3 o’clock in the afternoon. Wherever you are in this paradise isle, your nose lures you in from inside your house towards the neighborhood bakery where hot goodies are being unloaded from traditional wood fired ovens at a particular time of the day. Because of this various smells fill the air out of which the most prominent is that warm and comforting smell of wonderfully pillowy bread rising, sugar caramelizing atop Vienna buns and the smell of the all Sri Lankan fish bun, unfurling its butteriness from within.
Now baking bread is a labour of love here in this island and people consume it voraciously at any given time of the day. The bakery near my marital home is one such place where the whole neighborhood flocks to on evenings. At precisely 3pm, the bakery unloads what is called “Pani paan” (honey bread when translated) hot from the oven. Now this is no ordinary bread. When cut into, the bread shows an interior of folded bread Swiss roll type with a thick line of syrupy sugar melded into the folds. While not being too sweet, it is delightfully moist and soft, the moisture of the sugar syrup lending the bread an extra charm. I do believe that this is the only place in the country where you can get this particular type of bread.
The first bite in itself is a revelation. As one bite turned to two and one slice turned to three, I couldn’t help but conjure up recipes inside my head to make these delicious beauties. The more I ate, the more I couldn’t resist the idea. And so I set to work, mixing, kneading, rolling and after many disasters, trials and tribulations later, this amazing bread recipe was born.
Sri Lankan treacle bread
- Milk - 125ml, warm
- Flour - 350g
- Butter - 30g
- Yeast - 2 1/4 tsps
- Sugar - 60g
- Egg - 1
- Salt - 1 tsp
- TANGZHONG (WATER ROUX)
- Flour - 25g
- Water - 100ml
- For the filling
- Butter - ½ cup
- Brown sugar - 1 cup
For the tangzhong:
- Whisk flour and water together in a small saucepan. Simmer over medium-low heat.
- Cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens into a pudding-like consistency when you can leave lines in the mixture.
- Let the tangzhong cool to room temperature before using.
For the bread
- Combine the milk, the yeast and 2 tsps of sugar in a bowl until the mixture foams. Set aside,
- Combine the flour, sugar, and salt. Add in the yeast mixture, the tangzhong, and the egg. Mix for about 10 minutes.
- Add in the butter and mix until the dough can be stretched thin without breaking it. If it breaks right away when you try to stretch, mix it for a couple more minutes.
- Place the dough in a lightly oiled dough and brush with oil. Cover with a light cloth and leave in a warm place to rise.
- Once the dough has doubled in size, punch out the air in the dough and turn it into a floured surface. Divide the dough into four and roll each portion out into a ½ inch square.
To make the filling
- Combine the butter and the sugar in a small bowl until well combined. Set aside.
- Preheat the oven to 180C.
- Spread the butter and sugar mixture evenly over the rolled out dough portions.
- Roll the dough into a tight, log shape. Pinch the ends to seal. Leave to rise for another 30 minutes.
- Place in a greased pan. Bake till golden brown at the top.
- Serve while warm.
This I suppose is a Sri Lankan cinnamon roll sans the cinnamon. The bread itself is wonderfully soft and moist that you can’t stop yourself from sinking your teeth in again and again. The sugar and butter mix provides a buttery sugary adornment for the bread, making it a self-saucing treat. The combination of the sweet and the salt combines ever so softly and delights your taste buds in the single most simplest form. The thick buttery interior is truly a mouthful of warm satisfaction while the crust is really a skin with bits of escaped butter and sugar caramelized onto it making it a wonderfully rare treat with multiple textures, tastes and profiles. Served warm, it is capable of warming you from within and spreading that sensual glow coursing through your body so that you are left satiated like a cat beside a fireplace.
It was not quite like the stuff that we buy from the bakery, but it was much like it as well. The difference I suppose is the fact that the bread is softer, butterier with more textures and flavors coming out of the soft, warm bread.
- Take the bread out once the tops are golden and have formed a thin skin.
- When dissolving the yeast in the milk, make sure the milk is not too hot. It must be lukewarm for the yeast to work its magic.
- This takes quite a bit of elbow grease as you are required to knead and knead until the dough becomes elastic. You can of course use a bread whisk if you have one. This would make things easier.