Happy Easter and Happy Passover!
I love holidays for many reasons, but let’s be honest, the biggest excitement for me around the holidays is eating delicious, homemade food. I also love traditions, which is why every Easter I look forward to making Easter bread!
Easter bread is a sweet bread, more of a dessert than anything, but I’ll let you in on a little secret…I totally eat the bread for breakfast :). Of course, I eat something else with the bread to make it more of a balanced meal. Remember if you only eat a carb at breakfast (especially one that is high in sugar), you will have a quick burst of energy followed by a quick drop in energy. This means that you’ll feel really great right after you eat the bread and then an hour later you’ll be looking for that cup of coffee or more food to help wake you up. Basically, eating only one type of food at breakfast is not going to keep you full until lunch. That’s why we have to FOOD PAIR.
Food pairing means that you should try and include at least 3 food groups at each meal. For example, think of breakfast, you grab an egg (protein), a slice of toast (grain), and a banana (fruit). And there you have it. Easy-peasy 3 food groups. The combination of different types of food is going to give you SUPER ENERGY that’s going to last you throughout the day (well until your next meal or snack). When you eat a few different food groups together, your body takes longer to digest it because it’s more complex than just a single food by itself. If your body takes longer to digest something, it stays with you longer, and you feel satisfied for a longer period of time.
Now that you had a crash course on food pairing, let me tell you a little background on our family Easter bread recipe. So I know on St. Patty’s Day I talked about my Irish heritage, but what you don’t know is that I’m so lucky to also be Italian and get the best of both worlds. Did you know that Easter bread is an Italian tradition?!
In Italy, bread is symbolic of life and is significant for religious purposes. Some bake Easter bread with a whole egg molded in covered by a cross. My family keeps that tradition and usually puts an egg in one of the loaves we bake. This recipe comes from my Nani (great-grandmother) and has been passed down through the generations.
When I was younger, I spent a couple Easters at my Aunt’s house so she could show me the ropes of baking Easter bread. Now I’m a pro and my parents fly me home every Easter just so I can bake them Easter bread :). This recipe is time-consuming but not hard by any means! You need to make the batter the night before you want to bake it since the dough needs to rise overnight.
This year, my flight home to Buffalo, NY got in at 10 pm and I knew despite the fact that I was half-asleep from the plane ride that the Easter bread ingredients would be waiting on the kitchen table to welcome me home. Sure enough, I had to muster up some energy and make the dough for the bread at 11 pm! 8 hours later, you have to rise early to punch down the dough. So again, half-asleep, I punched down the dough to let it rise again for 2 hours.
Baking took place on Saturday, when it was 80 degrees outside…not an ideal day for using the oven. We had the fan going in the kitchen with our door open to the outside. That’s what I call determination to keep up a tradition!
Luckily, the bread is a team-effort and my Mom helps me out with it. She pretty much took over the baking piece while I went to get my hair done! (side note: chopped more than 6 inches off, it was time for a change!) Before the baking begins, you need to shape the loaves. You can loaf the bread however you please; we usually braid most of the loaves because it just looks nicer, but you can also mold the loaves into bread pans, or just mold them into a dome shape to go onto the baking pan.
The recipe makes 9 loaves, and I would not advise you to keep them all for yourself or you may find yourself packing on a few pounds :). This is a great treat though to share with others and to bring as gifts to your holiday festivities.
Easter Bread Recipe:
5 lbs flour
3 cups sugar
2 tsp vanilla
3 pkgs rapid rise, dry yeast
3 sticks melted butter
1 1/2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups water
9 oz box raisins
In a large bowl (were talkin big!), combine eggs, sugar, raisins, vanilla, melted butter. Mix together.
Mix yeast in 1/2 cup warm water (add a pinch of sugar to the water). Let stand for 5 to 10 minutes, will bubble and rise. Use tall glass to allow yeast to rise. Add to mixture in large bowl.
Heat water and milk on stove-top and add to mixture. Add flour a little at a time, mixing it into the wet ingredients.
Once all flour is added and mixed, knead the dough for 1-2 minutes until flour is evenly mixed through.
Let dough rise overnight and cover bowl with blankets or towels to help rise. In the morning (about 8 hrs later), punch down the dough and knead it for about 2 minutes. Let dough rise again for 2 hours.
Loaf bread into braids or bread pan loaves. To braid bread: Divide one loaf into three equal parts. Roll dough in between hands or on the table until dough is long and thin. Connect the top portions of the three pieces of dough and then braid together (like you would hair). Then take the braid and connect the two ends to make a circle. For more details on braiding bread, check out this video: http://bit.ly/cgBBs7
Lightly spray baking pans/loaf pans with cooking spray. Once the bread is in loaves, let rise again for 1 to 2 hours.
Bake bread on middle shelf at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.
To make frosting:
Mix together using an electric mixer: 3 cups confectioner’s sugar, 1/2 cup softened butter, 1 tsp vanilla, 5 tbsp milk
Frost bread once cooled and decorate using green and pink sugar crystals.
The bread tastes great as is or with butter. Try toasting it too after a couple days once its not as fresh. It also freezes very nicely if you want to save a loaf or two for another time! I hope you had a wonderful Easter filled with wholesome food, family, traditions, and visits from the Easter Bunny.