Well, since Easter is tomorrow, I thought I would share a traditional Italian food eaten around this holiday. There are several foods that can be typically found on an Italian table during this time.....what to choose......what to choose. Now, before I go further, let me confess that I don't actually have many specific memories of foods we ate during Easter that were particularly Italian.......maybe my memory is failing me??
I decided to ask my siblings for a little help jogging the old brain cells and, wouldn't you know, two of them remembered my gramma making a bread "with hard-boiled eggs placed in the braids, shell and all?" Isn't it funny how some memories are so vivid and some things just get a bit lost over time? (Funny, but also a little sad) Well..... that's the recipe I'm going to share with you. It's not my gramma's specific recipe, but one of the many that I came across while leafing through pages in my stockpile of cookbooks. This recipe is from Michele Scicolone and can be found in "Entertaining With The Sopranos" . Now, I never followed the t.v. series, but the cookbooks are pretty straight-forward and just kind of fun.
Making Easter breads are a tradition in Italy. There is a common practice of baking whole eggs, placed or braided right into the bread dough. The breads change some from region to region and are called by many different names, but the symbolism is the same. (I believe this particular recipe is a Sicilian one) Bread itself has significance on the Easter table because Jesus Christ is called the "Bread of Life". Eggs are symbolic of re-birth.
Alright, now it's time to share the recipe. It's a slightly sweet bread with just the right hint of orange flavor. It makes a nice snack, or addition to your Easter meal, or.....how about for breakfast? Cut a couple slices and toast them, add a little butter.... The eggs are all ready for you to peel and eat. (You place them in the bread dough raw and they come out perfectly hard-boiled after the bread is baked!) So, there you go.....eggs and toast, all in one! By the way, speaking of the eggs.....it's been awhile since I've colored any and mine came out, well, let's say....less than perfect, but you get the idea. Try this bread! It was fun and it's delicious!
Easter Sweet Bread (makes 2 round loaves)
- 8 tblsp. unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup milk
- 2 1/2 tsp. active dry yeast
- 1/2 cup warm water (100-110 degrees)
- 3 large eggs, at room temp.
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1 tblsp. grated orange zest
- About 5-5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp. salt
- 6 eggs, colored for Easter, if desired
- 1 egg yolk, beaten with 1 tblsp. water
- Multicolored round sprinkles
Heat the butter and milk in a small pan just until the butter melts. Let cool.
Sprinkle the yeast over the warm water and let it stand until it gets creamy, about 5 minutes. Then stir until it dissolves.
In a large mixing bowl, beat the 3 eggs until foamy.
Beat in the sugar until blended. Then, add the butter mixture, yeast, vanilla, and orange zest.
Add 4 1/2 cups of the flour, along with the salt and mix until a soft dough forms.
Gradually add just enough of the remaining flour to make a smooth and slightly sticky dough.
Place the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead it until it's very smooth. Shape into a ball.
Put the dough into a large bowl that you've buttered. Cover it with plastic wrap and let it rise in a warm place until it's doubled in volume, about 1 1/2 hours.
Punch down the dough and divide it into 4 pieces.
Roll out one piece into a rope about 22" long. Repeat with another piece and lay the ropes side by side.
Loosely braid them together. Place the braid onto a large, buttered baking sheet and bring the ends together to form a ring. Pinch the ends to seal.
Place 3 of the whole, colored eggs into the wreath, at intervals, tucking them in between the ropes of the dough. Repeat this process with the other dough and eggs. Cover them with plastic wrap and let them rise about 45 minutes, until doubled in size. Now, brush them with the egg yolk mixture and scatter the sprinkles on top. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, or until they are golden brown, reversing the position of the pans halfway through the baking.
Place bread on racks to cool completely. Cut into slices and serve. Store the bread in the refrigerator because of the eggs (unless you know no one will be eating them).