Sweet Breads from Around the World

Sweet Breads from Around the World

Publish Date October 11, 2022 4 Minute Read
Author By Grace Yek, CCC, M.S.

If you could smell the best kitchen memories, they might just smell like freshly baked bread – round, toasty and malty notes that effortlessly drift through the air. The only thing that perhaps tops that is baked sweet bread. It’s no wonder that sweet breads hold a special place in kitchens and hearts around the world.

Sweet breads are typically made with rich “yeasted dough,” which includes eggs, milk, yeast, flour and butter – plenty of it in some cases. These foundational ingredients are, in fact,not unlike the classic French brioche.

Sweet breads take on a variety of shapes that include plaits, buns and loafs, which are then finished off with a generous brushing of butter or egg wash. Hence, the familiar glossy sheen.

Depending on the part of the world, the variations in the dough, filling and topping along with the local traditions make sweet breads culturally distinct.

European Sweet Breads

The sweet breads in Western Europe are generally brioche-like, with some variations in ingredients and finish.

In Italy, pan di ramerino uses olive oil instead of butter, and even fresh rosemary. These Florentine sweet buns were traditionally eaten around Easter but are now enjoyed throughout the year. Another Italian sweet bread, the round, tall, dome-like panettone, is lavish with the inclusion of liqueur-soaked dried fruits and candied peels. This Christmas treat is so packed with goodies that once out of the oven, it’s sometimes cooled upside down so it doesn’t cave in.

In Germany, generous amounts of nuts, raisins and other dried fruit soaked in rum and brandy bring the festivity to the Christmas sweet bread, Christstollen. These loaves with slightly tapered ends wrap around a marzipan center, which adds another level of richness. For the finishing touch, this luxurious holiday loaf receives a slathering of butter and a generous shower of powdered sugar.

Hefezopf, on the other hand, is closer to the basic brioche. Traditionally enjoyed on Easter, this braided sweet bread resembles the Jewish challah. In some regions in Germany, the bread is served on New Year’s morning for good luck throughout the year.

In Portugal, the round, sweet bread massa sovada entices with its light, soft and subtle sweetness. Traditionally ingrained in celebrations and holidays, the bread is made with a whole egg encased in the center for Easter. Another Portuguese sweet bread, pao de deus, stands out from its European counterparts with a topping of desiccated coconut, eggs and sugar.

Mediterranean & Middle Eastern Sweet Breads

The use of rich “yeasty” dough continues into this region of the world as well.

The Greek sweet bread, tsoureki, is rooted in Easter traditions. The braided beauty is fragranced with mastic and mahlepi (a spice made from a type of cherry seeds), and can either be made round like a wreath or long like a loaf. For Easter, the bread is baked with red-dyed hard-boiled eggs pressed into the dough along the plait.

In Syria, the sweet bread, ma'arouk, is also spiced with mahlepi (also called mahlab), and sometimes stuffed with dates, a customary ingredient. The brioche-like bread is enjoyed particularly during Ramadan.

Sweet Breads of Latin America

Sweet breads in Latin America, collectively called pan dulce, range from treats steeped in holiday traditions to the ones served year-round.

Mexican conchas are year-round favorites. The sweet rolls are topped with a crumbly cookie dough of assorted vibrant colors such as yellow, pink and brown, and scored to resemble sea shells. They’re often enjoyed at breakfast with a cup of coffee or hot chocolate.

In Brazil, the tradition of celebrating Christmas with panettone can be traced all the way back to Italy. However, the variety is distinctly South American, with the use of dried papaya or even chocolate instead of dried citrus fruits.

Hawaiian Sweet Bread

Perhaps the most prevalent sweet bread at the grocery store, the Hawaiian variety is pillowy-soft, with some containing a distinctively Hawaiian ingredient: pineapple juice. The rolls are excellent on their own, and they also make tasty slider buns for your favorite sandwich meats.

Time to Fire Up the Oven

Remember that mesmerizing smell of baked bread? What better way to celebrate the holidays than to put sweet bread on your menu? You’ll be smiling at the memories long after the bread is gone.

Looking for more tips and food inspiration? Check out our blog, The Fresh Lane.

Sweet Bread Recipes

Food is a universal connector; it frees us to share the most amazing stories. – Grace Yek.