Rich with tradition, symbolism and treasured ingredients, Easter breads figure prominently in many cultures’ Easter celebrations. These yeast breads, full of eggs, butter, fruits, nuts and spices are a symbol of breaking the Lenten fast on Easter morning. Each ethnic group seems to have its own unique version of this sweet bread. Bread has long played an important role in religious ceremonies and holidays and is often baked in symbolic shapes. It has been said that bread is the ‘staff of life’ with Easter being the ‘celebration of life’.
I have wonderful memories of my mother’s Easter bread. It wasn’t iced or decorated but it had such a glorious flavor. She would bake it in tall cylinder shaped loaves and it always had a nice yellow color. Oh, the taste of a memory!
Every Easter I like to try something slightly different from the previous year when making Easter bread. Lately I have been using orange blossom water in different recipes with good success. So why not in Easter bread with anise seeds and almonds? The method is a little different in that the egg whites are beaten separately. Brion and I both thought it tasted real good.
Easter Bread with Anise & Orange Blossom Water
In a large mixer bowl, combine 1 cup flour, yeast, 2 Tbsp sugar & salt; mix well. Add lukewarm water, butter & egg YOLKS. Blend at low speed until moistened; beat about 3 minutes at medium speed. By hand, stir in orange zest, mixed peel, aniseed, almonds & orange water.
In a small bowl, beat egg WHITES until stiff; gradually add 1/4 cup sugar. Fold into flour mixture. Gradually stir in enough remaining flour to make a SOFT dough. Knead on floured surface until smooth & elastic, 3-5 minutes. Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl & turn to grease top. Cover & let rise until doubled in size.
Punch down dough. On a lightly floured work surface, pat to a 14 x 7-inch rectangle. Starting with shorter side, roll up tightly, pressing dough into roll with each turn. Pinch ends & edge to seal. Place in a greased 9 x 5-inch bread pan. Cover; let rise in a warm place for about 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 F. If you wish, you can glaze the loaf with egg wash before baking. Bake about 35-40 minutes until golden brown. Remove from pan & cool on a wire rack before slicing.
Pizza al taglio (Italian for pizza ‘by the cut’) is a variety of pizza baked in large rectangular trays and generally sold by weight with prices marked per kilogram or per 100 grams. This type of pizza was invented in Rome, Italy.
Roman pizza al taglio came into existence in the 1960’s. These large slabs of pizza are generally thicker and softer. The main emphasis being not so much upon the visual aspect of the pizza, rather the taste and convenience of the process being the priority. The rectangular pizza shape makes it easier to cut and divide the pizza to the buyer’s desire.
Years ago, growing up on a farm, pizza was not a usual meal for our family. This was until my mother acquired a nice, little, glossy covered recipe book put out by Fleischmann’s Yeast Company. Among numerous good recipes it contained one for PIZZA! My mother baked bread every week so she had yeast baking down to a science.
I really don’t recall what it was topped with, just that it was sooo…… good! Brion and I refrain from ‘ordering’ pizza very often. Not because we don’t like it but rather just the opposite — we love it. The only problem is the calorie count is just too high. That being said, it doesn’t stop me from making a homemade version from time to time.
Today I used the crust recipe from that Fleischmann’s book and a copycat filling from Boston Pizza’s BBQ Chicken pizza. Yum!
BBQ Chicken Pizza al taglio
Measure into bowl, 1 cup lukewarm water. Stir in 1 tsp sugar; sprinkle with the pkg of yeast. Let stand for 10 minutes, THEN stir well. Add 1 tsp salt & 1/4 cup oil; stir in 1 1/2 cups flour. Beat until smooth. Stir in additional 1 1/4 cups flour. Turn out dough on a lightly floured work surface. Knead until smooth & elastic. Place in a greased bowl; brush top with melted butter. Cover. Let rise in a warm place free from draft until doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes.
Toppings / Sauce
In a skillet, saute onion, red & green pepper & mushrooms in a small amount of butter. Shred mozzarella & cheddar cheeses. Chop cooked chicken. To BBQ sauce add water to make sauce consistency.
Preheat oven to 400 F. When dough is doubled in bulk, punch down. Press into a 16 x 12 x 1" baking pan. Spread BBQ sauce & water mixture over crust. Top with sauteed vegetables, chicken, mozzarella & cheddar cheese. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Bake for about 25 minutes or until crust is golden & cheese is melted.
The aroma of Easter bread baking certainly brings back precious childhood memories. What I recall about my mother’s Easter bread, was that it was a dense, mildly sweet & a very egg rich bread. It was always baked in round ‘cans’ and the taste was unforgettable.
Nearly every country around the world has a traditional Easter bread. Each one is different in some way, a mix of symbolism and satisfying taste. They represent a continuity of traditions from centuries past, including much earlier pre-Christian times. Often these rich, yeasted breads are made in symbolic shapes and are elaborately decorated.
Germany and Austria make several shapes such as : Osterzopf – Easter braid, Osterkranz – Easter wreath or crown, Osternester – Easter nests, Eierimnest – Easter egg nest, Striezel – stacked braided bread.
That being said, I couldn’t resist doing a little ‘version’ of my own. I started with my favorite sweet yeast bread, added some anise flavor and a cream cheese filling. So now you have German osterkranz, Italian panettone and Romanian pasca all in one beautiful EUROPEAN EASTER BREAD.
European Easter Bread
A heavenly creation!
In a large bowl, whisk yeast & sugar into lukewarm water; let stand about 10 minutes. With an electric mixer, beat together 3/4 cup sugar, eggs, oil, anise extract, lemon zest, lemon extract, salt & anise seed. Combine egg mixture, melted butter & milk with yeast mixture.
Add 4 CUPS flour, 1 cup at a time to wet mixture. Stir well after each addition. Turn dough out onto a floured surface & knead until smooth & elastic, about 5-6 minutes, adding remaining 1/2 cup flour if necessary.
Coat a large bowl with oil. Place dough in bowl & turn to coat. Cover with plastic wrap & set in a warm place to rise until it doubles in bulk. Meanwhile, cut a piece of parchment paper big enough to cover the bottom & go up the sides of a 10" spring form pan. When dough has risen enough, cut into four pieces.
On the parchment paper, press one piece of the dough into a circle measuring about 10" in diameter. Sprinkle with 1/3 of the mixed peel, leaving a gap at the edge. Press out second piece of the dough on a lightly floured piece of wax paper, place it on top of the first layer & sprinkle with another 1/3 of mixed peel. Repeat with the third & fourth pieces of dough but do not sprinkle mixed peel on the final layer.
Place a glass tumbler on top of the center of the dough circles. Cut dough into 16 segments, starting a the edge of the glass. Lift & twist them away from each other through 180 degrees. Lift & twist through 90 degrees so that the ends are vertical. Press the edges together firmly. Repeat this process with all pairs of segments. Leave glass sitting on top at the center of the circle to form an indentation for the cheese filling. Cover with plastic wrap & set in a warm place to rise for about 1/2 an hour.
Preheat oven to to 325 F. In a bowl, place cream cheese, eggs, sugar & vanilla; mix well. When bread has risen, remove glass & fill indentation with cheese mixture. Bake for about 40-45 minutes. Allow to cool. Brush with honey/water glaze. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.