Some of my earliest memories are of being in my grandmother's basement, watching her while she prepared dough on her wooden work table. Regardless of whether she was making fresh pasta, cookies, or bread, two things remained constant: 1) she wouldn't let me do any work because she was a perfectionist; and 2) she never used (and still doesn't use) recipes.
Needless to say, now that I have moved so far from home, the combination of these two things makes it very difficult to recreate the food from my childhood. I oftentimes will call her up to ask her how to make something and I get a list of ingredients (without amounts), vague directions, and no cooking times. So, I am basically left on my own to make the recipe over and over again until I finally get it to turn out the way I remember it. Luckily, I consider this a labor of love.
This Easter bread recipe was not an exception. I asked her for this recipe when I was still in college. I had rarely if ever worked with yeast, and I had never made bread. While she knew how many eggs and how much yeast I needed to use, she said that I should add "enough" flour and "some" cinnamon and lemon zest. When I asked what she meant by enough, she said, "as much as you need." Feeling confused, but determined to have Easter bread that year, I set to work. I also decided at that moment to start writing down what I did each time I made her recipes so that I would have them going forward. After three attempts in a week, I not only had my Easter bread, but documentation of the recipe.
For as long as I can remember, and most certainly before that, my grandmother has made Easter Bread every year. This bread isn't pretty to look at but its dense, almost cake-like crumb makes it an ideal candidate for dipping in coffee or milk. Its slightly sweet taste also pairs well with some savory foods. A family favorite: Easter bread served with dried sweet Italian sausage on Easter morning.
Easter Bread (Pizza di Pasqua)
1 cup warm water
2 tsp yeast
1 tsp of sugar
3 eggs (at room temp)
3.5 oz canola oil
4 1/2-5 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
Zest of one large lemon
2 tsp cinnamon
pinch of salt
1 tsp milk
- Line a 9 X 13 pan with parchment paper so that it stands up over the edge of the pan.
- In a small bowl, dissolve yeast and 1 tsp sugar in water. Proof for about ten minutes.
- Measure out 4 cups flour and place in very large bowl with all other dry ingredients. Stir it together to combine. Make well in center of dry ingredients.
- Break 3 eggs into the water mixture and beat until combined. Add oil. Beat again.
- Dump it into the well and bring the flour into the wet ingredients using a spoon.
- Stir the dough with a wooden spoon, and add flour as needed. The dough should be somewhat sticky. It will not be a typical dry bread dough that is easily workable. Coat your hands with flour and give the dough a quick knead.
- Form your loaf and place it in the middle of the pan--it will grow to fill it.
- Slash the top of the bread with a knife to help release gasses as it rises. Cover loosely with oiled piece of plastic wrap,
- Let rise in a warm place for four hours.
- Preheat oven to 350.
- Beat remaining egg with milk and brush it onto the top of the bread.
- Bake for 35-45 minutes. It will be dark golden brown on top when it is done. Personally, I like the bottom to have a slight crust, so after 35 minutes, I remove the bread from the pan, remove the parchment, and place the loaf to finish baking directly on the stove's rack.
- After it is done baking, remove it from the oven and place the loaf on a cooling rack. If you have not already removed it from the pan, then let it sit for ten minutes before doing so. Wait until the bread has cooled to slice into it.