Gluten-Free Portuguese Easter Bread (Masa Sovada)

Spongy, chewey, eggy delicious gluten-free Portuguese Easter Bread (Masa Sovada)

I miss my grandmother, my Avo, very much right now.  Today is Good Friday, and though I am not personally religious I grew up in a very Catholic family, with Easter being sacred.  And because I love and respect my family and this faith that led me to mine, I still feel strongly connected to this holiday.

Masa Sovada – Portuguese sweet bread – is always made in my family for Easter.  For as long as I can remember my mother starts on Holy Saturday, mixing dough and shaping loaves, and by the time we go to bed the house is filled with sweetness.  We then dig into the bread for breakfast, cracking the hard-boiled eggs baked inside.  That is, I enjoyed the bread until I developed an allergy to milk and gluten.  After that Easter morning meant either indulging and feeling very sick or abstaining and being jealous – neither a fun feeling on such a spiritually cleansing day!

Masa Sovada

Mom learned from her mother-in-law, my Portuguese father’s mother.  And though Avo didn’t teach me this recipe, I inherited several family recipes, skills and techniques from her through my mother and my Tia Vidalia.  I bake so much, so often.  But it’s when I’m baking these rare, sweet, simple family recipes that I feel that much more connected to my food, and to home.

Last night I began my second go at making this traditional Portuguese Easter Masa bread both gluten-free and with almond milk instead of cow’s milk.  Similar to the first batch I worried at the proportions, at the specific mix of flours, and if the yeast would rise.  But this batch came out even better than the last!  I mixed, kneaded, set the bowl on my radiator wrapped in towels and, less than two hours later, pulled out a beautiful mound of squishy dough.  I turned this dough out on my pastry board and kneaded it into loaves, marveling at the silkiness and elasticity.  This morning I awoke to the scent of lemon, almond, flour and yeast, and felt my grandmother with me.  This bread she’s made dozens and dozens of times.  Recipes she knew by touch and feel, not by book or blog.

I miss her so much.

Avo passed away in August.  And though we never shared a common language, and while I’ll always regret not spending more time with her in the kitchen when her mind and body were with her, I will always think of her when I bake during Easter, sitting at my table with a cup of tea, as my gluten-free masa sovada bakes and fills my NYC apartment with home.

This recipe is for her.  I am so lucky to have it.

Both light and dense, sweet and mild

Gluten-Free Portuguese Easter Bread (Masa Sovada)

Click here for my second go -they’re both delicious. The second batch was slightly less dense.

Ingredients:

  • 16 Tablespoons / 2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cup unsweetened milk – I used almond, but cow’s or soy will work too
  • 10 cups of gluten-free flour with xanthan gum (I used a combination that made me ten cups: 2 cups sweet white rice flour, 3 cups brown rice flour, 1 1/2 cup quinoa flour, 2 cups arrowroot starch, 1 cup millet flour, 1 cup tapioca flour, 4 tsp xanthan gum)
  • 3 packets active dry yeast
  • About 1/2 cup of warm water
  • 6 eggs at room temperature or slightly warmed
  • 1 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 4 Tbsp whiskey (distilled liquor does not contain gluten, but omit if you’re cautious).
  • The zest of 2 lemons
  • 1 1/2 tsp lemon extract
  • 3/4 tsp almond extract
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Extra butter or egg, for brushing on the loaves before baking

Directions:

  • Make sure your flours are thoroughly blended, either with a whisk or sifter.
  • In a saucepan, start to melt your butter.  Heat the milk on the stove or in the microwave until at room temperature or warmer.
  • In a small bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water thoroughly with a fork, until all clumps are gone.
  • In the bowl of a standing mixer with the bread hook attachment, whip eggs until creamy.
  • Add sugar and whip at medium speed until very creamy, about 3 minutes.
  • Meanwhile make sure butter is melted and slowly whisk in milk.  Turn off heat and but keep warm.
  • When the sugar/butter is creamy, add lemon zest, lemon and almond extracts, salt and whiskey and mix to combine.
  • Add 1o cups of flour and the butter mixture.  Mix SLOWLY until just incorporated.
  • SLOWLY add in yeast mixture (mine splattered everywhere! Oh no!).  Mix on low until incorporated, then increase speed slowly, eventually up to medium, until completely combined.
  • Mix until the dough becomes smooth and pulls together.  My visual is when the dough has “crawled” its way up the bread hook as much as possible, pulling together in a weird, tornado-looking thing.
  • Remove to a pastry board lightly floured withe some remaining bread flour and knead a few times until smooth.  Unlike gluten-full bread, gluten-free bread doesn’t need much kneading because there’s no gluten to develop! So just knead until the dough is smooth and silky.
  • Spray a large mixing bowl with non-stick spray / cover in a small amount of olive oil.  Move dough to bowl, cover with a clean tea towel and then wrap completely in a clean, large bath towel.
  • Let sit for about 1 1/2 hours or until almost double in size.  Because my radiator (for some reason!) was on, I wrapped the bowl in two towels and sat it right on top!  A nod to my grandmother and living in Queens with such radiators way back in the day.  Another option is to slightly heat an oven, then turn it off, wrap the bowl and set it in.  Or put it in the sun!  Any way, get it to a warm spot.
  • When almost doubled in size, punch down the dough to release air.  Return to pastry board and divide in half.  Knead dough a few times to pull together, and shape into loaves.  This time I shaped one half of the dough into two loaves, and the other half into four, for a total of two large and four small loaves.  But break this up however you like.  Just make sure you knead each loaf until smooth.
  • Place on thick cookie sheets and once again wrap in towels.  Let sit for about six hours or overnight.
  • When ready to bake, preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Brush tops of loaves with melted butter or egg whites (I use both! First butter, then egg whites)
  • Bake large loaves for about 50 minutes, smaller loaves for about 38.  They’re ready when just springy to the touch.
  • Serve warm with butter or let cool and eat with coffee, brunch foods or… oh my goodness, this bread is so good, just EAT IT!

