John Amaral from the Portuguese Bakery shares the sweetest Christmas baking recipes in the Portuguese tradition, perfect for homegrown gift giving. The rich tradition of Portuguese baking is unsurpassed at Christmas. Delicious sugar-dusted cookies, cream-filled tarts and the very special Bolo-Rei, or King Cake, are just some of the traditional Portuguese baked goods worthy of holiday gift giving. John Amaral of the Portuguese Bakery provided us with a selection of goodies to tempt you to roll up your sleeves, put on an apron and give the sweetest person on your holiday list a present that looks as good as it tastes.

Portugal’s Bolo-Rei (King Cake)
½ cup candied citrus peel, chopped
2 tbsp. raisins
3 tbsp. pine nuts
1/3 cup plus 2 tbsp. port
2 ½ teaspoons active dry yeast
1/3 cup plus 2 tbsp. water
3 ½ cups unbleached flour
1 ½ tsp. salt
7 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup plus 2 tbsp. sugar
Grated zest of 1 lemon
Grated zest of 1 orange
3 eggs, beaten
1 dried fava bean or small trinket

1 egg yolk beaten with 1 tbsp. water
10 candied cherries
2 segments candied orange peel
2 segments candied lemon peel
2 segments candied lime peel
Lump sugar, crushed, for garnish
Apricot jam, for glaze

Soak citrus peel, raisins and pine nuts in port overnight or until plump. Sprinkle yeast into water in bowl and let stand 5 minutes. Stir to dissolve.
Mix flour and salt in large bowl. Make well in centre and pour in dissolved yeast. Use wooden spoon to draw enough flour into dissolved yeast to form a soft paste. Cover bowl with dishtowel and let stand until the “sponge” is frothy and slightly risen, about 20 minutes.
In separate bowl, beat butter with sugar and lemon and orange zests until light and fluffy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, and beat well after each addition. Add to flour mixture and mix in flour from sides to form soft dough. Turn dough out onto lightly floured work surface. Knead until soft, smooth, silky and elastic, about 10 minutes. Knead in dried fruit and pine nuts until evenly distributed.
Place dough in clean bowl and cover with dishtowel. Let rise until doubled in size, about 2 hours. Punch down, then let rest 10 minutes. Shape dough into right and place on buttered baking sheet. Wrap dried fava bean or trinket separately in wax paper. Insert tiny package into bottom of shaped dough. Cover with dishtowel and set aside until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Brush dough with egg glaze, and decorate with candied fruit and crushed sugar. Bake at 350˚F for 45 minutes or until golden. Warm apricot jam in saucepan over low heat until melted, then brush top and sides of bread with jam. Cool on wire rack.

Portuguese Biscoites
¼ cup butter
1 ¼ cups sugar
3 eggs
3 ½ cups flour
3 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
Confectioner’s sugar

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time. Add flour, baking powder and salt, 2 tablespoons at a time until all used up. Dough should be quite stiff. Make walnut-sized balls and roll into a 6-inch rope the size of a pencil. Make a ring on a lightly greased baking sheet, sealing the edges together. Bake in a preheated 350˚F for 20 to 25 minutes until light brown. Cool on rack and dust with confectioner’s sugar. Makes 2-3 dozen.

Pastéis de Nata – Makes 12 pastries
Make sure the pastry ingredients are well chilled and the custard ingredients are at room temperature. The pastry is partially baked before filling to ensure a crisp crust.

Pastry Ingredients:
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
1 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. granulated sugar
10 tbsp. chilled unsalted butter, cut into ¼ inch cubes
5-7 tbsp. ice water

1 tbsp. cornstarch
1 ½ cups heavy cream
1 cup granulated sugar
6 egg yolks

To make the pastry:
1. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade, pulse the flour, salt and sugar to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the flour resembles coarse, uneven cornmeal, about 10 1-second pulses.
2. Drizzle 5 tablespoons of the ice water over the mixture. Pulse several times to work the water into the flour. Add the remaining water, 1 tablespoon at a time, and continue pulsing until the mixture develops small curds. Turn the dough out onto a work surface, shape it into a disc and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
3. On a lightly floured surface, roll half the dough to 1/16-inch thickness. Cut out 6 (4 ½-inch) circles. (If you don’t have a cookie cutter, a wide-mouth jar works well.) Ease the dough circles into a 12-cup (4-ounce capacity) nonstick muffin tin, pressing out any overlapping folds. Repeat with the remaining dough. Place the tin in the freezer for 5 minutes. Remove and trim any overhang with the back of a knife so that the pastry cups are flush with the top of the tins. Line dough cups with cupcake papers and fill with dried beans or pastry weights. Bake at 350˚F for 8 to 10 minutes to set.

To make the custard:
1. Dissolve the cornstarch in ¼ cup of the cream in a medium bowl. Add the remaining cream and sugar, and stir until the mixture is smooth and the sugar dissolves. Check for sugar granules with a spoon; none should remain.
2. In a small bowl, blend the egg yolks with a fork until smooth. Add the yolks to the cream mixture, stirring gently to combine.
3. Ladle the egg mixture into the partially baked pastry cups, filling to 2/3 capacity. Bake in a 350˚F oven until the edges of the custard are puffed and the middle is still jiggly, about 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from oven. (The custard will continue to cook). Cook completely in the tin. The pasties are best when eaten the same day.

Massa Sovada (Portuguese Sweet Bread)
2 pkg. active dry yeast
¼ cup water, lukewarm
1 cup milk
1 cup sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon
½ cup butter or margarine
½ tsp. salt
6 cups flour
4 eggs

Preheat oven to 350˚F.
Dissolve yeast in warm water. Add milk to sugar, butter and salt; stir until butter is melted. Mix cinnamon and flour. Add half the flour to the milk/sugar/butter/salt and mix until smooth. Beat 3 eggs and add them and the yeast to the mixture. Continue to add remaining flour to make soft dough. Remove it from the bowl and place on floured board. Knead until smooth and satiny (about 15 minutes). Shape into a ball and place in a greased bowl. Cover and let rise until double in size (1 ½ to 2 hours). Brush tops of dough with remaining egg (beaten). Bake in 350˚F oven for 20 to 30 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on wire racks.

To purchase your Portuguese baked goods for Christmas, contact the Portuguese Bakery at 296-1222 or visit Café Açoreano at 2 Washington Street, Hamilton.