Made some Italian Easter bread and everybody helped shape it. I'll have to check on revealing the carefully saved family recipe from a likely long out of print cookbook. I can reveal that it has a nice mix of fennel seeds and lemon zest that I haven't seen in other Easter bread recipes making the rounds.
Easter was great visiting with family, but I got home and there was a washer to be fixed and plenty of clothes to be washed. Since I wanted to watch the washer while running a test load I made sure I had everything I needed to pass the time, fresh coffee, and a copy of Clayton's Breads, recently snagged at a library book sale:
I'm never sure when it's going to happen. Last year it was at the end of April. This year it's the 8th! As usual, I visit the Wiki Easter page in an attempt to, for once and for all, understand about full moons, spring equinoxes, Julian and Gregorian calendars and... well, that's usually where I give up.
Just hit me with it when it comes along! I usually start shifting gear when people actually start buying the chocolate eggs, -bunnies, and other Easter paraphernalia that have been patiently sitting on the supermarket shelves ever since the X-mas deco was chucked out.
With Easter shifting so violently all over the April calendar, and all the related holidays shifting with it, it is my most likely season for a good old "showing up at work on a national holiday"-experience.
Most of all I'm a bit confused about Easter itself. I have some distinct associations ingrained in my gray matter and gene pool.
This one is in the genes I'm afraid. A bonfire is a Northern European's traditional way of chasing away the winter demons and welcoming back the light. The sight of a big pile of wood waiting to turn bonfire in the middle of a field somewhere when visiting my family for Easter up North, where the tradition still lives on, never fails to get me all revved up with anticipation. As a kid the bonfires seemed a multitude of impressions bigger and more awesome. The smells and intense heat have remained equally intoxicating. This year there is a small village in the East trying to beat their own Guinness World Record. They have a live web cam, so you can see the biggest ever bonfire go up in flames if you want to, and who wouldn't! Nothing like a good friendly fire.
Chicken on a Stick
Another strong association with Easter is the Palm Sunday Parade. It involved a bread roll shaped like a rooster on top of a decorated cross. It's eye was a currant that came off quite easy. I was the kind of kid looking up all the time to make sure my rooster wasn't going blind up there on his stick.
Much later I realized the full meaning of this (literal) crossover tradition. Eggs, oranges and roosters; all pagan "finally-it-is-spring-again"-symbols mingled in with Christian symbols like (palm)leaves and the cross Christ died on. The rooster became associated with the bread Jesus broke at Last Supper and even with the rooster crowing after Peter denied knowing Jesus three times on Good Friday. Eggs doubled as symbols of spring as well as a symbol of new life (Easter Sunday).
Blissfully unaware of all of this, I was most of all concerned with my currant-eyed rooster and oranges surviving the parade. My mother once told me her story. When she was a kid, right after world war II, oranges were the stuff dreams were made off. And then; lo and behold; the first Easter came around that she proudly paraded around her chicken on a stick with two shiny oranges pinned on both ends.
My mother was of course as proud as a peacock. As soon as she came home, she took the oranges off carefully and put them in a box, carefully wrapped, guarding it with her life, to admire and eat later.
When she finally gave into her desire to eat her precious jewels, she found them dried out and wasted in her beautiful box. I consider it one of my more important lessons in life.
All Together Now
And then you realize that Jewish Pesach and Christian Easter share a whole lot of history as well, and were at one time the same thing. Christian Easter allegedly gets its name from the Saxon Goddess Eastre, the spring goddess. The Netherlands is a linguistic border in the Northern regions of Europe. All around us, geographically speaking, there is talk of "Ostern" or "Easter", but the Dutch have stuck with French & Latin influences and celebrate "Pasen", like the Flemish their "Paas", the French their "Paques" and the Italian their "Pasqua".
So what are we celebrating? The return of the light, the resurrection of Christ AND the end of slavery and thus freedom regained. That's a whole lot of celebrating! Let's turn to the Italians to provide us with the necessary festive bread. The message of this bread is simple: Peace! All of the above celebrations will benefit from that beautiful word, even if the tulip named after it at the tulip exhibition certainly isn't going to win any big prizes soon, except for maybe in the category awkward yet true...