Happy Easter!

My Avo, Armanda Oliveira Raposo

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14 Comments

  1. Bebe says:

    I’ve been searching for a GF Easter bread recipe for years like the one I used to make years ago. Thank you so very much. I’m sitting here crying over your post for your loss and because I miss my Grandmother Yolanda so very much too. This recipe sounds so very close to my Grandmother’s that I’m confident it will be a success. I’m going to braid it and color the eggs red like she used to. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

    • Jacqueline Raposo says:

      Thank you SO much for this lovely note – it made my day when I read it while running between appointments, my standing mixer literally in a rolling suitcase at my side :) I’m so excited that you’re going to try it out – it’s a recipe I’m SO loving, and it makes me feel so grounded to the earth and my family when I make it. Please send me pictures. Red eggs! Love it!

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  3. Fatima Foster says:

    I was so sad when I tried to use an all purpose flour that was guaranteed for direct 1:1 subsitution and my recipe didn’t turn out. This flour didn’t have xanthum gum in it like previous blends….ready to give up until I read your post. I’m going out tomorrow to purchase ingredients and try your recipe….thanks, GFnewbie

    • In my too many years of being gluten free and testing a bunch for work, I’ve NEVER found one that I would call “all purpose”. These flours, to me, make me think of the masa I remember. Takes some money and mixing, but makes me happy :) Let me know how it comes out! And HAPPY EASTER!

  4. Anonymous says:

    What a Sweetheart you are, thank you so much for your heartfelt words and recipe. I will try it! Happy Easter sweet one! <3
    <3Joanna

  5. Fatima Foster says:

    Recipe did not turn out…managed to bake another door stop. Followed recipe exactly…:( oh well
    GFNewbie

  6. Anonymous says:

    Hello Ms Dusty Baker :)
    I have tried this recipe twice, and for some reason, after it rises the first time, I pound it down and form it into loaves, it doesn’t rise again…well, the first time it rose a bit, and i should have baked it then, but since it had only been 4 hours I thought I should wait longer. The second time it didn’t rise at all, just expanded sideways!
    I was keeping it warm by intermittently turning on the oven to 150 degrees with the door open for a bit, and then I’d eventually close it..
    Do you think I was killing the yeast?
    Thanks <3
    Joanna

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  8. Peaches says:

    I just tried the bread. It rose, and tastes not too bad. But it definitely needs more than the 1 1/2 cups sugar and I wish it was not a bit more juicy. But am glad you posted this recipe so my daughter (who was just recently diagnosed with Celiac Disease) can enjoy Sweetbread for Easter! Thanks so much!

    • The masa I grew up with was not considerably sweet – it was more of a cross between a dessert bread and something you could actually eat with a meal, like a soda bread. I’m making it for a non-Portuguese crowd tomorrow and will ask for opinions. Can you tell me what you mean by “juicy”? Do you mean you want it more moist? Less? I’d love your insight, as this is not the last version of this bread I’ll be making. Thanks!

      • Peaches says:

        Hi, thanks for responding. The bread was very dry so I don’t know if it needs more butter or maybe some sour cream to make it moist? Am not a baker just started to try out gluten-free recipes for my daughter. My husband’s family is Portuguese so they always make sweet bread for the holidays or we buy some at a Portuguese bakery. So I would love to be able to make a bread that is similar to what my daughter is used to; sweeter bread and more airy and moist. If you can figure out how to do that that would be awesome. I will try the recipe from my father-in-law and just swap the flour part with gluten-free flour next time to see how that comes out. I will let you know! Thanks!

        • I’m going to work on this recipe some more – I made this again for Easter and mine wasn’t dry, but I have a feeling I need to specify the amount of water more. And I personally may up the butter a bit too. I know the version you’re talking about – it’s more like one of my aunt’s. Let me know how your test version comes out and feel free to send me that recipe if you want me to play with it too! (and you’ve got one lucky daughter there, having a mom like you :)

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