Italian Easter Bread
Easter is synonymous with spring, and it is my favorite time of year. Everything is new and fresh. The trees and flowers are in bloom, and their vibrant colors are at their peak. As a child, Easter meant new outfits, Easter Bonnets, chocolate, decorated eggs, and Mom’s Easter Bread.
I have vivid memories of me and my sisters dressing for Mass on Easter Sunday in our new dresses, patent leather shoes, and of course our Easter Bonnets. Mom was known for her beautiful hats. She wore some of the most spectacular hats adorned with flowers, organza and satin ribbon. It was a special day for us all.
This year I am celebrating Easter with my family in Pennsylvania, and I have the pleasure of baking the Easter Bread with my sister, Louann. Baking the bread brought back a lot of memories, so I was compelled to look at old photos. I rummaged through all the old photos and found these two photos of me and my sisters. I had difficulty finding a photo of the three of us together, but luckily I found this one of me in the stroller. I was starting to feel a little left out. It’s the typical “third child” syndrome. As each child was born fewer and fewer photographs were taken.
But back to the bread. It has a wonderful flavor and it has just a hint of sweetness. It makes great toast, but can also work well with a sandwich. If you want a sweeter version, you can add candied fruits or use a powered-sugar glaze on top with sprinkles.
6 – eggs
1 -1/4 cups sugar + 1 -1/2 tbls.
1 – cup butter or margarine
1 -1/4 – cup milk
3 -1/2 – packages active dry yeast
6-8 – cups all purpose flour
1 – oz. pure lemon extract
1 – oz. pure orange extract
1/2 – oz. anise extract (or liquor)
1 – oz. whisky
Place the butter in a bowl and melt it in the microwave (or you can melt it in a pot on the stove). Add 3/4 cup of the milk to the melted butter and warm slightly, set aside.
Next place 3-1/2 packages of active dry yeast and 1-1/2 tablespoons of sugar to a medium sized bowl. Pour in 1/2 cup lukewarm milk and mix until the yeast is dissolved. Let it set until the yeast begins to bubble and grow in size.
While the yeast is activating, add the eggs to the large bowl of a mixer and whip the eggs until they become frothy, then slowly drizzle in 1-1/4 cups sugar. Continue mixing until well incorporated, about 2-3 minutes. Add the extracts and whiskey and mix for about 1 minute more.
Pour the egg mixture into a large stock pot or large bowl and add the butter mixture and yeast.
Mix together and then add in the flour one cup at a time. The amount of flour you use varies as it depends on the size of the eggs. Don’t be concerned if you do not use all 8 cups. Mix with a whisk until it becomes difficult to do. Then use your hands to mix the rest. The dough should be a little sticky. Grease the sides of the pot with a little canola or vegetable oil so that the dough does not stick.
Cover the pot with a clean dish towel and place in a warm area to rise until doubled in size. This takes about 3 hours.
Once the dough has doubled in size, use your fists and punch it down. The recipe will make 4-5 loaves. Divide the dough into 4 or 5 loaves. Use a kitchen scale and measure about 18 oz. per bread pan. You have the option to make plain loaves or braided loaves. Grease the bread pans well with shortening or non-stick spray.
To braid the bread, divide the dough into three equal parts. Roll each part into the shape of a log a little longer than the length of the bread pan you are using.
Press the ends of the three logs together and make a braid.
Place the braid in the bread pan, cover with a dish towel and let rise in a warm place until it comes to the top of the pan. This will take about 3 hours.
Prepare an egg wash for the top of the loaves by whisking one egg with 2 tablespoons with water. Brush the tops of the loaves with the egg wash just before putting them into the oven. Place 2 loaves at a time in the center of a pre-heated 300° oven. Bake for approximately 45-55 minutes. Check at 40 minutes and continue cooking until golden brown.
This recipes is time consuming, but well worth it.