In a few weeks Easter will be here as Christians throughout the world celebrate the risen Christ. In Italy Easter is a blend of many rituals and celebrations. A special time when families and friends come together to commemorate this great event. A seasonal celebration that symbolizes rebirth and renewal. In the Italian culinary world springtime means it’s time for yeast-leavened breads and dishes rich in eggs. Foods that are symbolic of new life emerging this time of year and the Easter season.
Traditional breakfast breads are very popular in Italy. Breads that are lightly-sweet, yeast-leavened, enriched with egg, often studded with golden raisins or chunks of candied citrus peel. Breads that are risen with a golden, crusty exterior and a soft fluffy interior. Rich with butter and eggs, filled with raisins and candied orange peel, the classic Colomba di Pasqua is the most familiar of the traditional Italian Easter breads. Shaped like a dove (colomba means dove in Italian) it is a symbol of peace and the resurrection. However there are many favored Italian breads and regional variations to celebrate the Easter season. In the Italian Marche region crescia, a traditional cheese bread is a risen, more savory than sweet, bread meant to be eaten with cured meats. Some breads are braided, studded with eggs, topped with colorful sprinkles or glazed. Italy’s Pane di Pasqua are tangible representations of the meaningful ties to the origins of Easter Sunday and symbolic of seasonal food celebrations and the culinary and cultural traditions of regional Italian food.
Here is a recipe for one of our favorite”breakfast breads” to enjoy during the Easter season.
Italian Sweet Breakfast Bread Makes one 10-inch round loaf
2 ½ tsp. active dry yeast 1 cup warm water 2 Tbs.sugar 2 eggs ½ cup plain yogurt 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest 1 teaspoon salt 4-5 cups unbleached all-purpose flour ¼ cup golden raisins ¼ cup chopped candied lemon peel
In the bowl of a large stand mixer, combine yeast, water and sugar. Cover and let stand 10 minutes, or until a foamy vital yeast bloom has been formed. Add eggs, yogurt, vanilla, lemon zest, and salt. Mix well. With the paddle attachment of the stand mixer, stir in flour ½ cup at a time, scraping sides of bowl down, until dough starts to form (this should happen after adding about 3 cups). Switch to the dough hook and continue adding flour (about 1 more cup) until dough begins to come together. Continue kneading for 5 to 10 minutes, adding flour as necessary (up to 5 cups), until dough is soft and pliable, but not sticky.
Form dough into a large ball and coat all sides with oil. Let dough rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour. Punch dough down in bowl, transfer to a floured surface, and knead in the dried fruits. The goal is to get the fruits uniformly incorporated throughout the dough. Form dough into a ball and place in a greased 9-10 inch round pan. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and cool rise in the refrigerator overnight.
The next morning, remove pan from refrigerator and let come to room temperature (about 1 hour before baking). Bake in a preheated oven at 350 F for 45 minutes, or until loaf is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. If bread browns too quickly on top, cover with a piece of foil. If decorating your bread with eggs, it is important not to boil the eggs before dying them and nesting them in the dough before baking. Just turn the raw eggs gently in the dye, dry them, and carefully place them raw in the dough. They will bake along with the bread.
While your Easter bread is cooling, make the icing glaze by whisking 2 tablespoons of milk and 2 cups of powdered sugar together until you have a paste. Drizzle icing on bread, then top with nonpareil sprinkles. Let the glaze harden for a few minutes, then serve.