Panapesa: Flemish Burnt Sugar Bread from Great Grandma
Panapesa. That’s what we call it in our family anyway. We have no idea if this is the correct spelling, or if we’re pronouncing it properly from where it started out, but this is a recipe that has been passed down to me after many generations of women. My mother gave me the recipe, who got it from her mother, who got it from her mother. Who knows how far back it really goes, but it’s one of the few things that makes me feel connected to my past and my heritage. My great grandma is from Belgium, and spoke Flemish growing up until she came to the United States with her husband Oscar. Only my grandma now speaks a few Flemish words (mostly cuss words, hilariously), so we’re in the dark as far as a direct translation goes, but my guess is that it translates to something about it being burnt sugar bread (that really is a huge guess). What I do know, however, is panapesa has been around in my family for a long time, and I’ve never eaten anything else like it. I also know that it is pretty flipping amazing, but also kind of scary to fix with the frightening mixture of burnt sugar and boiling water, so be careful!
The reason why I made this recently, is for the road trip my boyfriend and I took from Southern California, to our new home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana! Perhaps I ended up choosing this particular bread because it was comforting to have a piece of my family heritage with me as we made the trip. It also came in very handy for breakfast along our route, after camping and staying with friends/family, so we finished it very quickly. I hope you enjoy it as well!
½ teaspoon salt
¾ stick (6 Tablespoons) margarine or butter
2 cups sugar, divided
¾ cup milk
2 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon baking soda
2 ½ cup flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup of boiling water
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees, and put on the water to start boiling.
Mix together the salt, eggs, margarine or butter, and 1 cup of the sugar. Beat on slow. Add milk to the mixture and combine. In a separate bowl, sift the cinnamon, baking soda, flour, and baking powder. Slowly add the dry mixture to the wet mixture.
In a high-rimmed pot, cook one cup of sugar until completely dissolved and bubbling. Make sure it’s nice and brown, but do not over-cook it either or your bread will be too intense. Cook it until its starting to bubble, constantly stirring, then remove it from the heat. Now, this is the part that gets scary: slowly add one cup of boiling water to your burnt sugar. Be careful! It starts steaming and sizzling and is super duper hot. Keep stirring.
Slowly add the burnt sugar to the previous mixture, constantly stirring.
Pour batter into two greased loaf pans, and bake them in the oven for 30-35 minutes.
After it’s cooled off a bit, it’s really yummy to slice and eat as-is, or with a nice little slathering of Smart or Earth Balance.
I also tried making a vegan version, made with whole wheat pastry flour, walnuts, and shredded coconut on top. It tasted really yummy, but lets just say, in the words of my boyfriend, it was “structurally unsound.” I have to go back to the drawing board on that one before I post the recipe. Part of my problem, I believe, was that I needed a bit of Egg Replacer in it so it held together a bit more, but I didn’t have any available since I had already packed it for my move to Louisiana. (Yes, I packed Egg Replacer… what if they didn’t have it here!?) I’ll be sure to post that one as soon as I make it. Or, if you try veganizing my family recipe, let me know how it goes!