Thursday, April 9, 2009

Italian Easter Bread - The Resurrection of a Great Family Recipe

Easter is a very underrated food holiday. What red-blooded, red meat eater doesn't salivate at the site and smell of a garlic-studded roasting leg of lamb?

I've always enjoyed the simple pleasure of a properly cooked hard-boiled Easter egg, and its colorfully decorated shell. And, of course, there's
the chocolate eggs, tucked down in pink plastic excelsior grass.

Remember how you would slowly lift the egg out of the basket and immediately gauge the weight. In a millisecond you knew if it was a feather-light, hollow chocolate shell, or heavy and dense - filled with solid chocolate or some other exotic goo.

If you were lucky enough to grow up in an Italian-American home, there's a good chance you got to enjoy the smell of freshly baked Easter bread, with its unmistakable anisette aroma filling the air.

The smell was heady, but so was the sight of those glossy iced braids, bejeweled with candy sprinkles (click here for the icing recipe). The sweet, spicy, eggy, buttery taste was complex, but at the same time, familiar and comforting.

This loaf of Easter bread is one of my favorite holiday traditions, and an authentic family heirloom recipe. Made the same way as my mother, and her mother, and her mother's mother made it. I hope you give this a try, and remember, it's never too late to start and old family tradition. Happy Easter! Enjoy!




Ingredients:
1 package active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water (100 degrees F.)
3/4 cup sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp aniseeds
1 1/2 tbsp anise extract
1 1/2 tsp lemon extract
1 tbsp lemon zest
1 1/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp vegetable oil
6 tbsp melted butter
1/4 cup milk
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more as needed

*CLICK HERE for the icing recipe!

34 comments:

Lucia said...

Interesting, flavouring wise is not that different from Galician baking with lemon and anise flavors being the main ones.

It reminds me slighly of a easter bun my mom makes, though hers have the tendency to be toughish. I might take some of the techniques of this video and see if one day I can make a nice easter bread.

Sky Peace said...

It looks so cute with the pink glaze and the sprinkles. Reminds me of Homer's favorite donuts.

Anonymous said...

So pretty!

Michael said...

Chef, Does this taste like black jelly beans?

Chef John said...

anise has a sorta licorice flavor

Mena said...

This looks so good!
Where do i find the recipe for the icing on top??

Chef John said...

i'll post the video tomorrow

Asian Malaysian said...

Sadly, I dont recall ever uncovering a perfectly cooked hard boiled egg in all my childhood Easter Egg hunting career. They all bore the sin of over-cooking. Thank God for mayo and butter.

Ill try out the recipe if I ever get over my phobia of baking bread. Anyone who has tried attacking the bricks I produced all those years ago will understand.

Anonymous said...

Looks like a tastee bread there Chef, Thanks! Can't wait to see the icing vid. Ny the way--how did the Wolfgang Puck interview thing go for you?

Chef John said...

even you couldn't screw this one up. ;-)

Chef John said...

Puck interview will be done via email, and wont happen for a couple weeks. I'll post a link when it's up.

Donald said...

You just have to love anything with pink icing.

blogagog said...

Haha! It's kind of funny that you'd make Jewish bread (challah) for Easter! This is just about the only time of the year that they can't eat the stuff and *BAM* here it is on Food Wishes.

Funny :).

blogagog said...

Hey, I hope you'll let this comment through for us licorice haters, Chef John. Michael, what Chef John meant by "anise has a sorta licorice flavor" is that 'yes, anise tastes exactly like black jelly beans.'

If you don't like black jelly beans, you won't like anything with anise in it. You won't like anything with star anise in it. You won't like anything with fennel in it. You won't even like anything with tarragon in it.

Give up on all of those spices. If you (like me) do not like black jelly beans, then you will never approve of this flavor, no matter what you try. If a recipe calls for one of those evil licorice flavored things, either leave it out or substitute caraway seeds for it.

Blech. Man, I hate licorice.

Ciao Chow Linda said...

I like the anise flavoring your family used. It's different from what I grew up with where hardboiled eggs are braided into the bread.

Chef John said...

i don't like black licorice, but LOVE tarragon, fennel, etc. So, put that in your jelly belly and digest it! :-)

Chef John said...

Easter bread is always Kosher with me.

Dan said...

