I’m the laid back sort. I think I’ve said it before. Frankly, I tend to say it every now and then just in case someone out there hasn’t heard it yet and mistakes me for one of those hyperactive, eager-beaver sorts. But then, it’s what I received as part of my heritage, being a good Goan that is (read: person from the beautiful, sunny, beach-kissed land of swaying palm trees known as Goa or “amche Goi” as we like to refer to the motherland, or simply, “our Goa”). The only difference between me and the local ‘poder’ (pronounced po-dere) or baker from Goa is that I would most definitely swap the ubiquitous bottle of fiery Feni that they swig down without batting an eye or twitching a muscle, for dainty sips of a good Merlot or Reisling.
But then, I did pick up a bottle of Feni the last time I visited Goa, only because the bottle was ceramic and had that lovely old-fashioned look to it, and because it would make a nice addition to the pots and bottles sitting in my little balcony garden, probably with a nice money plant growing out of it. The only problem is I haven’t got down to drinking the Feni yet. Perhaps I shouldn’t talk about drinking, given that it’s Lent and the very least I can do is not talk about alcohol even though I did have a glass of wine recently. But then so did my priest at mass.
So back to the good old pao which we Goans so love and cannot do without, that Goan Christians in particular have come to be named after it. So we’re referred to as ‘Macs’ by all and sundry, which comes from the Konkani “maka pao di re” or “give me bread”.
Pao is nothing more that a pillowy soft and fluffy, pull apart bread. In the old days when I was very young and Goa was on the family annual holiday list., toddy (sap which is tapped from palm trees) was used to ferment the dough and give it that lovely aroma and flavour which is missing from the pao you get in the market today. I haven’t used it in my recipe either but I decided to elevate the humble pao in my own way and used a lavish sprinkling of Sharp Cheddar both in the dough and on top of the bread just before baking.
Flavour??? Yup!!! There was loads of it.
3 cups AP Flour (+ extra for dusting etc)
2 tsps active dry yeast
1/2 cup tepid water (+ extra if required to form a smooth and elastic dough)
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup Evoo (+ extra to line your bowl etc)
1 cup grated sharp Cheddar (+ extra for grating on top after brushing the loaves with milk)
2 tbsps full cream milk for brushing the loaves
Make sure you prove the yeast for 10 mins in the water along with the teaspoon of sugar. Add the frothy yeast mix to the flour to which you’ve added in the salt. Add in the milk and knead the dough well for at least 12 – 15 minutes. Leave it to prove in a dry place for at least 2 hours. Once the dough has more than doubled in size, remove it from the bowl and knead it lightly. Roll it out and sprinkle on the grated cheese, bringing the dough over in the folding motion. Sprinkle over the balance cheese, ensuring that the dough has been evenly dotted with cheese throughout. Shape into even sized balls and either place on a prepared baking tray or in a baking dish. about an inch to an inch and a half apart. Cover and leave the loaves of pao to prove again for at;least another hour to an hour and a half.
Preheat your oven for at least 20 – 30 minutes at 220º C. Once the dough has doubled or trebled in size, brush the tops with milk and grate on some more cheese, as liberally or sparingly as you like. You could also do an egg-wash instead on the milk, but then the cheese gives the top of the pao such a lovely golden hue when baked, that the egg-wash seems quite unnecessary.
Bake the loaves for about 30 minutes… allow them to cool in the pan for a couple of minutes…
Cut into it and slather on some butter. Or just tear it apart and dunk glorious fragrant, warm chunks of luscious cheddar pao bread into your favourite gravy or curry. Believe me, it does go with everything.