While much of the Italian food choices are healthy; breakfast, generally, is not. Breakfast in Italy is sweet. Cake is a traditional breakfast food, and so are cookies. Continental breakfast is a concept Italians embrace. Even fruit is looked upon with suspicion! The typical Italian breakfast is made of a hot beverage, such as espresso or cappuccino, with something sweet to eat- cake, cookies, pastries, brioche, croissants, or toast and jam.
When at home, caffe latte and coffee made in a moka pot are the more common choices for drinks, and usually small breakfast cookies provide the sugar rush. Cereals are available on the shelves in the grocery store, but mostly eaten as an afternoon snack, not for breakfast! Italians often consume their breakfast out- the thousands of bars you will walk by everywhere in Italy serve cappuccino and paste (brioches, or bomboloni) for a breakfast you can conveniently consume while standing at the counter.
Italian sweet bread, like most Italian cooking, is rich in flavor. The most common flavorings used in these breads are:
- Vanilla is considered to be the most important ingredient in Italian sweet bread recipes. Vanilla tends to give the bread more flavor and brings out the flavor of other ingredients. Pure vanilla extract is recommended.
- Raisins are used in the bread to give it a sweet taste in every bite. Yellow raisins are commonly used, but darker raisins can be used as well.
- Orange zest is what makes Italian sweet bread so unique. Orange peel is shredded in order to give the bread that extra zesty flavor.
- After being baked, Italian sweet bread is often brushed with rum to give it that extra kick.
Here are some lower calorie versions of Italian Sweet Breads to bake:
Italian Breakfast Sweet Bread
- 1 cup warm 2% milk (70° to 80°)
- 1/4 cup egg substitute
- 2 tablespoons butter, softened
- 1/4 cup sugar or 2 tablespoons light sugar alternative
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3 cups all-purpose flour or Eagle Ultra Grain flour
- 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 1 egg, for egg wash
- 1 tablespoon water
Place the first seven ingredients in large mixer bowl with paddle attachment and mix until combined.
Switch to the dough hook and knead dough until smooth and elastic.
Turn dough onto a floured surface and divide in half. Shape each portion into a ball; flatten slightly.
Place in two greased 9-in. round baking pans. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 45 minutes.
Beat egg and water; brush over the dough and sprinkle lightly with sugar. Bake at 350°F for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from pans to wire racks to cool.
Yield: 2 loaves (16 slices each).
SCHIACCIATA CON ZIBIBBO (ITALIAN SWEET BREAD WITH RAISINS)
Double the ingredients to make two loaves and put one in the freezer.
- 1 pkg. active dry yeast
- 1 cup warm (105 to 115 degree) water
- 1 cup raisins
- 1/2 cup sugar or 1/4 cup light sugar alternative
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon grated orange peel
- 1/4 cup egg substitute
- 3 1/2 to 4 cups all-purpose flour or Eagle Ultra Grain flour
Dissolve yeast in warm water in large bowl of electric mixer with paddle attachment. Stir in raisins, sugar, oil, orange peel, egg substitute and enough flour to make a soft dough. Switch to the dough hook and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Place in greased bowl; turn greased side up. Cover; let rise in warm place until double, about 1 hour.
Punch down dough. Shape into round, slightly flat loaf about 9 inches in diameter. Place on greased cookie sheet. Cover; let rise 45 minutes.
Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Bake until bread is golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from cookie sheet; cool on wire rack. 1 loaf.
Italian Braided Sweet Bread
- 2 teaspoons yeast
- 1/2 cup warm water ( 110 degrees F)
- 3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour, sifted or Eagle Ultra Grain flour
- 1/2 cup sugar or 1/4 cup light sugar alternative
- 1/2 cup low fat milk
- 1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1/4 cup egg substitute
Mix yeast and warm water, and let sit so that the yeast can react. The yeast should begin to foam.
Mix dry ingredients together.
In a small saucepan, heat milk, butter, and egg substitute. Be careful not to let the eggs cook and become solid.
Mix yeast/water with dry ingredients in large bowl of the mixer with a paddle attachment. When thoroughly incorporated, mix in milk/egg mixture until a dough is formed.
Switch to the dough hook and knead dough, then cover, and let rise about 20 minutes, or until the dough has doubled in size. (Times vary depending on warmth of environment.)
Punch down the dough and divide in half to make 2 smaller loaves. Divide each half into three equal pieces and braid the ropes together and tuck in the ends. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, cover and let double in size. Bake bread at 350 degrees F. for about 20 minutes.
½ cup water
½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon dark rum
In a small saucepan, combine sugar and the water over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Continue cooking, without stirring, until mixture reaches a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, and cook 5 minutes more. Remove pan from heat, and stir in rum. Let cool to room temperature.
