Guest Post: Italian Easter Bread

From Erica of In and Around Town...

At this point, Megan is somewhere in Italy drinking amazing wine and cappuccino and indulging is loads of pasta!  In honor of her Italian trip and her amazing baking, I wanted to share a post on Italian Easter Bread (even though we are nowhere near Easter!).  When I traveled through Italy in 2002, it was Easter time and I ate delicious Easter Bread with almost every meal.  I remember it fondly and find myself craving it from time to time.

Easter Bread
Family Cook Book
Growing up, my best friend was Italian and I was jealous -- I wanted to be Italian since they have the best food!  I am Swedish, Irish, Welsh and a bunch of other things, and sadly have no Italian in me.  Luckily, Nick is half Italian.  His grandfather tells stories of growing up in the North End in Baker's Alley and helping his father out with his push cart in the Haymarket area.  Over time, all of his relatives have made some great, traditional dishes.  Fortunately, a few years back Nick's family had the idea to collect and organize his Great Grandmother's recipes into a family cookbook.  One of the dishes they memorialized is Easter Bread, so here is my first attempt at the family recipe!

The Necessities:
  • 2 1/2 pounds flour
  • 2 packages instant active yeast
  • 1/2 pound soft butter
  • 1 cup warm milk
  • 6 eggs
  • 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla
  • 2 teaspoons salt
The Ingredients
I had to break out the scale to measure out the 2 1/2 pounds of flour - much easier than trying to somehow convert the amount to cups!  Then I went ahead and added the rest of the dry ingredients to a very large bowl.

Dry Ingredients
 In a smaller bowl I combined the wet ingredients.

Wet Ingredients
Ages ago (as in second grade maybe), someone recommended I create a well in the dry ingredients to pour the wet ingredients into, which I did here.  I added about half of them and stirred them together before adding the second half.

Wet Ingredients in the Well
Using my hands and one of my favorite kitchen tools - the pastry blender - I combined the ingredients until the dough was formed.

Formed Dough
Once the dough formed, I covered it with a dish towel and let it sit and rise overnight.  This recipe makes enough dough for two loaf pans, so in the morning I split it into two equal parts, placed them in loaf pans and allowed them to sit and rise a bit more.  After a short resting time, I placed the pans in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.  Just before the bread was done (about 25-28 minutes into the cooking), I brushed the bread with egg whites and sprinkled it with colored beads.

Next-Day Steps
I actually found that this made pretty heft loaves, and they actually needed about 10 minutes more than the suggested 30 minute baking time.  I think if I had divided the dough into three different pans rather than the two, I might have been more on target (maybe they had bigger pans then?!)

Fresh out of the oven
Ready to cut
This bread was sweet and delicious.  It's definitely a bit dense but does not sit in your stomach like some can.  The Easter Bread really could be breakfast or dessert.  I loved the sentiment behind this family recipe and can't wait to make it each Easter and continue to pass the tradition down to future generations.