For the peeps who rather watch things than read, here we go!
550 gr / 22.9 oz bread flour
8½ gr / 0.2 oz salt
1 x 120 gr / 4.2 oz soft butter
2 x 40 gr / 1.4 oz soft butter
120 gr / 4.2 oz whole milk
150 gr / 5.2 oz sugar
75 gr / 2.6 oz candied lemon peel
75 gr / 2.6 oz candied orange peel
50 gr / 1.7 oz of small pearl sugar
Home made orange/lemon peel
The day before; Wash and peel the skins of two oranges (or lemons). Cut into thin strips. Cover them with water, bring to a quick boil, simmer for 5 minutes and then drain. Put fresh cold water in the pan, and repeat this twice.
Then dissolve 450 gr / 15.9 oz sugar in 435 gr / 15.3 oz of water. Add 1 TBS of lemon juice. Simmer the orange peels in the sugar syrup for about 1 - 1½ hrs until translucent. Drain and dry the peels over night on a cooling rack. The next day put 100 gr / 3.5 oz of sugar in a plastic bag, add the peels and toss around to cover them well. Cut into little cubes and put aside until needed in the dough. If you want to shape your Pasquale in the traditional way, you might want to browse around for sturdy card board that can be cut into the shape of a (rudimentary) dove. The amount of risen dough yielded from this recipe gives you two medium sized loafs when baked in standard bread pans.
Mix 12 gr / 0.4 oz of instant yeast with 100 gr / 5.3 oz of flour and add just enough water to make the dough come together; 2-4 TBS. Cover and let rest at room temp until the stiff dough has turned puffy; about 45 minutes. Alternatively; try submerging your ball of dough in warm (30° C / 86° F) water.
Your starter is ready to go when it floats to the surface! (I finally tried this method, and it really works...)
Combine flour, salt, sugar and candied lemon peel, mix together. Then add the eggs, a little at a time until incorporated. Add 120 gr / 4.2 oz soft butter in pieces and mix. When the dough gets dry, add the milk and the starter dough. Mix very well on low-medium speed until you have a firm and elastic dough. Depending on what sort of flour you are using, you might have to add a few extra TBS of flour, or hold back a little of the milk to get the right consistency.
Transfer the mixed dough to an oiled bowl. Cover the dough and let it rest until increased in volume by ⅓.
When the dough has risen by a third, turn it out into the mixer bowl again. Add 40 gr / 1.4 oz of soft butter and the orange peel in portions. Mix until well distributed. Transfer the dough to an oiled container once again, and this time leave it to rise until doubled in volume.
Transfer the dough to the mixer one last time to incorporate the last 40 gr / 1.4 oz of soft butter. Mix it in and transfer the dough to your mold or bread pan(s). In Italy the traditional Colomba Pasquale mold is easily found. Outside of Italy that might be a bit of a problem. If you are dead set on shaping it the traditional way, you might have to get your card board and scissors out to put one together yourself. Don't worry about making it neat; the more "rustic" your "bricolage"-mold looks, the more rustic your Colomba will look as well.
Cover and let the dough proof one final time.
Making the topping
200 gr / 7.0 oz sugar
80 gr / 2.8 oz ground almonds
3 egg whites
¼ TSP of almond extract
pearl sugar (optional, but very pretty)
When the dough has almost fully proofed (poke it with a wet finger; if the dough springs back immediately, you are not there yet. If the dent fills back slowly, you are on the money and ready to go on) continue making the topping. First, preheat your oven to 200°C/ 390°F.
In a fat free mixer bowl, whip up a meringue using three egg whites. Fold in the sugar and the ground almonds and spread out evenly over the dough when using the traditional mold or bread pans. Sprinkle royally with flaked almonds and pearl sugar.
(Alternatively; if you are using a dove mold, you will first have to bake the bread in the mold and then add the topping to it after taking it out of the mold. You can put it back in the oven to make the meringue set and brown the almonds on top).
