Papo Secos ~ Portuguese Rolls

These papo secos are light and airy Portuguese rolls that are the perfect vehicle for the classic bifanas–marinated pork slices–or your favorite sandwich fillings or simply a smear of butter.

Several cooked papo-secos on a wire rack.

I grew up eating papo secos. (Every Portuguese kid within 1,000 miles of me grew up eating papo secos.) I called them “butt buns” because, to my 10-year-old eyes, they looked like the plump little ass cheeks of a putto, or newborn. I made a few changes from tradition in this recipe, which I think makes for a better texture. Instead of kneading the hell out of the dough, I borrowed the technique of folding the dough over itself rather than punching it down, and this results in a lighter interior and bigger butts, er, buns. Yet these still have the crusty exterior anyone whose Portuguese knows to expect.

They’re not hard to make. Honest. The only part that takes a bit of time to get the hang of is the shaping. It took me several tries to get it right. The good thing is even if you don’t get that perfect crack right down the middle with the first batch, the rolls are still awesome.–David Leite

How to store papo secos

Because these rolls are homemade, they won’t last indefinitely in the bread box the way some store-bought buns can. They’ll keep for 2 days in a resealable plastic bag at room temperature. To perk them up, warm them in a 425°F (218°C) oven for 6 to 8 minutes. If you prefer to freeze the rolls, wrap each in foil and then slip them in a plastic bag.

Papo Secos | Portuguese Rolls

  • Quick Glance
  • (10)
  • 1 H
  • 4 H
  • Makes 10 rolls
4.8/5 - 10 reviews
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Ingredients

  • For activating the yeast
  • For the bread

Directions

Activate the yeast

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, mix the water, yeast, and sugar on low speed until combined. Let sit for 10 minutes until foamy.

Make the bread

Add the flour, water, and butter and stir on low until the ingredients are combined and a cohesive dough forms, 3 minutes. Cover with plastic and let sit for 30 minutes.

Sprinkle the salt over the top of the dough and mix on low (speed 2) for 5 minutes. If the dough rides up the hook, use a spatula to scrape it down.

Bump the mixer to medium-high (speed 7) and knead for 2 minutes more. The dough should pull away from the sides of the bowl and be slightly sticky. If the dough hasn’t released from the bottom of the bowl, add some more flour—a tablespoon at a time—until it does.

Remove the bowl from the mixer, cover it with plastic wrap, and place in a warm (68°F to 72°F | 20°C to 22°C), draft-free spot. The inside of your oven with the light turned on is ideal. Let the dough double in size, about 1 hour.

Tester tip: If you’ve always found it tricky to assess when exactly dough has doubled in size, lightly butter a plastic bread proofing bucket or clear glass bowl. Use a grease pencil or piece of tape to mark the level of the dough when you start. Makes it a lot more obvious when the dough has doubled.

Reach down 1 side of the bowl and gently but firmly pull the dough up and fold it over itself. Don’t punch it down. Rotate the bowl a quarter turn and repeat. Continue turning and folding 2 more times. Cover and let rest until doubled in size, about 30 minutes.

Repeat the turning and folding process, cover with plastic, and let the dough rest until doubled in size, about 30 minutes more.

Shape the dough

Divide the dough into ten equal pieces, about 4 1/4 ounces (120 grams) each. Lightly flour your hands. Cup one hand over a chunk of dough and roll it on your work surface in a circle to tighten the ball. Being somewhat neurotic, I count the turns—no fewer and no more than 40 revolutions. Repeat with the remaining dough.

A person rolling a ball of dough for papo-secos on a flour-dusted black surface.

Place the balls on a baking sheet lined with a floured non-terrycloth kitchen towel or a baker’s couche. Cover them with a kitchen towel. Let rest for 20 minutes.

Nine balls of dough rising on a towel-lined baking sheet for papo-secos.

Transfer the balls to your work surface. Heavily dust the towel again.

Flour your hands. Flatten a dough ball into a 6-inch (15-cm) disc. Using the side of your hand, make a deep crease (think karate chop) across the middle of the disc.

A round of papo-secos dough with a crease in the center.

Grab both ends of the crease and gently tug them to elongate the dough into a slight oval.

Fold one half of the dough over the other along the crease. The dough will have a half-moon shape.

Twist the ends of the half-moon into fat points and, using your thumbs, flatten them a bit to seal.

Gently transfer the papo seco to the towel, seam-side down. As you shape more rolls, arrange them in a row, few inches apart. Pull the towel up between each row to create a ridge that will hold the shape of the rolls during proofing. Repeat the shaping and lining up the papo-secos, folding up the towel between rows.

Three unbaked papo-secos rising on a ridged towel.

Cover the rolls with a towel and let rise in a warm place until almost doubled in size, about 30 minutes.

Bake the papo secos

Meanwhile, position a rack in the middle of the oven and slip in a baking stone or tiles. Place an empty metal tray on any rack that won’t interfere with the rising papo secos. (Do not use a glass pan as it could shatter.) Crank the heat to 500°F (260°C). The oven and stone will need time to properly heat.

Have a cup of very hot tap water at the ready.

Coat a baking peel or rimless baking sheet with cornmeal. Carefully turn a few of the papo secos seam-side up and arrange them on the peel.

Unbaked papo-secos on a cornmeal-dusted baking mat.

Place the front edge of the peel at the back of the baking stone and quickly yank it toward you to shift the dough onto the baking stone. Repeat with the remaining papo secos. Quickly but carefully pour the hot water into the metal tray and immediately shut the oven door to trap the steam. Immediately reduce the heat to 425°F (218°C).

Tester tip: If your baking stone can’t fit all of the rolls, bake them in batches. As the Portuguese say, Não faz mal. No problem!

