Enjoy loafing with a creative recipe for Easter bread and be tempted by a devilish salad to make the most of your Easter eggs.
Most of my food traditions originated on my mother’s side of the family. We lived with my grandmother, and so the Sicilian influence was everywhere in our daily lives and at most of our meals. Escarole and eggplant, toasted breadcrumbs and the sweet and sour interplay of flavors were the building blocks of our cuisine, and we used nothing but pecorino for grating cheese.
My father’s family was much more Americanized, and his older sisters were more known for their German and Polish dishes than for Italian specialties. One of my favorites was Aunt Mary’s Easter breads. As kids, we were fascinated by these beautifully browned and decorated loaves that nestled colored eggs in their braided folds. There were large, circular loaves and also little individual loaves that resembled either a nest or a basket and contained a single egg. We loved the bread and hated the eggs.
The egg with its promise of new life is an ancient symbol for the season of spring, and it shows up in the Hebraic and Christian traditions for Passover and Easter. Coloring eggs for the holiday is so popular that almost a billion eggs will be sold during the week before Easter. That’s a lot of yolks, folks.
Throughout the years I’ve adapted a simple egg-bread recipe to include a light anise flavor. This dough is simple to prepare and braids easily into a variety of shapes. The loaves come out pretty as a picture, but don’t hesitate to slice them up for delicious toast and turn those eggs into a tasty spread.
1/2 cup lukewarm water (110 degrees)
1 tablespoon yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
2 cups milk, scalded
1/2 stick butter (4 tablespoons)
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon anise seeds
6 cups flour, divided
1 tablespoon salt
6 colored eggs, uncooked
1 egg beaten
Dissolve the yeast and 1 tablespoon of sugar in the warm water. Scald the milk and remove the skin that forms on top. Stir in the butter and sugar and anise seeds until the sugar is dissolved and the butter is melted. Let cool to 100 degrees.
Mix 4 cups of the flour with 1 tablespoon of salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the milk mixture, yeast mixture and 2 eggs. Use the paddle beater to form a loose batter. Beat for 3 to 4 minutes on low. Switch to the dough hook and add another cup of flour. Set machine on low to incorporate the flour. Continue mixing for another minute or so until all the flour is incorporated. Add the remaining flour 1 tablespoon at a time until the dough starts to clean the side of the bowl.
Continue kneading for another 3 to 4 minutes until the dough is no longer sticky to the touch and is smooth and shiny. Remove the dough hook and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Allow the dough to double in size.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and divide into 3 pieces. Roll out each piece into a long rope. Braid the 3 ropes and then attach the ends to form a circle. Place the circle onto a parchment-lined pan. Insert the colored eggs at regular intervals into the folds of the braid. Brush the loaf with the beaten egg and let rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Brush the loaf once more with beaten egg and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until it is deep golden-brown and a thermometer registers 200 degrees. Remove to a rack to cool.
You can also shape the dough into individual nests or baskets containing 1 egg each.
They may be traditional for Passover because they contain no flour and no leavening. But the name is actually derived from the Italian “macaronne” meaning a fine paste. The simplest versions are made with nothing more than finely ground nuts, egg whites and sugar. This recipe adds some shredded and toasted coconut for some extra flavor and chew.
4 egg whites
1/2 cup sugar
pinch of salt
8 ounces shredded sweetened coconut
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the coconut out on a tray and toast lightly in the oven or in your toaster. Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Add the salt and half the sugar and continue to beat. Add the remaining sugar and beat until the egg whites are stiff and glossy. Fold in the toasted coconut. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes until golden brown. You want them slightly crispy on the outside but soft and chewy in the center. These are best served on the day you make them but they will last for a few days in an airtight container.