Italian Easter Bread. That’s what my family calls it. My husband’s family insists that it is Portuguese Sweet Bread. My uncle is from the Philippines and is convinced it is the sweet bread of his homeland. Bottom line, I’m pretty sure most cultures have some version of this buttery sugary loaf. Whatever it’s called, it sure is good.
My great-grandmother, who came over from Italy, made this every Easter. I admit growing up I did not like it one bit because of the anise flavor. When I started making it for Easter years ago, I used to make a few loafs without the anise, but fortunately I’ve come to my senses. The anise gives it a very specific scent that reminds me of the holiday. The kids walked in the house yesterday yelling “I smell Easter Bread!”
Considering how much we love it, I never make Easter bread except at Easter. Maybe it’s because we make 6 times this recipe every Saturday before Easter (works out to three big double batches, one bowl for each kiddo). Every family that comes for Easter goes home with their own loaf for later, those loafs are very coveted around here.
How to improve the ingredients for a sweet bread? I switched out the vegetable oil for coconut oil. The eggs are now free range from happy chickens. Organic milk and sugar are easy switches. But I will be honest, I have tried incorporating whole wheat, and it just wasn’t the same. Considering how we are used to whole wheat bread around here, I was surprised. I don’t even enjoy regular white bread anymore. But Easter Bread? Well it is a holiday, so I am o.k. with it.
- 5-6 Cups (20-24oz) White Unbleached Flour
- 1/2 Cup (4oz) Water
- 1/2 Cup (4oz) Whole Milk
- 1/2 Cup (4oz) Melted Coconut Oil
- 1/2 Tbsp. Instant Yeast, or 1 Packet Regular Yeast
- 3/4 Cup (5oz) Organic Sugar
- 3 Large Eggs, beaten
- Zest of 1/2 an Orange
- Zest of 1/2 a Lemon
- 1 Tsp. Anise Extract
- 1 Egg beaten with 1 Tbsp. Milk (for brushing)
If you are using a packet of yeast, you will need to proof your yeast using the 1/2 cup of water and 1 tsp of the sugar. After proofing add with the rest of the wet ingredients. Otherwise, mix 5 cups of the flour, sugar, yeast and zest in a large bowl. Make a hole in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the oil, water, eggs and anise. Stir until you get a shaggy mass.
Then gently knead for a few minutes, adding more flour if it is too sticky. Be careful not to add too much flour, as the resulting loaf will be dry. This dough does not have to be kneaded until it is smooth, stop when it looks like this:
Place in a lightly greased bowl and cover with a damp towel or plastic wrap for at least 3 hours. This is a very heavy dough and will take a long time to rise. We mix it Saturday night and actually leave it until the morning.
Punch down the dough and shape. We prefer to make it into braids. Divide your dough in half, then divide each half into three pieces. Roll into ropes, then stick together at one end. You can also form into regular loaves. Each of our kids gets a small amount to make a loaf of any shape, we’ve had some interesting ones over the years.
Tuck the other end under. Repeat with second half of dough. Place on a lightly greased or silpat lined sheet pan. Cover with plastic wrap.
Allow to rise for at least an hour or until the loaves double. Brush with beaten egg. The egg will give the finished loaves a nice golden brown color.
Bake at 350º for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown.
Slice and Enjoy.