Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Tradition in the Kitchen: Easter Bread

Italian Easter Bread Recipe
I spent the day in the kitchen with my girls, carrying on a tradition that dates back to the "old country" of Italy.  It is Anise Seed Bread, otherwise known as Easter Bread.  Many of my childhood friends fondly remember this delicious bread in our house every Easter (and Christmas, too!)

My grandmother, an Italian immigrant from Caulonia (southern Italy), made the bread without a recipe.  She just knew what to add and when from years of making it with her mother.  Who probably made it with her mother and so on.  My mother, (her daughter-in-law), learned to make it by watching my grandmother and wrote all the steps down on a recipe card.

As a child, I always helped make the bread.  I loved getting a pinch of the dough.  I also loved working the dough till it was just right to braid.  I loved the smell of the bread cooking in the oven until it was a shiny, golden brown.  And nothing compares to the taste of this bread on the palate.  Easter mornings we all looked forward to the warm loaf.

My girls are like me.  They love to help make the bread and sneak pinches of the dough.  While making the bread, I explain how it is steeped in tradition.  We talk about how life was different for my mother, for my grandmother.  We wonder what it was like to leave your home for a new country or to live in a time when there wasn't electricity or an oven.  I share stories about their grandmother and great-grandmother.  It is a fun time.

In addition to the tradition of making the bread, I love the story about what the bread represents.  The bread, which is rolled into long ropes, braided, is shaped like a wreath.  This is to represent the crown of thorns Christ wore on his head.  Colored eggs are then nestled in, representing the new life that Christ brings to us.  The bread itself, must raise, just as Christ did.

Here is the recipe if you would like to try it.  I am sure your family will love it, too!

Anise Seed Bread~Easter Bread

1 C. milk
1 stick of butter or margarine
1 C. sugar
1 TBLS anise seed (I usually double this as it adds more flavor)
1 TBLS Salt
4 eggs
4 pkgs. Dry yeast
1 C. warm water
9 C. flour (approximately—you may need more)
Colored hard boiled eggs (optional)

Scald milk and add sugar, butter, salt and anise seed.  Beat eggs slightly and add to the milk mixture (allow milk mixture to cool a bit first).

Dissolve yeast in warm water in a large bowl.  Let stand for 5 minutes, then add half the flour.  Add milk mixture and rest of flour.  Knead 8-10 minutes until smooth and satiny (adding more flour as needed).  Place in large, greased bowl (I prefer ceramic), cover with a towel and keep in a warm place until double, about 1.5 hours (maybe less with quick rising yeast).  Punch down and let dough rest for 5 minutes.  

Divide dough into two or three (or even 4, depending upon how small you want your loaves).  Divide each portion into three ropes and braid.  Form a wreath from the braids and place on greased backing pans.   If you want, add 3-4 colored eggs (they do not need to be cooked) to the wreath. Let rise again, covered with towels, for 1 hour.  Bake at 325 for 20-25 minutes, brushing with a mixture of egg yolk and 1 tbls. of milk after first 10 minutes, if desired (makes your bread shiny).

Dominick and Mary 
Note:  My mother always said the kitchen needs to be warm and wouldn’t allow anyone to use the kitchen door to the outside because it caused drafts.  I also use a ceramic bowl to allow the bread to rise in and warm it a bit in a low oven.  I truly believe this bread has to be made with love to come out best, so leave any ill will at the door.  The recipe can also easily be halved.  It also keeps well in the freezer, wrapped in foil and then a Ziploc bag.


1 comment:

Frugal in WV said...

I'm half Italian (and half Irish). I love making Easter bread! I used to make it with my grandmother also, love your photos! What a great tradition to pass on to your kids!

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