Non-traditional? Yes – partly because I have not an ounce of Italian heritage, and therefore I wouldn’t even presume to know (or understand) all the tricks, pinches of that and dashes of this, that go into the Traditional Easter Bread. And partly because even though this recipe does come from my mother’s stash of recipe books, I’ve changed it some and tweaked it more from the original found in Fleischmann’s New Treasury of Yeast Baking (circa 1968).
Here’s what the recipe pamphlet says about this twisty bread: “both the Swiss and Italians prepare this coffeecake for Easter. It is a plain bread in the form of a wreath, with colored eggs imbedded in the dough. The baked ring seems to have eggs resting in a nest”.
Here’s the recipe and I’ll explain as I go along what changes I have made:
2-1/4 to 3-1/4 cups flour ½ cup mixed candied fruits
¼ cup sugar ¼ cup chopped almonds
1 teaspoon salt ½ teaspoon anise seed
1 pkg. active dry yeast melted butter
2/3 cup milk 5 colored raw eggs
2 T. butter confectioners’ sugar frosting
2 eggs (at room temperature) colored sprinkles
In a large bowl, thoroughly mix 1 cup flour, sugar, salt and undissolved yeast. I use my whisk mixer attachment for this step.
Combine milk and 2 T. butter. The original recipe calls for margarine, and for heating these ingredients over low heat. I used the microwave and heated for about a minute. Other times, I have used coconut oil for the fat. The butter does not need to melt. Gradually add the warm liquid to the dry ingredients and beat 2 minutes at medium speed, scraping bowl occasionally. Add 2 eggs and ½ cup flour (or enough flour to make a thick batter). Beat at high speed for 2 minutes, and then stir in enough additional flour to make a soft dough. Turn out onto a lightly floured board; knead until smooth and elastic. I used the dough hook attachment on my mixer for this step. Place in greased bowl, turning to grease top. Cover; let rise in a warm place, free from draft, until double in bulk, about 1 hour.
Combine fruits, almonds and anise seed. Non-traditional again. I use what I have in the cupboard. Today it was half a tin of red candied cherries, the last of a bag of dried cranberries, and sliced almonds. I added a whole teaspoon of anise seed, too, because we like the flavor.
Punch dough down; turn out onto lightly floured board. Knead in fruit mixture. Divide in half. Roll each piece of dough into a rope. Twist ropes together loosely and form into a ring on a greased or parchment paper covered baking sheet. Brush with melted butter. Place colored raw eggs into spaces in the twist. Different again: I didn’t color the eggs. I love the variety of colors that my hens provide, so I left them “au natural”. Cover; let rise again until doubled, about 1 hour.
Bake at 350 degrees about 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from baking sheet. When cool, frost with confectioners’ sugar frosting and decorate with colored sprinkles. To make confectioners’ sugar frosting, mix sifted confectioners’ sugar with a little milk. I like to flavor it with a drop or two of almond flavoring, but you may prefer vanilla.
Please note: the recipe says nothing about refrigerating. If you intend to use the baked eggs, you will need to refrigerate the bread until just before serving.
Traditionally, this bread was served Easter morning. If it’s one of your family traditions, you will have stories and memories of warm kitchens and sticky fingers. Perhaps your grandmother made this on Good Friday? I’d love to hear your stories.
Non-traditionally? Why, you can have it right now and build your own tradition!