It’s almost 2:30 a.m., early (very early!) on Easter Sunday morning, and here I am in front of the computer. What in the world am I doing up, you ask? Well for one thing I’m waiting for the crust that I prepared for my lemon meringue tart to chill. Another 10 minutes or so and I can pop it in the oven. Once that’s done, I’m off to bed. The lemon filling is safe in the refrigerator and I will prepare the meringue topping tomorrow morning.
But the tart is not the only reason that I’m still awake. In fact, even if the the tart were done, I’d still be sitting here, staring at the screen. To be honest, I can’t bring myself to go to sleep until I find a way to put into words my feelings on Easter and my mother’s Easter bread.
I am so blessed. As I delve deeper into the life of my blog, I am coming to understand how blessed I am to have so many rich food traditions in my life. And not just because it means I get to eat a lot of great food. It’s also because so many of my best memories, the ones that I cherish most, involve those very traditions.
And perhaps nothing represents this more than my mother’s Easter bread.
The recipe for this Easter sweet, along with my mother and my grandmother, came to Canada in 1957 on a boat called the Cristofero Colombo. The recipe arrived in Halifax and then made it’s way to Toronto, where for more than 40 years it was the centrepiece of Easter at my grandmother’s house in Little Italy. And then two years ago, when my grandmother passed away, it became the defining symbol of Easter in the home in which I live.
Like so many of the dishes that come from other places, far away, from a world far removed from the one we live in now, this recipe was altered to suit the new land in which my mother’s family found themselves. Whatever fat my grandmother used in Italy was substituted with vegetable oil. The eggs, which would have come from my grandmother’s own chickens in Italy, came from the grocery store. The yeast, which would most certainly have been fresh yeast in Italy, was now dried yeast that came in a packet.
And just as my grandmother and mother adapted to their new home, along with my grandfather who had already lived in Canada for a few years, so too did this recipe. It shaped itself to suit the new life that my mother’s family was forging for themselves.
This yeasty, eggy bread is THE symbol of Easter for me. The merest whiff of the elusive scent of anise, used to flavour the bread, fills me with the joyousness that the Easter season brings with it. I am joyous because the warm weather has returned. The birds have come back to visit us. The sun is bright and welcoming.
And today, almost 40 years after this recipe came to Canada, it continues to be the link between a world that was left behind and a world where a new life was born.
My Mother’s Easter Bread
Treasured family recipe.
Note: Like so many recipes that come from other countries, the measurements here have been interpreted over the years to suit the needs of a very large family! I have cut the original recipe by one-third, as the original (just to give you an idea) calls for 16 cups of flour! If you have any problems with the recipe, or would like to ask questions about the measurements before you begin, just drop me a note.
- 1 packet active dry yeast
- 4 large eggs
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 2/3 cup vegetable oil
- 2/3 cup whole milk (do not use low fat or non fat milk)
- 2 teaspoons spirit of anise (if you cannot find spirit of anise try anise extract)
- 4 cups all-purpose flour (you may need more to form a dough)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Follow the directions on the packet of yeast and dissolve in warm water. Wait 10 minutes for the yeast to foam.
- In a large bowl, beat the eggs with the sugar until smooth.
- Add the vegetable oil, milk and anise and mix well.
- Add the yeast mixture and mix well.
- Add the four cups of flour and the salt and stir with a fork or a wooden spoon. (My mother always does this with a fork.) Eventually a soft dough will form. Continue adding flour until you can gather the dough into a ball.
- Turn the dough onto a work surface and knead for 10 minutes. The dough should be smooth and not sticky. If the dough is sticky, continue to work in a few tablespoonfuls of flour at a time until you have a smooth dough.
- Let the dough rest for 5 minutes and then begin forming the bread.
- Cut off a piece of dough that’s about 3 inches in size. Roll the dough into a ball and then place on a work surface and roll the dough into a strip that’s about 1/2 an inch to an inch in diameter and about 6 inches long. Form a circle with the strip of dough, pressing the ends together.
- Place the dough circle on a cloth in a warm area. Continue forming the dough circles. Once the dough has been completely used, cover the rings with a cloth and let rise for 2 to 3 hours.
- To bake the rings, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Brush the tops of the rings with an egg wash (one egg beaten with a tablespoon of water) and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the size of the rings.
- If you’re feeling adventurous, you can make more decorative bread by creating braids. It’s up to you. You can also garnish each ring or braid with a boiled egg. To do so, hard boil some eggs prior to baking the bread. Let the eggs cool down. When you’ve formed your ring or braid, place the egg on the bread and let the bread rise with the egg on it. The eggs will be fine in the oven and you can even eat them if you wish once the bread has been baked.