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Monday, March 14, 2016

Pane Di Pasqua Aka Italian Easter Bread

Easter time is a celebration of “Rebirth” in both  religion and nature.  This Italian celebratory bread honors both as well. These breads are often festively decorated with colorful dyed eggs and sprinkles.  What could be a better way to honor either religious beliefs or nature's rebirth?

 
As an adult I find making bread very therapeutic.  The measuring, the rising, the kneading, the baking and above all the eating, it takes me to another place. It is hard to be angry while having your hands on the dough.  This dough is very flexible, pliable, and takes on shapes very well. Add the pretty colors of dyed Easter Eggs and sprinkles and the children in the family will want to assist in the making of a new holiday tradition. After all, what adult or child hasn't had a good time playing with that brightly colored toy Play-doh?

 
My mother-in-law made Italian Bread Baskets a few times through the years when my kids were small.  Being small, the children really didn’t comprehend the egg in the bread, nor did they care for the taste.  Like many Italian treats, even though it is a sweet bread, and has sweet in the name, it is not overly sweet.  In my opinion it is more of a breakfast item, to replace eggs and toast and great to dunk in your coffee or tea in the style of which many of an Italian cookie have been eaten.   

 

Like every other Italian recipe out there, it comes in many versions: Plain, dried citron, fresh citrus, and anise. Some have fillings, frostings or a glaze. You can search the internet and try which ever recipe appeals to you.  Although the bread shapes can look similar, this recipe is not to be confused with other similar recipes such as St. Joseph’s Bread or Challah.  

 

Easter Basket Bread comes in many shapes: basket, loaf, crown, dolls, Christ, birds, the all American bunny and these days many other shapes none of which have anything to do with Easter or Religion.   Some of the shapes carry a meaning; such as the Christ form.  This shape is interpreted as Christ body being wrapped for burial.  The cross over the egg represents his crown of thorns.   And the fork tine impressions can be symbolized as his feet. Symbolism is also found in the Crown or Ring forms of dough:  Again the dough is braided and formed into a circle.  The eggs are placed around the circle in a pleasing pattern and then the cross of dough is placed over the eggs.  The cross, symbolizing the crown of thorns that Jesus wore.   The dove shape symbolizes peace.   The bunny form is more of an Americanized Easter symbol.


 

Pane Di Pasqua/Italian Easter Bread

makes 6 individual loaves

1 package Rapid Rise yeast (2-1/4 teaspoons)
1 1/4 cups milk
Pinch of salt
1/3 cup butter
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup sugar
3 1/2 cups flour
Egg wash-1 egg, beaten with 1 teaspoon of water
6 dyed Easter eggs (do not need to be a hardboiled eggs)
Sprinkles or pearl sugar

In a small saucepan, warm the milk and butter together, just till butter melts.

In a large mixer bowl with a dough hook, combine yeast, salt, eggs and sugar.  Add the warm (not hot - it will kill the yeast) milk and butter.  With mixer on low add about half the flour and beat until smooth. Slowly add the remaining flour to form a stiff dough.  Don't worry about how much flour it ends up being, just keep adding until the dough is not sticky anymore.   Once the dough clings to the hook, turn it out onto floured board and knead until smooth.  Place in a greased bowl, cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size (about an hour).

This would be a good time to color your eggs.  I like to use Wilton’s food coloring paste to color my eggs.  I fill a large cup with hot water from the tap and two teaspoons of white vinegar.  Pick a color and add it to the liquid by using a toothpick.   I suggest you use enough color to darken the water so you can’t see through it.   I also use a whisk to hold my egg. Pat it dry with a paper towel.  Remember, you’re using a fresh egg so use care not to crack or break it.


Punch dough down, turn out onto floured surface and knead into a cylinder shape. Cut into 12 equal pieces.  Roll each piece to form a 1 inch thick rope about 14 inches long.  Take two pieces, twist to form a "braid", pinching the ends, and then form into a circle.

Place on two baking sheets lined with parchment paper or a Silpat.  Cover and let rise until double in size (about an hour).  Brush each bread with beaten egg wash.  Let it dry just a short while before adding sprinkles or pearl sugar (helps to prevent color of sprinkles from bleeding).   In the middle of each bread ring, gently place an Easter egg, making an indentation with the egg. The egg will cook to hard-boiled stage while the bread is baking.

 
Bake at 350 degrees or until golden brown (about 20-25 minutes).  Cool on rack.


 

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From the bottom of my heart..............