust has formed.
- Remove the bread from the oven and allow it to cool 20-25 minutes and dust with white flour on top.