The Italians love to celebrate holidays with food and Easter is one of those special holidays. Easter is preceded by Lent, a time of fasting for many Christians. Come Easter Sunday, it is time to celebrate, splurge and indulge.

Eggs are often associated with Easter and are considered a symbol of birth and life. The tradition of giving eggs as gifts can be traced back to the Persians, who used to exchange eggs at the beginning of Spring, while the custom of decorating eggs was popular in ancient Egypt. The tradition of exchanging eggs for Easter, however, dates back to the Middle Ages, beginning in 837 AC, when it was prohibited to eat animal products during Lent. During the forty days prior to Easter, eggs were conserved and decorated.

Beginning in the 12th century, the eggs were blessed and given to servants and children as part of a ritual called “Benedictio ovorum.” This is where the tradition of exchanging Easter eggs all began, well before the arrival of chocolate in Europe. Originally, eggs were painted in various colors and given to children in the streets of Europe as an Easter present. The tradition of chocolate Easter eggs, probably, did not began until the 19th century.

Bread is also an important part of any Easter celebration. Italian Easter Bread is rich with symbolism, baked in the shape of a wreath to symbolize the crown of thorns worn by Jesus Christ at the crucifixion. The three pieces of dough braided together represent the three elements of the Holy Trinity. The bread is either baked with colored eggs directly in the dough or with white eggs that can be decorated after baking.

Several other Easter breads are shaped or decorated in ways that recall the Easter story. In northern Italy they make the Colomba Pasquale, a dove-shaped loaf, symbolizing hope. Likewise the cheese-enriched Italian Easter bread called, Crescia al Formaggio, forms a dome because it is baked in tall narrow pans that force the bread to rise in a dramatic dome shape. In Sicily, they make small Easter breads, called “pupi cu l’uova”, that are shaped like dolls and have an egg in the center.

Italian Easter Bread

Easter bread with colored eggs embedded in the dough.

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup warm milk (120 to 130 degrees F.)
  • 2 tablespoons butter or margarine, softened
  • 2 eggs
  • grated orange zest
  • 1/4 cup chopped blanched almonds
  • 1/2 teaspoon anise seeds
  • 5 hard boiled eggs
  • vegetable oil

Glaze

  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons orange juice
  • sprinkles or nonpareils, for decorating

 Directions:

In a mixing bowl, combine 1 cup flour, sugar, yeast and salt. Add milk and butter; beat 2 minutes on medium.

Add 2 eggs and 1/2 cup flour; beat 2 minutes on high. Stir in fruit, nuts and aniseed; mix well.

Stir in enough remaining flour to form a soft dough. Turn onto a lightly floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, 6-8 minutes. Place in a greased bowl; turn once to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.

Dye the hard boiled eggs in Easter colors and lightly rub with oil.

Punch dough down. Divide in half; roll each piece into a 24-in. rope. Loosely twist ropes together to form a circle and tuck eggs into openings. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 30 minutes.

Bake at 350 degrees F. for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from pan; cool on a wire rack.

Decorate with a glaze and sprinkles, if desired.

Colomba Pasquale– Easter Dove Cake

While Italy offers many traditional Easter breads, the best-known by far is Colomba Pasquale, Easter dove bread, a native of Lombardy in the north, but available everywhere at Easter time. Even in America one can find these panettone-like breads in the “dove” shape around the Easter holidays. Studded with citrus peel or dried fruits, spread with a coating of sugar-nut syrup and sprinkled with almonds and sugar, the Easter Dove Bread is a special treat.

Sponge:

  • 1/2 cup warm milk, 105 -115 degrees F.
  • 1 envelope (2-1/4 teaspoons) dry yeast, divided
  • 3/4 cup flour

Dough:

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 egg yolk, save egg white for icing
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 8 tablespoons butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Grated zest of 1 orange or lemon
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup dried fruit (combination of dark and golden raisins and candied orange peel)

Almond Topping:

  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds, divided
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 egg white
  • Confectioners’ sugar

To make the sponge:

In a small bowl, sprinkle 1 teaspoon of yeast into the warm milk.

Stir the yeast into the milk and allow to sit for 5 minutes to dissolve.

Stir in the 3/4 cup flour to form a smooth paste.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

Let sit 12 hours or overnight, unrefrigerated.

To make the dough:

Using an electric mixer, beat the eggs and egg yolk together.

Beat in the sugar, remaining yeast, salt, orange zest and vanilla extract.

Add the sponge and softened butter; beat to combine.

Add 2 cups of flour and beat just enough to blend in the flour.

If you are using an electric mixer, switch to the dough hook.

Otherwise, transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface.

Knead the dough until smooth and elastic.

By hand you will knead for about 10 minutes.

If you are using a dough hook, knead about 5 minutes.

Add the dried fruit and knead just enough to incorporate.

Place the dough in a large buttered bowl.

Cover with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel.

Let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 2 hours.

