Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Italian Easter Bread Recipe

It isn't Easter at my house unless there is a loaf of freshly made Easter Bread to adorn the table.  This is a recipe passed down to me from my grandfather who owned and operated an Italian bakery.  The year after I graduated from college, my grandfather taught my cousin and I how to make this bread.  Sadly, he passed away shortly after.  And, somehow something got lost in the translation of the recipe and it took me many years to recreate the recipe so it had the consistency and taste of the way I remember it to be.

So if you enjoy a recipe that someone in your family makes, apprentice with them and write every ingredient, measurement and step down.  What a great honor it is to carry on the tradition and memory of loved ones especially during the holidays. Enjoy!

Italian Sweet Bread Recipe

The first step is to make a yeast sponge:

4 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups warm milk (no warmer than 115 degrees)
1 cup all purpose flour

Warm the milk either on stove top or in microwave.  The temperature should be around 110-115 degrees F (any higher may kill the yeast).  Add the flour and stir with a whisk until incorporated.  Sprinkle the yeast on top and lightly mix.  Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for an hour.  The sponge will rise and look bubbly.

Step 2:

2 sticks of butter softened
1 1/2 cups of sugar
1/2 cup of honey
(flavoring is optional. For a traditional Easter Bread add 2 tsp of lemon extract or zest of 1 lemon)
6 eggs

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream butter, sugar and honey (and flavoring).  Add one egg at a time until mixed.

Step 3:

In another bowl, mix together:

5 cups of four (scoop/scrape method)
1 tsp baking powder 
1 tsp salt

Step 4:

Using a dough hook on a stand mixer, blend the egg mixture with the yeast sponge(do not over mix), add 5 cups  of flour incorporating one cup at a time to form dough.  Add additional 1-2 cups of flour as needed.  Dough should be slightly tacky but not sticky.  Place in a greased bowl, cover and let rise until doubled, about 2 hours.

Put dough on floured surface and punch down dough.  Divide dough in half.  Divide each half into three equal parts.  Roll each part to a twelve inch long rope and braid three of the ropes tucking the ends in.  Place on a baking pan sprayed with oil.  Cover and let rise 1 hour or until doubled in size.  

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.   

Brush loaf with egg wash: one egg yolk mixed with 1 tbsp. water.
Sprinkle with sesame, poppy, anise seeds or colored sprinkles.  (If making a traditional Easter Bread, place a colored egg into each loaf)  
Bake for 30 minutes.
This will make two large loaves.  

*note if making smaller loaves, baking time may vary.