As we journey further into our 40 days in the desert of Lent, Holy Week brings with it the final journey of Jesus, from his entrance into Jerusalem to the glory of Easter morning and the empty tomb. Holidays (Holy Days) and food have always been interwoven into family traditions, and for Italians, Easter is no exception.
I love the symbolism of Easter bread, taking the dough and shrouding it in cloths and squirreling it away into a warm, safe place, much like a tomb. It takes time, but it will rise….
People used to give up eggs, milk, sugar for the entire duration of Lent, (that’s why you’ll see all those Pancake suppers and Mardi Gras parties.) Creating an Easter bread is a celebratory food that uses all of those ingredients.
This recipe was handed down to me from my maternal grandmother, Amelia Santoro Testani. I learned how to make it from my own mom, Norma. I’ve taught it to my daughters, and now I’m sharing it with you.
SANTORO FAMILY EASTER BREAD RECIPE
- 12 eggs (one for each disciple)
- 1 1/4 cup of vegetable oil
- 1 7/8 cup of sugar
- 2 oranges grated with the rind and juice squeezed from them
- 2 packages of dry yeast
- 1 bottle of anise (or 1/2 cup of Sambuca)
- 2 cups of milk
- 1 Tbs. of salt
- About 5 pounds of flour, added little by little
The Night Before:
Dissolve the yeast in one cup of warm milk, (not TOO hot.) Combine all the ingredients except for the flour in a large mixing bowl. (You can use a Kitchen-Aid mixer, but you’ll have to transfer it out into a LARGE bowl so it can rise.) Blend all the ingredients and begin to add the flour little by little. It will be like the consistency of regular bread dough. Be sure it’s in a very large bowl as it rises a lot. Sprinkle the top of it with a bit of flour so the cloths don’t stick to it. Wrap it with dish towels or a tablecloth, whatever you have. Keep it in a warm room overnight.
In the morning:
Punch down the dough and let it rise again for another three hours. Keep it covered. Using four pie pans or tins, grease and flour them well. Divide the dough into fourths. Using more flour on a smooth surface, knead each loaf for about five minutes, adding flour as needed to keep it from sticking together. Transfer each loaf into a pan. Cover all of them again with the cloths and let them sit for 2-3 hours.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Brush each loaf with an egg wash mixture of egg and sugar. Bake at 350 for ten minutes. Lower the heat to 300 and bake another 30-40 minutes until golden brown and the knife comes clean when you test it.
Some families like to add a sweet frosting and colored sprinkles. To make the frosting, mix a cup of confectionary sugar with a tablespoon at a time of milk. It takes VERY LITTLE milk to create a smooth frosting so don’t start with a lot. Drizzle the frosting over the bread after it’s cooled and sprinkle the colored sprinkles.
Buona Pasqua! Happy Easter!