Put the Colomba on a rack in the middle of a preheated oven and bake for 10 minutes on 200°C/ 390°F. Then lower the temp to 170°C/335°F and bake for 35-45 minutes more until nice and golden on top. Make sure to rotate the loaf halfway the bake to ensure even browning. Keep an eye on the top; if it goes too fast, you can cover it with foil to prevent burning.
When your Colomba is done, let it cool completely before taking it out of the mold.
The first day it tastes great, the second day, it tastes better, so making this Pasquale ahead of the Easter festivities is no problem at all!
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Note: A flexible bowl scraper (or a Tupperware lid cut in half) comes in handy for working this dough.
Make the dough: In a mixer fitted with a flat beater, cream together the butter, honey, eggs, yeast, salt, anise extract and 1 cup of the flour. Beat well for 2 minutes. Add 1/3 cup water and ½ cup flour, beat for a minute; another 1/3 cup water and ½ cup and beat, etc., until you have used up all the water and all but a cup of the 20 ounces of flour. Beat for a further 2 minutes.
Scrape off the flat beater, scrape down the bowl, and put in the other cup of flour. Switch to the dough hook; run mixer 10 minutes on low (mark 2 for Kitchenaid). Scrape down bowl if necessary. The dough is not stiff enough for the hook to pick it up, but this mixing will improve its structure.
Knead the dough: Sprinkle half of the benchwork flour onto a counter or board, scrape the dough onto it and, using the scraper, quickly fold the edges in to the middle. Put a bit of flour onto the dough and let it rest for a few minutes while you clean out the bowl.
Knead for 5 minutes, adding flour as necessary until you have used up the ¾ cup of extra flour.
First rise: Put the dough into the bowl, cover and let rise at room temperature for 3½ hours.
Second rise: Use the bowl scraper to pull the dough in from the edges, releasing the air, and then let rise 1½ hours at room temperature.
Make the braid: Turn the dough out onto a barely floured counter. Cut a 5-ounce piece of dough off and put it to one side, covered. Now, make bulk of the dough into a snake about 2 feet long, rolling it on the counter under your hands to stretch it out. Let it rest for a few minutes. For the next step you will want a clean section of counter 3' wide, with no flour on it or the dough will slip instead of roll.
Roll the dough snake out to 3' long, and cut into three equal pieces of about 12 ounces by weight. Roll each of the three pieces out to nearly 3' long. Your dough ropes should be 5/8" in diameter and roughly uniform.
Put 3 ends together, cross two ropes and throw the third across the Y. Braid until the ropes are used up, keeping the dough slack to keep the braids loose and thick.
Make the loaf: Lift one end of the braid off the counter and slip the parchment lined pan under it, and then lift the other end around to form a circle. Overlap the two ends of the braid by an inch, and push your thumb down in at that point. The first egg will go into that depression.
Adjust the braided ring on the parchment to make it as round as you can, and push your thumb down to make depressions at the other 3 quadrants. Carefully put in the eggs.
Roll the leftover piece of dough into a snake the thickness of a pencil. Around the eggs, snip 4 places with scissors to receive the ends of the dough that crosses over them. Cut pieces of dough to make the crosses.
Final rise: Cover lightly with a cloth and let rise for 40 minutes.
Preheat oven to 400º. If you're using a pizza stone or quarry tiles (recommended), let them heat up for at least 30 minutes.
Glaze and bake: Mix the egg yolk and the water in a ramekin, and brush the egg wash over the dough, being careful not to cover the eggs. For best coverage, brush a second time. Sprinkle with sesame seeds.
Bake for 10 minutes at 400º. Turn oven down to 350º and bake for another 25 minutes, turning the bread around at halfway.
Let cool for at least an hour before sharing with your Greek friends.
Just wondering what everybody is planning to do for Easter? I'm baking Finnish Pulla bread, a braided bread with cardamom and a rosewater sugar glaze on top. Not sure exactly what else is on the menu yet but sure to include some other yummies. Am considering the Blueberry cheese braid with Mascarpone cheese. For eats, perhaps ham and all the traditional stuff. We have an abundance of garden lettuce right now so I'll include a nice salad.