by Heatber Harris Brady
Once when I was very young, maybe six, we visited an Italian family just before the Easter holiday. A huge pane di pasqua, Italian Easter bread, held court on the center of the kitchen table with long rows of colored Easter eggs in the braid. It was the most beautiful pastry I’d ever seen and I’ve never forgotten it although I’ve never come across it in the wild again.
This year I decided to look into this memory. From what I can see the bread itself is a rich, sweetened dough flavored either with orange or lemon zest and anise. One embeds the dyed raw eggs into the dough before baking and then sometimes its glazed and sprinkled with nonpareils.
While I’m still in love with the concept I’m lukewarm on the idea of baking raw eggshells and egg dye into the bread. So I decided to come up with my own recipe, make individual large-roll nests, then glaze and top them with mini chocolate eggs. They’ll be a nice decoration for the dinner table and the eggs will still give the kids a thrill.
Italian Easter Breads, Makes about a dozen
2 c. milk
1/3 c. butter
1 pkg. fast-rising yeast
3/4 c. sugar
5 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
One small boiled potato
Zest of two oranges
2 t. almond extract
Scald the milk. Stir in the butter and sugar. When the milk is lukewarm stir in the yeast. Mash the potato into the eggs and stir it into the milk, then stir in the flour.
Let rise until doubled in bulk.
Punch the dough down and knead in the zest and almond extract.
Knead until soft and smooth. Break off balls just slightly larger than a golf ball.
Divide each ball into thirds and roll it out into a long snake, then braid them together. Bring the braid into a circle and stretch it a bit to make the nest shape in the middle. You have to be pretty extreme here because the dough is going to puff up a lot and you’ll lose the shape.
Preheat the oven to 375. When the rolls have doubled bake them for 15-20 minutes or until light golden brown. Brush them with butter while they’re hot.
If you want to glaze them you can use royal icing or an orange glaze. For an orange glaze, stir together 2 T. softened butter, 2 c. confectioners sugar and the juice of two oranges. Adjust the consistency with more or less sugar as need be.
Drizzle the rolls with the glaze and put a few chocolate eggs in the center before serving.