Bake the papo secos until they’re puffed and golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove them from the oven and let them cool on a rack. To get that characteristic crusty outside, let the roll sit out several more hours prior to devouring.

Serveral baked papo-secos cooling on a wire rack.
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Recipe Testers' Reviews

I grew up with these crusty rolls. They were delivered daily before breakfast along with one giant version, our daily bread. Warm. Crusty. This was our bakery white bread. My mom baked everything else but these. When my daughter started eating table food (pre-teeth and before words), she’d point to the papo secos and say "uhm...uhm..." Then, when she could talk, she’d call them pãozinho, the Portuguese word for "little bread," and shake all over with excitement. She still calls them pãozinho and up until last month, we only had them for very special treats from a Portuguese bakery so that we could look forward to the ones baked in the Azores during our yearly visits. Those were so special. They don’t home deliver anymore but you can get them from the bakery still warm almost any time of day.

With the physical isolation craze of baking and numerous social network posts sporting papo secos, plus the ugly chance we may not be able to visit the Azores this year, I also jumped on the homemade papo secos bandwagon. My first attempt was quite successful, but I found the shaping to be somewhat challenging and the crust to be short-lived. When I read this recipe, I just knew that I could get the shaping right. Although I want to believe it was the wording in the recipe that provided the “click” in my understanding, it’s possible that I had already been somewhat “primed” from previous recipes. This recipe also only had a crusty exterior for about 60 minutes then softened. Although not crispy, the crust was chewy crusty when compared to the interior which was light yet dense with very even crumb. This might have been from using all purpose flour since I neither had access to bread flour or vital wheat gluten to convert my AP flour to bread flour. However, I must say that the combination of this bun with the bifana did take me back to my years when I lived in the Azores and the light yet slightly dense interior was perfect for sopping up the bifana juices! Yum!  Nevertheless, this recipe creates a roll that I’m pleased to call pãozinho! Several uncooked papo-secos on a baking mat and several cooked papo-secos on a wire rack.

This is a time-consuming recipe but it isn't difficult at all and the results are worth every minute.

Bread recipes can be daunting and working with dough can be challenging, but this dough was a joy. It came together and kneaded nicely in the mixer. By the time the kneading was done (I did 15 minutes), the mixing bowl was clean. It rose right on schedule (popping the bowl in the oven with the light on is the way to go) and was easy to work with when forming the balls and then the rolls. Instead of just rolling the dough to form balls, which didn't seem to "tighten the ball," as the recipe says, I used my thumb to press it in as I rolled it and that led to nicely shaped and tight dough balls. The forming instructions looked complicated at first glance but made sense when I was working with an actual dough ball.

The dough was quite airy and while I wouldn't call the rolls dense, they weren't as light on the inside as I expected. But they had a really nice crumb and, yes, a crusty exterior. As the recipe said, the crust got crisper after letting the rolls sit out for a few hours. But I started these in the morning and had one for lunch so I didn't wait for that! They really did taste just like the Portuguese rolls we get from the grocery store.

Several cooked papo-secos on a wire rack.

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Comments

  1. Anyone with experience of halving this recipe? It does mention baking the rolls in batches so I guess there is no need to change temperature or time. But what about resting times and such? Thanks for your help.

    1. Good recipe the only thing I found vs Portugal where I grew up was my batch was too dense inside. They were lovely but not as airy as the real thing. Any tips welcomed as the inside should be less dense. I did follow the recipe but any tips?

      1. Jay, when bread is dense, there are a couple of culprits.

          1.) Not letting the dough rise long enough (Room temperature is a part of this)
          2.) Using the wrong flour (Did you use bread flour?).
          3.) using too much flour (Did you measure with cups or did you weigh the flour?)
          4.) Over-kneading or under-kneading

        Now, one of the factors that simply can’t be fixed is the type of flour. Flour in Portugal is different than what we have here in the States.

        1. Thanks, David, ref allowing sufficient time to rise I followed the recipe and ensured it doubled as recommended, I used organic plain white flour, I measured the cups precisely and only did the kneading as advised but of course perhaps some variance between flour and my application.

          The insides are lovely it’s just they are more like the density of a white loaf of bread rather than the airy almost sourdough-like inside of a Portuguese papo seco where you have a soft airiness with a crusty outside.

          Thanks for the tips!

          1. Jay, I did some research. If you used UK plain flour, that could be part of the problem. This recipe calls for U.S. bread flour (11-13% protein content). UK plain flour is usually 10% or lower in protein content. Your equivalent of our bread flour (perhaps Homepride British Strong White Bread Flour) will create more gluten and, hence, better structure. And it’s great that you used organic flour, but even something like that can affect the final product. We didn’t develop or test it with organic flour.

          2. Thanks so much yes it may have been that. Our organic flour was actually from France, either way like you said there must have been some variance compared to what you used so I will try the one you recommend, thanks again!

    2. Isabel, I’ve never tried halving the recipe, and, to be honest, I wouldn’t. It could affect the half batch you do make. My suggestion would be to make the whole recipe and freeze the rest. My mom and aunts all do that with their rolls.

    1. Good question, George. You just want to use enough so that the papo secos don’t stick to the baking sheet. I usually just grab a small handful and scatter it across the sheet.

  2. First time our family ate Portuguese buns was on trip to Canada and fell in love with them when our kids were little. I found recipe and tried to make them as there weren’t sold anywhere here in US. I am glad I found this recipe as I can’t find the one I had. (This one seems way better anyway) Really looking forward to make these.

  3. Hi David, the Portuguese rolls look great. I would like to try out your recipe but I only have instant yeast at home. Should I skip the first step for yeast activation? Can I add the instant yeast and sugar directly in step 2?

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