Trinidadian sweet bread is a dense coconut bread studded with glossy candied fruit, plump raisins and currants, and flavoured with almond and ginger.
Traditionally, many people in Trinidad make sweet bread to celebrate special occasions and holidays, like Christmas or New Year's day.
If you've been following my blog for a while now, you might know that I've been slowly documenting my mom's Trinidadian recipes over the years.
Today I'm sharing one of her favourite recipes to make: coconut sweet bread.
Even though it's called "bread", this sweet treat is definitely something I'd eat as a dessert (or a very indulgent breakfast!).
Sweet bread is essentially a coconut loaf with fruit and spices, that you'd enjoy with a nice cup of tea (or a glass of punch a creme).
Our version is firm but not dry, and gets a little bit of a crunch from a sugar glaze on top.
I could have called this recipe "Caribbean Sweet Bread" but there are so many variations in Caribbean recipes from island to island that I feel more comfortable calling this a Trinidadian version, because that's where my mom learned how to make this.
We've been recipe testing this sweet bread for over a year now, largely because my mom doesn't measure anything when she bakes.
I think we've finally created a recipe that you can successfully recreate in your own kitchen though, so let's jump into it.
Sweet Bread Ingredients
Some of the ingredients in this sweet bread recipe are straight-forward (i.e. all-purpose flour, baking powder etc.) but I do want to highlight a few that are integral to the dish.
- Shredded Coconut makes up a large portion of the dough in this recipe. Classic recipes call for freshly grated coconut, but we prefer to use frozen shredded coconut instead to save time. You can find this at most supermarkets in the international section of the freezer aisles. This recipe may not work with desiccated coconut.
- Candied Cherries add sweetness and a pop of colour to the bread. You want the sugary candied (glazed) cherries sold in those little plastic tubs, not Maraschino cherries sold in liquid that you buy in jars.
- Candied Mixed Peel are citrus peels that have been candied with sugar. These also adds colour and a slight bitterness to the bread. If you don't like citrus peel, you can leave them out, or substitute more candied cherries.
- Currants are my mom's personal touch in this recipe. You can just use raisins if you want to.
- Evaporated Milk is a shelf-stable milk that can be found in cans, usually in the baking aisle of your grocery store. Do not substitute regular milk. Coconut milk may work as a substitute.
- Almond Extract is not the same as almond essence (an artificial flavouring), but you should be able to substitute one for the other at a 1:1 ratio. You could also use Vanilla Extract instead.
- Fresh Ginger adds a brighter flavour than powdered ginger but if you don’t have any, substitute a little less than ¼ tsp of powdered to the mix.
- Light Brown Sugar adds a slight caramel flavour to the sweet bread that you can't get from white sugar. Yet it's not as intensely flavoured as dark brown sugar. You can use any sugar you have on hand though.
- All Spice is a unique spice that tastes like a combination of clove, cinnamon and nutmeg. We love using all spice to replicate these flavours with less ingredients to measure. If you don’t have it, you can use my allspice substitute (see below).
You will need two 9.25 x 5.25 loaf pans, a large mixing bowl, a medium mixing bowl, a flour sifter and a wooden spoon to make this sweet bread recipe.
If you do not have a flour sifter, you can use a whisk to mix your dry ingredients and then use the wooden spoon once you combine the dry with the wet ingredients.
How to make Sweet Bread
Making sweet bread is actually pretty easy. Unlike other bread recipes, this quick bread doesn't have any yeast and doesn't requiring any proofing.
Mix Dry Ingredients
The first step is to sift the flour, baking powder, ground allspice and salt. My mom sifts her mixture 4 times to make sure it's well aerated.
While sifting the flour might seem like an unnecessary step, it actually adds air to the flour which can help create a lighter crumb in your finished sweet bread. If you don't have a flour sifter, use a whisk to combine the dry ingredients.
The allspice is one of my mom's touches on this recipe. Usually, classic recipes call for cinnamon and nutmeg.
If you don't have ground allspice, you can make a spice blend as a substitute and then measure what you need from the mixture.
Allspice Substitute: Combine ½ teaspoon of cinnamon, ¼ teaspoon of ground cloves and ¼ teaspoon of ground nutmeg. This will give you 1 tsp of spice blend, and you can measure the ¾ tsp for this recipe from there. Put the rest into an airtight container and save it for later.
Once that's done, you can add the coconut, sugar and fruit.
As I mentioned before, traditional recipes for sweet bread call for freshly grated coconut.
This requires you to buy a dry coconut (the little brown hairy ones that you see in commercials for tropical drinks), remove the husk, and then grate the flesh inside on a box grater or in a food processor with a grater attachment.
There is nothing wrong with this method, and I've done it before, but it does take a lot of time. Also, there will be the odd time that the coconut you've bought is rancid (it's difficult to tell from the outside), and you won't be able to make the recipe.
Using frozen coconut meat saves time, and it gives you consistent results. It does spoil quickly though, so be sure to follow the package instructions for proper storage after opening.
Some people grind their fruit in a food processor to get smaller pieces, but I like to see the large specks of candied fruit in my bread. I just chop my cherries roughly with a knife and leave everything else as-is.
