Return of the Bolos
Bolos levedos have returned to my kitchen. This time around, their return required more work than just opening up a package carried in my mom’s luggage from Connecticut. I’ll level with you: a LOT more work. However, the effort was worthwhile.
As usual, I cobbled together a recipe from a few different sources. In my early teen years, when I first got serious about learning to cook, I would follow recipes exactly. Not a pinch more salt or a squeeze more lemon than called for — the chemistry of cooking was mysterious to me, and I feared straying one step outside the bounds of the sacred Recipe. Now, I have the nearly the opposite problem. I can’t seem to stick to a recipe as written, always changing things up either to accommodate the ingredients I have on hand in my kitchen, or because I am convinced that a slightly different combination of flavors or a different technique would improve things. Somewhere along the line, recipes changed from stone-carved doctrine to helpful suggestions. I suppose that’s the nature of learning to do anything well: you have to follow the rules carefully at first, until you learn which are bendable. Then, your creativity has a solid foundation and greater chance of success. But I digress.
My mom sent me the link to this recipe, which provided one source of inspiration for the bolos. The other source was my favorite Portuguese Sweet Bread recipe, from the wonderful cookbook The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. Taking my cue from the comments section on AllRecipes, I tried cooking the bolos two ways: (1) using the traditional method of frying them on both sides in a stovetop skillet; and (2) baking them in a 350 F oven.
1 1/2 cups warm water
2 1/4 tsp dry active yeast
3 eggs, at room temperature
1/4 cup melted butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp lemon extract
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup dry milk powder
6 cups all-purpose flour
Pour the warm water into a large bowl, add a pinch of the sugar, and sprinkle the yeast on top. Let sit 5-10 minutes until the yeast blooms. Whisk in the eggs, the butter, the extracts, the sugar, the salt, and the milk powder until smooth. Start to whisk in the flour. When the dough is too stiff for the whisk, continue working in the flour with your hand or a sturdy spatula. Knead for 10-15 minutes, until dough is smooth and elastic. Cover with plastic wrap and a towel, and let rise until nearly doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
Flour your hands, divide the dough into 16 parts, and roll into balls. I like to use a boule-shaping technique to keep the dough balls smooth and round. Shape the dough into a rough ball, and then hold it in the fingertips of one hand. Using the fingertips of your other hand, gently pull the outer skin of the dough ball to tighten it and gently pinch it together on one side. Then, roll the ball between your (floured) palms, flatten into a disk, and set onto a well-floured surface. When all the dough has been shaped, cover with plastic wrap and a towel, and let rise for another 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
TRADITIONAL FRYING METHOD: Fry the bolos on both sides in a dry skillet over medium heat, about 10 minutes total. The edges of the bolos should be slightly doughy, but not sticky. If they’re still sticky when the sides are a rich golden brown, lower the heat and cook the next batch more slowly. This method produces authentic bolos with the characteristic textural contrast of toasty sides and soft, chewy edges — yum. However, it is extremely time-consuming.
BAKING: If you’re going with the baking method, your best bet is to lay out the bolos on a parchment-lined baking sheet for their final rise. Bake at 350 F for 10 minutes, flip them over, and continuing baking for another 8 or so minutes. The advantage to this method is that you can bake more bolos at one time. The disadvantage is the resulting texture, which is more uniform and a little more dry. You could underbake them slightly to retain some chewiness, but then the bolos turn out looking rather pale and unappetizing. Even so, if you don’t have half a day to spend babysitting bolos on the stovetop, I would recommend baking them. Baked bolos are better than no bolos!