To shape the dove:

Punch down the dough and transfer to a lightly floured surface.

Divide the dough into 2 equal size pieces.

Form each piece into a log about 12-inches long.

Place the first piece into the dove mold in what would be the dove’s wings..

The second piece is placed from head to tail on top of the first piece.

Pat the dough down around the edges of the mold to fill in any gaps.

Cover with a kitchen towel.

Let rise in a warm place until doubled, 45 to 60 minutes.

In the meantime, make the icing and preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

To make the topping and bake the bread:

In a food processor, combine 1/4 cup of almonds, granulated sugar, 1/2 tablespoon of cornstarch and egg white. Process to a smooth paste.

Carefully spread the topping on the risen bread.

Spread the remaining sliced almonds on top.

Dust with a heavy coat of confectioners’ sugar.

Place the mold on a baking sheet.

Bake for 15 minutes.

Reduce the temperature to 350 degrees F. Bake an additional 20-30 minutes.

If the top is getting too brown, cover the bread with a piece of foil during the last 10 minutes of baking.

The internal temperature of the bread should be about 190 degrees F. Remove from the oven and transfer the bread to a wire rack to cool

The Dove Mold Can Be Ordered From Amazon

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B001AS04H0/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B001AS04H0&linkCode=as2&tag=mangiabenepas-20

Easter Bread Wreath 

Starter:

  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cool water
  • 1/8 teaspoon instant yeast

Dough:

  • 2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast, for best rise; or regular instant yeast
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground anise seed, optional
  • grated peel of 1 large orange

Glaze:

  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons orange juice
  • sprinkles or nonpareils, for decorating

Directions:

To make the bread: Mix together the starter ingredients, cover the bowl and set it on the counter at room temperature overnight.

Next day, combine the starter with all the remaining dough ingredients. Mix and knead, using an electric mixer until the dough is elastic and satiny.

Grease a large bowl, add the dough and let rise for 1 to 2 hours, until doubled and puffy. 

Turn the dough out onto a lightly greased surface, divide it into three pieces, and shape each piece into an 18″-long rope. Braid the ropes together and connect the two ends to form a wreath.

Cover the wreath and allow it to rise until puffy, about 1 to 2 hours.

Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 375°F.

Bake the wreath for 15 minutes, then reduce the oven heat to 350°F and bake for an additional 20 minutes, tenting it for the final 10 minutes of baking.

The finished loaf will be golden brown, and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center will register at least 190°F.

Remove the wreath from the oven and transfer it to a rack to cool.

To make the glaze: Stir together the sugar and 2 tablespoons of orange juice. Add more liquid 1/4 teaspoon at a time, until the glaze is thin and pourable.

Drizzle the glaze onto the cooled braid, then decorate with sprinkles, if desired.

Yield: one loaf.

 

Italian Easter Cheese Bread

This bread is traditionally eaten on Easter morning for breakfast or lunch and served with Italian sausage or salami, boiled eggs and a glass of red wine.

Italian Easter cheese bread is excellent for making ham sandwiches.

This version is baked in a loaf pan, instead of a dome shaped pan.

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 large egg yolk, white reserved
  • 1/4 cup lukewarm water
  • 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) softened butter
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground white pepper 
  • 1 1/4 cups freshly grated Parmesan Reggiano or Asiago cheese

Glaze:

  • reserved egg white (from above)
  • 2 teaspoons cold water

Combine all of the dough ingredients, except the cheese, in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat on medium speed for 10 minutes, until the dough becomes shiny and satiny. 

Stop the mixer to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl a couple of times during the mixing process.

Add the cheese and beat until well combined. This is a sticky dough, so don’t be tempted to add more flour.

Scrape the dough into a lightly greased bowl, cover the bowl, and set it aside to rise for 1 hour; it won’t rise very much.

Gently deflate the dough, turn it over, return it to the bowl and allow it to rise for an additional hour; again, it may not  rise too much.

Oil or flour your hands.

Divide the dough into three pieces; roll each piece into a 12″ log; and braid the logs. Nestle the braid into a lightly greased 9″ x 5″ loaf pan.

Cover the pan with a kitchen towel and allow it to rise for 2 hours (or longer, depending on the warmth of your kitchen); the dough should become puffy, though it won’t have doubled in size.

To bake the bread: Put your oven rack in a lower position, just below the middle and preheat the oven to 425°F.

Whisk the reserved egg white with the water and brush the top of the loaf.

Place the bread in the oven and bake it for 15 minutes.

Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F, tent the bread with aluminum foil and bake for an additional 30 minutes, until it’s a deep, golden brown and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center registers 190°F. 

Remove the bread from the oven and let it cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Use a knife to loosen the edges, if necessary, and turn the loaf out onto a rack to cool completely before slicing.

Store airtight, at room temperature, for several days. Freeze, tightly wrapped, for longer storage.

Yield: 1 loaf.

 

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