Mix Wet Ingredients
In a separate bowl you're going to combine the melted butter, evaporated milk, almond extract, beaten eggs and grated ginger.
I know that you're supposed to use unsalted butter in baking, but we always use salted butter in this recipe.
We like the fresh flavour that grated ginger adds to this recipe, but if you don't have any on hand you can definitely substitute powdered ginger.
Usually you'd use ¼ the amount of ground ginger for every 1 tsp of fresh ginger. Since this recipe uses ¾ tsp of fresh, I'd use just under ¼ tsp of ground as a substitute.
Once your wet ingredients are mixed, you just add them to the dry ingredients and stir to create the dough.
It's important to stir the mixture with a spoon until it's fairly stiff. It will be difficult to stir with the spoon, but this is the texture you want. Do not try to knead the dough or mix it with your hands, as this will result in a tough sweet bread.
Once your dough is ready, pour it into two greased and floured loaf pans and bake at 350°F.
The final (crucial!) step to this sweet bread recipe is the sugar glaze that gets brushed on top.
Once the bread is cooked, and has a nice golden brown colour, you need to brush on the sugar glaze while the loaves are still warm.
Then you pop them back into the oven for about 5 minutes to create a crust on the bread.
You "could" technically leave this step out if you don't want to add any more sugar to this already-sweet bread, but it does add a satisfying crunch which I love.
How to Store Sweet Bread
First, make sure to allow your loaves to fully cool on a wire rack before cutting it into slices. Sweet bread can be served warm or at room temperature.
Any leftover bread should be store in an airtight container, or wrapped tightly in plastic wrap to prevent it from drying out.
Since this recipe has fresh (well, previously frozen but still fresh) coconut, it can go rancid quickly. If you can't eat both loaves within 3 days, slice the remaining loaf, wrap the slices in plastic wrap and place in a freezer bag for later.
When you're ready to have a slice, simply take one out, remove the plastic wrap, and defrost before eating.
Those are my tips for baking this Trinidadian sweet bread recipe successfully!
I hope you and your friends/family enjoy this recipe as much as we do. If you're looking for more holiday recipe inspiration, you might want to check our my recipe for sorrel drink, or my coconut Chelsea buns.
Trinidadian Sweet Bread
- Two 9.25 x 5.25 Loaf Pans
- Wooden spoon
- Flour Sifter
- Large Bowl
- Medium Bowl
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 4 tsps baking powder
- ¾ tsp ground allspice
- ½ tsp salt
- 2 cups light brown sugar, plus 3 tbsp extra for glaze
- 3 ½ cups shredded frozen coconut, defrosted
- 1 cup candied cherries, roughly chopped
- 2 tbsp candied mixed peel
- ½ cup raisins
- ¼ cup dried currants
- ⅔ cup salted butter, melted
- ¾ cup evaporated milk
- 1 tsp almond extract
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- ¾ tsp fresh ginger, grated
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Grease both loaf tins with butter, margarine or cooking spray. Flour pans and set aside.
- In a large bowl, mix and sift flour, baking powder, allspice and salt. Add coconut, candied fruit, raisins and currants. Stir to combine.
- In a medium bowl, add melted butter, evaporated milk, almond extract, beaten eggs and grated ginger. Stir well.
- Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients, stir to combine. Do not mix or knead with hands. Dough should feel stiff and sticky.
- Divide dough into the prepared loaf pans. Don't press down on the dough. Bake until golden brown, and a skewer comes out clean when inserted. Approximately 60-70 minutes.
- Meanwhile, mix the reserved 3 tbsp of sugar with 1 tbsp of water to create a glaze.
- Once loaves are done cooking, remove from oven and brush on glaze while the bread is still warm. Return loaves to oven for 5-6 minutes to create a crunchy crust.
- Remove the loaves from the pans, and cool completely on a wire rack before cutting.
- Serve warm or at room temperature. Store cooled loaves in airtight container (or wrapped tightly in plastic wrap) for up to 3 days, or freeze for later.
- Frozen Shredded Coconut: If you can't find frozen shredded coconut, please use freshly grated flesh from a dry coconut. This recipe may not work with the desiccated coconut that you find in the baking aisle.
- Candied Cherries: you want the sugary candied (glazed) cherries sold in those little plastic tubs, preferably not Maraschino cherries sold in liquid that you buy in jars. Fresh cherries may not work here.
- Candied Mixed Peel: This usually comes pre-cut, but if yours is in long strips then roughly chop before using. If you don't like candied citrus peel, or can't find it, you can leave it out, or substitute more candied cherries.
- Currants: You can just use raisins if you want to.
- Almond Extract: you should be able to substitute almond essence at a 1:1 ratio. You could also use vanilla extract instead.
- Fresh Ginger: if you don’t have any, substitute a little less than ¼ tsp of powdered ginger
- Light Brown Sugar: you can use white sugar or dark brown sugar if you don't have light brown sugar, but it may affect the overall flavour and colour of the sweet bread.
- All Spice is a unique spice that tastes like a combination of clove, cinnamon and nutmeg. If you don’t have it, you can use my allspice substitute (see below).
See blog post for detailed tips and explanations.
Please note that these nutritional values are only an estimate, and have been generated from a database using generic products.
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