While I am at this moment drinking my warmed milk with cocoa and eat a broa, I am writing this post to remind and share with you the tradition of making broas in my family.
First of all, you need to know what a broa is. There is no translation that I know of, but I believe you can guess or understand by the pictures, it is a small cake, rich in fennel, cinnamon and nuts flavors. They fit in the palm of your hand, and are traditionally baked during this time of the year.
Everything started with my grandmother, at least, from what I could remember, as I believe her mother and even before that, it was traditional to make broas at our house. But my grandmother, from my mother side, turned everything unique and special for me.
One or two days before All Saints Day – Dia de Todos os Santos -, at November 1st, usually at night, while watching her favorite soap opera on television, my grandmother would be kneading the dough with fennel, walnuts, pine nuts, cinnamon… in a big green clay bowl. Then, she would do a cross in the dough, say a pray and cover it with a checkered blanket, leaving it to ferment during the night.
On the next day, very early, she would lit the wood oven. My aunt and cousins would arrive a bit after to help us, and all of us – they, me and my mom -, had the task to roll out the broas. “Small balls!” would say my grandmother.
They would be placed in these very used and very old aluminum trays, brushed with egg and there they go, into the wood oven. I remember the heat in the oven room, the sweaty and burned face from my grandmother, but also the joy and love she would have just to be doing this.
While some were baking, we kept busy rolling more broas until all dough was finished. My cousin M. would eat raw dough – it is actually delicious -, a little thing she still does nowadays. There are things that will never change.
After some minutes, warm and little broas would be taken out; they would go into another clay bowl and covered with a embroidered towel to keep them warm.
We would pass an entire morning doing this; occupied chatting, rolling and eating broas.
Since my grandmother was at the oven, she would take the opportunity to make our lunch too; usually some kind of fish and batatas a murro, or a succulent meat… And like it wasn’t enough, some sweet potatoes for dessert too.
Men would arrive around lunch time and we would all seat around the table for sharing. Back then I didn’t enjoy sweet potatoes that much – I was a very picky child -, and broas, I could only eat one or two most.
But I enjoyed those days and the haring and it endured for some years, while my grandmother was healthy and lived among us. “Learn the recipe!” she would say to my mom and aunt. “Why? Yours will always be the best”, they said.
Until the day my grandmother was gone and left a huge empty hole. One year has passed without her delicious small cakes.
But someday, someone – and I really can’t remember who -, asked: “why don’t we try it?”. So we looked for her recipe, where she kept all the baking recipes, and found it, the secret recipe for broas, which are still considered the bests back in my hometown.
All ingredients mixed, dough knead – very hard task since we always did a big quantity of them -, the dough would be left to rise during morning time. We would have a girls lunch, drink some coffee after that and only then, start to roll broas.
Since then, my mom started to be the responsible for the wood oven – which she never had ever tried before, while my grandmother was alive, but now she is a master! -, and tray after tray, we would bake the broas, until the bowl was finally empty.
While still warm, we would seat around the table after all the work done, drinking some tea and eating our own broas. “They are very good, but grandmother’s were much better!”.
But every year since then, we would do the same ritual always with the spirit of my grandmother to guide us.
Until the day I moved to far away and everything changed… Now I bake my own broas, at my house and in my electric oven. They end up being delicious, mas they don’t have that special taste of a wood oven.
I can’t wait to be reunited with my gang and repeat the tradition with them. Who knows, maybe with an extra small pair of hands to help us, since the family is growing.
But until then, I will continue baking my own broas, following my grandmother’s recipe, to remind her and so many happy moments of my childhood. After all, my grandmother passed us something unique, and today, thanks to her, I don’t eat just one or two broas… but yours, grandmother, will always be the best ones.
Happy All Saints Day!
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