Bolo de Caco (Madeiran sweet potato bread)

Madeiran sweet potato bread

The Portuguese island of Madeira may be geographically small, but it packs a big culinary punch. When I was there on vacation, I fell in love with Bolo do Caco, the ubiquitous bread served at every meal. Typically served warm and slathered in garlic butter, this unique sweet‑potato based bread feels a little like a distant cousin of an English muffin. Bolo do Caco accompanies just about every meal on the island and is frequently used in sandwiches featuring regional specialties, such as the traditional Christmas pork carne vinha d’alhos. And despite having sweet potatoes in the dough, they are surprisingly not sweet. They’re just simply delicious.

“Bolo” refers to the round shape of the bread, and “Caco” is the tile or stone they were traditionally cooked on (even though they are often cooked on griddles in restaurants nowadays, as shown below).  And lucky for me (and now you), they are very easy to make back here at home. I slightly adapted my recipe from here and have converted the ingredient amounts into both weights and measurements. So no excuses: get started on these right away!


Photo credit: Madeira Exquisite Food on Foot Tours

Bolo de Caco (Madeiran sweet potato bread)
7 ounces mashed sweet potatoes, any color (200 grams, nearly 1 cup)
18 ounces all-purpose flour (500 grams, roughly 3½ cups)
One 7-gram packet instant/fast-action yeast (about 2½ teaspoons)
1-2 teaspoons salt (start with 1 teaspoon; add more if needed)
½ teaspoon ground pepper
1½ to 2 cups warm water (350 to 500 ml; use more if needed)

First, roast the sweet potatoes. Heat oven to 400°F. Pierce sweet potato skins 5-6 times with a fork and place on baking sheet lined with foil. Bake until tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour. When cool enough to handle, peel skins and mash until smooth; some chunks are okay.

In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients; add mashed sweet potatoes and enough of the warm water to make a soft, wet dough. Mix well with a fork/wooden spoon, then use one hand to mix all the ingredients together thoroughly until dough becomes elastic (about 5-10 minutes). Loosely cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit in a warm place for 30 minutes.

Oil both hands so they don’t stick to the dough, and divide the dough into eight equal portions (or four, for larger bolo). Shape each portion into a ball and flatten just slightly. Cover the dough balls with a damp towel and set aside for another 30 minutes.

Heat a cast iron skillet and cook each round over low to medium-low heat for 8-10 minutes on each side, just until light golden brown. If the bolo brown too quickly they may taste burnt (even if they don’t look burnt) and they may not completely cook on the inside. If it looks like they are browning too quickly, lower the temperature; if they are not browning at all, turn the heat up a little. Keeping the heat low will cook them through on the inside while only gently browning them on the outside.

Cool cooked bolo on a cooling rack while cooking the remaining ones. To serve, use a fork to pierce the sides all the way around, and then open them with your fingers. Serve warm with butter or garlic butter.

Step by Step Details

It doesn’t matter what color sweet potatoes you use: yellow, orange, or even purple. I made these with both yellow and orange varieties, and they only noticeable difference was if there was a small chunk of potato showing (you may notice this in my photos). They tasted the same: great!

First roast the sweet potatoes until easily pierced with a fork. If you take them out too early, you may need to chop them and boil them to get them soft enough to mash. Peel the skins and mash until mostly smooth. Don’t worry if you have a few chunks remaining.

In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients.

Stir in the mashed sweet potatoes and enough of the warm water to make a very soft, wet dough. Mix with a fork or wooden spoon just until all the flour is incorporated.

Then use one hand to mix all the ingredients together thoroughly until dough becomes elastic (about 5-10 minutes).

Loosely cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit in a warm place for 30 minutes.

Oil both hands so they don’t stick to the dough (I just use a quick spray of cooking spray), and divide the dough into eight equal portions (or four, for larger bolo).

Shape each portion into a ball and flatten just slightly. Cover the dough balls with a damp towel and set aside for another 30 minutes.

Heat a cast iron skillet (or other heavy-bottomed pan that evenly distributes heat) and place as many rounds as fit comfortably in the pan (I can fit two in mine). Cook over low to medium-low heat for 8-10 minutes on each side, just until light golden brown.

Remember to keep the heat low enough to cook them through on the inside while only gently browning them on the outside. Let the cooked bolo cool on a cooling rack while cooking the remaining ones.

Madeiran sweet potato bread

To serve, use a fork to pierce the sides all the way around, and then open them with your fingers.

Serve warm (or lightly toasted) slathered with butter or garlic butter. Enjoy!

Enjoy them warm with butter…

..or slathered in garlic butter!

Madeiran Christmas PorkServed alongside traditional Madeiran Christmas pork (carne vinha d’alhos)

 

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4 thoughts on “Bolo de Caco (Madeiran sweet potato bread)

  1. So fun! Thank you for sharing. Miss seeing you in person. Want to hear about Madeira and pick your brain as we plan to go to Portugal next Feb.

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    On Tue, Mar 14, 2017 at 4:11 PM, Diane’s Food Blog wrote:

    > Diane F posted: ” The Portuguese island of Madeira may be geographically > small, but it packs a big culinary punch. When I was there on vacation, I > fell in love with Bolo do Caco, the ubiquitous bread served at every meal. > Typically served warm and slathered in garlic b” >

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