This is a light and airy bread created by Portuguese residents from the Azores Islands as a sweet bread for Christmas and Easter. (For Easter, 2-3 boiled eggs are baked into the dough). Today, it's served year-round for breakfast or to enjoy with tea or coffee. It’s popular in many parts of the U.S. as well, as Azorean immigrants introduced it to the east coast in the 18th century and to the sugar cane region of Hawaii in the late 19th century. Recipes can vary and include raisins, lemon zest, or liquor for added flavor. The "secret ingredient" in this recipe is the liquor (whiskey or brandy).
Heat milk, but do not scald. Remove from heat and stir in butter until melted. Stir in the sugar and salt. Set aside to allow milk to cool.
Meanwhile, make yeast starter by mixing the packages of yeast with the warm water and sugar. Stir yeast until dissolved and let it rest until you see bubbles activating.
Beat 4 eggs for a few minutes, then add beaten eggs to the milk in a large mixing bowl. Add the yeast mixture to the milk along with the whiskey or lemon zest (if using), and beat for 2 minutes.
Begin adding the flour, 1 cup at a time, until it’s all incorporated. Use your dough hooks or your hands to knead for about 10 minutes. The batter should be very silky and smooth but not sticky. Add more flour if you find the dough sticky.
Remove dough from mixer, place on a floured surface and knead for about 5 minutes until it is smooth and soft. Place the dough into a large floured bowl and cover with plastic wrap and a warm towel. Let it rise in a warm place for 2 to 3 hours or until doubled.
After the dough has doubled, punch it down (to deflate its volume). Divide dough in half, and place both halves on a floured surface. Form dough into two round loaves, and place loaves on a large greased baking sheet (or two smaller baking sheets). Or form dough into about 24 rolls, and place rolls about 1 inch apart in a lightly greased baking pan. Set baking pan(s) aside to let the dough rise for another hour (or place in a slightly warm oven for about 20 minutes or until almost double).
Preheat oven to 325°F.
Beat one egg with 1 Tbsp milk. Brush tops of the bread with the egg wash, and bake for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, reduce oven temperature to 300°F, and bake another 30 minutes or until the bread has a golden caramel color. NOTE: rolls bake in less time, approximately 45 minutes.)