Brush all over bread as soon as it comes out of the oven. Let bread cool before slicing.
Rustic Raisin Walnut Bread
- 1 package active dry yeast
- 3/4 cup raisins
- 2 cups lukewarm water (105° to 115°)
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 2 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
- 1 1/2 – 2 cups all purpose flour or Eagle Ultra Grain flour
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 cup walnut halves, coarsely chopped
In a large mixing bowl with the paddle attachment, stir together honey and 1/2 cup of the lukewarm water. Add yeast and stir to dissolve. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Stir in remaining 1 1/2 cups lukewarm water.
Stir in the whole wheat flour, 1 1/2 cups of all purpose flour and salt. Mix until well combined. Keep adding the rest of the white flour until dough leaves sides of bowl.
Switch to the dough hook and knead 5 to 10 minutes, adding more flour if needed, until the dough is smooth and elastic. Be sure not to add too much flour.
Lightly oil a large bowl. Place dough in bowl and turn to coat. Cover with damp cloth and set aside in warm place to rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours.
Place a piece of parchment paper on a large baking sheet. Preheat oven to 425°F.
Punch the dough down and place it on a floured board. Gently knead the raisins and walnuts into the dough. Shape (round, long, square,) into 1 large loaf and place on prepared baking sheet.
Cover with damp cloth and let rise in a warm until almost doubled, about 30 minutes.
Using a spray bottle, spray loaf with water. Bake 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 375°F and bake 30 minutes or until nicely browned. Cool on rack before slicing.
Ricotta Crumb Cake (Italian Breakfast Cake)
- 2/3 cup toasted almonds, ground
- 3 1/4 cups all purpose flour or Eagle Ultra Grain flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 2/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
- 6 tablespoons cold butter or Smart Balance Blend
- 1 beaten egg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
Directions for the Crust:
Mix in a bowl the almonds, flour, baking powder, brown sugar. Using a pastry blender cut in the cold butter with the dry ingredients. Pour the egg and vanilla over the butter mixture and toss together just until moistened. Spoon half of crumb mixture into a 10 inch springform pan and set the other half aside.
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 2/3 cup slivered almonds
- 3 1/2 cups skim ricotta cheese
- 2 tablespoons rum
- 3/4 cup sugar or 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons light sugar alternative
Directions for the Filling:
Put 1/3 cup sugar and the almonds in the processor and pulse 5 or 6 times to grind the almonds into small pieces. Do not ground too fine.
In a bowl mix together the ricotta, rum and 3/4 cup sugar until blended. Stir in almond/sugar mixture. Spoon ricotta mixture over crumb crust in the springform pan. Spoon remaining crumb mixture over the ricotta filling and pat down to make top flat.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Bake for 45 minutes, Let cool and sprinkle top with powdered sugar.
Sweet Bread from Valtellina (Bisciola)
Makes 1 (8-inch) oval loaf
- 1 tablespoon grappa or rum
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/2 cup hazelnuts
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons low fat milk
- 1 packet active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
- 3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup rye flour
- 1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 3 tablespoons egg substitute
- 15 dried figs, stemmed and roughly chopped (3/4 cup)
- 3/4 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
- 2 tablespoons pine nuts, roughly chopped
Heat oven to 350º F with oven rack placed on the middle shelf. In a small bowl combine raisins, grappa or rum and water; set aside.
Spread hazelnuts on a baking sheet and bake until fragrant and lightly golden, about 5 minutes. Let cool completely, then roughly chop.
In a small saucepan, heat milk over medium heat until just warm, then remove from heat. Transfer warm milk to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; dissolve yeast and 1 teaspoon sugar in the milk. Let mixture stand until foamy, about 10 minutes. (If mixture doesn’t foam, start over with new yeast.)
In a medium bowl, whisk together remaining 3 tablespoons sugar, all-purpose flour, rye flour and salt. With mixer at medium-low speed, add half of the flour mixture to the yeast mixture. Mix until well blended, then add remaining flour mixture, butter and 1 1/2 tablespoons egg substitute. Reduce speed to low and mix 5 minutes more.
Drain raisins; discard liquid. Add raisins, hazelnuts, figs, walnuts and pine nuts to dough; mix on low until just incorporated. Switch to the dough hook and knead dough to form a stiff, wet dough.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. On prepared baking sheet, form dough into a 8-inch-long oval loaf. Cover loaf with a lightly dampened clean dishtowel and let rest, in a draft-free place, 2 hours.
Heat oven to 350º F. with oven rack in the middle.
Brush dough with remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons egg substitute, then bake, rotating pan once halfway through, until bread is deep golden, about 30 minutes. Let bread cool completely on pan on wire rack.
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