I hate black licorice, but I had this bread at my grandma's house a long time ago. I recall enjoying it quite a bit.

another malaysian said...

hey chef john, will it be okay if i leave the anise seeds and anise extract out? cause it would be quite hard for me to look for those two items here. will i get a nice plain bread this way or it just won't work?

Chef John said...

leave it out, no prob

Charlemange said...

I remember various Easter and challah breads from my childhood. Some had hard boiled eggs baked into them. I will definitely make this bread this week. I will probably use orange extract, as I have no anise.

Mena said...

hey chef john!
i just want to say that i tried out the recipe and it came out really good, exactly the way my grandmother used to make it! Definately a keeper!!
THANKS!!!

missy said...

i love easter bread and have been eating my grandmother's from before i can remember. I have just taken over making it for my grandmother who is not up to making it anymore. thank you for posting such a delicious bread, and for sharing the importance of tradition!

Anonymous said...

I too hate fennel, black licorice, and certain anise flavored items. That being said, I have always loved Italian Easter Bread and traditional biscotti, another Italian treat that has anise in it. SO - even if you hate anise, fennel, licorice, etc., you could end up loving Easter Bread, its definitely worth a try. additionally, i personally have always loved tarragon, especially in eggs with a mild cheese.

maitino said...

Hey Asian Malaysian. I understand you very well. In the Shona language, very dry roasted grasshoppers are called 'chambisa'. Thats the term people in my house used to use to describe my bread, scones etc. I have listened and learned from all beautiful people like chef John who put stuff on the internet and my baking has improved a lot. Things may not be perfect at first, but they will improve. So like chef John always says, give this a try.

Only problem in my family is they think that everything I bake, including bread, should be sweet! I will be nice and bake this once a fortnight.Thanx chef John for great recipe.

grace said...

Thank you for your recipe for Easter Bread. We grew up and had this delicious bread every Easter! The recipe was lost and I have tried searching the web sites for one.This is the closest one, almost the same ingredients that my Mom used except for the anise seeds. She also brushed the top of the loaves with egg wash before putting them into the over. Now I know the amount of the ingredients that goes into the recipe.

asdf said...

ok so I just tried this, and the dough, like always, stuck to my hands and pretty much everything else it touched in the process. my braids turned into ugly lumps that did NOT look better after 2 hrs. any suggestions? I'm ready to give up making any kind of bread. ever.

Chef John said...

if the dough sticks to your fingers every time you try to make bread it means you simply need to add more flour when you make the dough. Bread making isn't an exact science and you have to keep adding flour until you have a smooth, very soft dough, but one you can handle.

Little Fish Girl said...

As someone who WAS fortunate enough to grow up in an Italian American family, I still have never had this bread. I feel so cheated!

Anyway, my italian grandmother made a wonderful cheese bread for Christmas every year, and no one seems to have the recipe for it. It seems to me like it had a swirl of grated romano or parmesan cheese actually baked into it. My grandmother never needed a recipe in the kitchen, and I have looked and looked for a similar recipe online, but can't find anything (actually, I've found a lot of recipes for my favorite snack - cheese toast). I've wanted to make this for Christmas for my family ever since she passed away last September. So I don't know if requests are allowed, but if they are, I'm making one. Have you (or your readers) ever heard of anything like it?

Thom said...

I grew up under the guidance of an Italian Grandmother and Grandfather. They always took great care with their Easter bread, braiding Crosses and Rings, with and without Colored Eggs baked in. Theirs was glossy and without icing, but even as a kid I loved it. The bread I grew up with had a cinnamon flavor to it, and while they used anise in lots of things, I don't think it was n this particular bread. I am not sure mixing cinnamon with anise would provide a good result, nor am I certain that replacing anise in this recipe with cinnamon would work. Any thoughts?

Anonymous said...

I am not a baker and have tried variations of this family Easter bread several times....BRICKS!!!

Is it necessary to allow the bread to rise for 12 hours?

Has anyone just waited for the doubling in size as an endpoint?

I welcome your comments.

Buona Pasqua!

moy said...

how you make the pink glaze? and the ingredients? thank you.

Chef John said...

Search "icing" in sidebar

Anonymous said...

Chef John,
Maybe a silly question but here goes. I am about to make this Easter cake and want to make sure.... In the video you are adding sugar twice - the ingredients show sugar listed once for a 3/4 cup only - take 'some' sugar from the 3/4 to add to yeast mixture or ....
Made lots of your recipes successfully due to your great video direction and needless to say, all the humor that goes with them!