Italian Easter Bread

We learn most of our important lessons in childhood from our family. The art of collaboration, priorities and the ability to triage while focusing on the end result are featured in this lovely timely post about our traditional Easter Bread.

A cherished holiday treat that is coveted by Italians the world over is Easter bread. However, it’s not a bread, but a dense, anisette and lemon scented cake and just great for dunking. My earliest memory of making Easter bread was forty plus years ago in the early seventies. Mom only had two recipes, one calling for three pounds of flour and a second calling for five. We always made the five pound recipe because there were eight families who needed a bread.

Now, Easter bread is a two day process. You take the biggest pot in the house and mix the ingredients together. These were the days before commercial grade mixers came into the home so all the flour and eggs and butter and flavoring and yeast were mixed by hand. There would be many starts and stops and sometimes Mom and I would alternate mixing. Batter would be up to our elbows and alternatively we would take the spatula and scrape the sticky batter off each other’s arms.

The next step after incorporation of the ingredients was to take the pot and place it onto the dining room table near the far side by the windows. It was then covered by a crocheted brown blanket that nonna had made. The blanket was folded in fours and placed in the pot to keep it warm so the dough could rise. Like an expectant mother, every few hours we would check on the dough to examine the rise not just with our eyes but with a gentle touch of our index finger to examine its push back.

Nonna and auntie came over the next day to divide up the dough and place into more than ten baking dishes. Those that cherished Easter bread the most got theirs baked in the bigger baking pans with two eggs baked into the top layer.  Auntie had a long thin necklace and was afraid it would interfere with the dividing of the batter and asked nonna to wear it for her. The dainty gold necklace was clasped around nonna’s neck. Together we divided and scraped the valued batter into the pans.

When the last of the breads were placed into the oven, auntie asked for her necklace back but nonna didn’t have it. We looked in her clothes, in the batter, in the garbage, everywhere. Could it have fallen into one of the Easter breads? A frantic search of the house did not turn up her necklace.

The last step was to make the icing and while the icing was still liquid, we added some sugar jimmies to top them off. When the icing hardened we would carefully wrap each one in aluminum foil with the gentleness of swaddling a newborn babe.

Everyone who received a bread was asked to be on the lookout for a gold necklace. Over the next week the breads were distributed but the necklace was either never in the breads, or found but never turned in! “These are the mysteries of life,” my father would say.

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