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Tru Bahamian Must Eat: Island Sweet Bread

a slice of cake sitting on top of a piece of bread

There’s nothing quite like the warm, pillowy goodness of a thick slice of homemade bread. Bearing a sweetness that store-bought varieties can never compare to, homemade bread in The Bahamas is versatile and delicious and at home we appreciate nothing more than a fresh loaf of Island Sweet Bread. Often infused with delicate coconut shreds and silky cream, Island Sweet Bread is an easy go-to for an afternoon snack when slathered with butter and jam, or equally delightful as a sumptuous foundation for a deli sandwich. You’ll discover that Island Sweet Bread was once a staple in the Bahamian diet and remains so for many families, particularly in our outer islands to this day. In order to help you eat like a local during your Bahamas visit or simply add a bit of island flavour to your own homemade bread recipe, we’ll give you the 411 on what Bahamian Island Sweet Bread is, where to find it while in Nassau, and how to make it yourself if you choose.

Cultural Influences On Island Sweet Bread

a piece of bread
Credit: Mind Food

Island Sweet Bread is a common food item throughout the entire Caribbean region and varies in consistency and texture by different ingredients used, depending on which island you find yourself on. Not to be confused with the popular and very tasty Bahamian Johnny Cake, Island Sweet Bread varieties are often very doughy (as they are made using yeast) and frequently include add ins such as raisins and coconut products- both influences of our British heritage where dried fruits and nuts are typically added to breads in order to make sweet treats like speckled bread and rock cakes. The use of coconut in Bahamian Island Sweet Bread is likely attributed to our African ancestry as well since coconut is a common ingredient within West African cuisine.

What’s In Island Sweet Bread?

close up of coconuts

Bahamian Island Sweet Bread typically uses coconut products such as shredded coconut and/or coconut milk. Naturalized to The Bahamas, coconut trees flourish in our sandy soil and sunny, humid climate, making the nuts a readily available and popular ingredient in Bahamian baking. Bahamian varieties also tend to utilize dry milk powder, since The Bahamas has never had a thriving dairy industry and powdered milk was preferred in earlier decades due to its easy, cheap transport into the country and its long shelf life. However, Bahamian Island Sweet Bread can instead be made using whole milk or a mixture of evaporated milk and water, but we prefer the latter because it adds a velvety creaminess to the dough!

Variations Of Island Sweet Bread

a close up of a tray of food
Credit: The Bahamas Weekly

While coconut is the most common sweetening ingredient used in Bahamian Island Sweet Bread, many locals will use other dried fruits like raisins or currants and spices like vanilla and cinnamon to make their sweet bread. Others will simply omit the coconut and instead add more sugar to their bread dough and drench the crust in a sugary syrup while the bread is baking. The majority of Island Sweet Bread is baked, again as a likely reflection of our African heritage, we sometimes fry the bread, creating what we call Swinge Cat (a version more typically served in Grand Bahama andLong Island, Bahamas) which makes excellent accompaniment to soups, stews, and chowders.

What We Eat With Island Sweet Bread

a close up of a plate of food
Credit: Finding Oysters

Bahamian Island Sweet Bread is versatile- meaning sweet and savoury options for serving abound. We Bahamians love nothing more than a slice of Island Sweet Bread smothered in butter or jam, especially local jams such as Sapodilla, Tamarind, and Guava Jam, with a cup of coffee or tea. On the other hand, our Island Sweet Bread makes an excellent base for deli sandwiches, adding an intriguing sweetness to salty meats, or to sop up hearty soups and stews like Bahamian Peas and Dumpling Soup. However, one of the best ways to serve Island Sweet Bread is as a roll next to a heaping plate of fried chicken or cracked conch and fries smothered in ketchup and hot sauce-known as a “snack” or chicken/conch in “da bag” on restaurant menus (and it makes a great way to consume all your required carbs for the day.

We recommend tasting authentic Island Sweet Bread while you’re in Nassau by visiting some of the best bakeries in town:

Swiss Pastry Shop – Cable Beach
Phone: (242) 327-7601
Mon-Sat, 9:00am-6:00pm

Model Bakery – Dowdeswell Street
Phone: (242) 322-2595
Mon-Sat, 9:00am-6:00pm
Sun, 9:00am-2:00pm

Purity Bakery – Market Street
Phone: (242) 302-3000
Mon-Sat, 7:00am-6:00pm

3 ‘S’ Bakery and Breakfast Corner – Pinedale Street
Phone: (242) 328-5883
Mon-Fri, 7:00am-6:00pm

How To Make Island Sweet Bread At Home

a close up of a piece of bread
Credit: Mennonite Girls

Apart from how amazingly delicious it tastes, Bahamian homemade bread is relatively easy to prepare and can even offer some rigorous exercise from all the pressing and rolling required.  Although similar to a yeasty white bread, Island Sweet Bread has a few extra ingredients in the mix that will up the ante of your next homemade loaf.

Here’s a recipe straight from the Bahamian Island of Bimini, where Coconut Bread is their most famous specialty:

2 ¼ cups flour
½ tsp salt
2 tbsp dry milk powder
1 ½ tbsp. sugar
1 tsp active dry yeast
2 whole eggs (one for the dough + one for egg wash)
1 egg white
1 ½ tbsp softened butter
1 ½ tbsp vegetable oil
½ cup coconut milk
½ shredded coconut

Preheat oven to 350°F. Sift together the flour, salt, dry milk powder, and sugar and salt in a large bowl. Add the dry yeast and mix well. Once combined, make a well in the flour mixture and add in one beaten whole egg and egg white, softened butter and vegetable oil and mix. Gradually add coconut milk and shredded coconut and mix to form a soft dough. Transfer the dough onto a floured surface and knead for 20 minutes until the dough becomes smooth and elastic. Roll the dough into a big ball and put into a greased bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave in a warm place to allow dough to rise until it doubles in size, which will take an hour or so (for faster rising, warm the coconut milk in a saucepan until bubbly). When the dough has risen, punch it down with your fist and transfer to a lightly floured surface and knead for another 10 minutes. Then place dough in a greased bread pan and brush lightly with egg wash made with the second whole egg. Allow to bake for 35 minutes or until top has browned and dough has cooked through. Serve when cooled slightly.

Alternative Preparation
For bread rolls, divide the dough into 16 balls, brush with egg wash, and bake for 20 minutes in a baking tray. Try adding a cup of raisins or currants to your dough as an option. This variation is especially popular around the Easter and Christmas holidays in The Bahamas and we love slathering the rolls with guava jam or cheddar cheese.