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Portuguese desserts include many rich and highly flavored sweet breads and yeast breads. Cinnamon, saffron and vanilla are widely used in these types of desserts; these ingredients are not native to Portugal, but were introduced when the country was an imperialist power and have since become a mainstay in the traditional cuisine. Most of these breads were first created in monasteries, and then became popular in the surrounding regions. Velhote is one such sweet bread, and originated in the Valadares civil parish in the city of Vila Nova de Gaia in the Porto district in Portugal. A lady from Braga, Maria Francisca da Silva, is credited with creating the velhote sweet bread in the 1880s.
While velhote can be eaten at any time, it was traditionally served on weekends in Valadares. It was also specially baked during the parish's most important festival, the Feast of the Cruzeiro do Senhor dos Aflitos or Cross of the Lord of the Afflicted. The sweet bread was served to visiting royalty as a sample of the region's best cuisine.
Maria Francisca da Silva's recipe for velhote sweet breads was fairly straight forward and made use of cinnamon, saffron, lemon juice, eggs, sugar, yeast and flour. The recipe has undergone variations since then, both in the ingredients used and in the method of baking the bread. Nowadays there may be several different versions of the velhote breads.
To make velhote, the yeast and sugar are dissolved in warm water, and the mixture is set aside. Next butter is melted in a pan of hot milk, the mix is brought to a boil and then aside to cool. Sugar and eggs are beaten together and the yeast solution is added in, along with flour, salt and butter. The mixture is blended together and kneaded until a smooth, soft dough is obtained. The dough is covered with a damp towel and set aside to rise.
After the dough has doubled in size, it is baked in an oven at a high temperature. For festive occasions, a hard-boiled or soft-boiled egg is pressed into the center of the dough before it is baked. The egg, if half-done, cooks with the sweet bread as it bakes.
The velhote bread is baked until it turns light brown in color. It may be eaten directly as a sweet bread, or it may be toasted and buttered before being served. It may also be used as a starting ingredient for various bread dishes.
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