For my Italian family, holidays mostly revolve around food. The memories are all about the communal effort in the kitchen, each of us covered in flour, kneading, laughing, and consuming the occasional glass of red wine. There’s nothing more fulfilling than preparing food for the people you love and watching them enjoy it.
For us, spring cooking is all about baking—my sister Franki is the expert, whipping up sausage pie, chocolate cheesecake, and (the star dish) Easter bread. Her tenacity in wrangling and translating this particular recipe from our 85-year-old grandmother—who just instinctively "knows" things like water-to-yeast ratios—was heroic. This year, I decided to learn how to make it with Grandma's help, documenting each step here. It’s an easy recipe to follow, and totally worth the effort it takes to knead the bread.
Total time: 3 ½ hours
Yields: 4 medium loaves
3 lbs. flour
½ tsp. salt
2 packets yeast, mixed with 1 cup water
12 eggs, plus 1 egg for egg wash
2 cups sugar
2 tsp. anise extract
3 tbsp. Crisco
Zest of one orange
Sprinkles (your choice!)
Mix flour and salt in a stew pot or large bowl, then make a deep well in the center with your fist. Put the yeast mixture into the well and cover the bowl with a towel for 15 minutes.
Beat the eggs together with a mixer.
Add the sugar, anise extract, Crisco, and orange zest into the egg mixture. Make sure to beat in one ingredient at a time.
Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture, stirring while you pour.
Knead the mixture thoroughly with your hands. Warning: Dough will be extremely sticky!
Cover the bowl with both a plastic bag and a towel, place in a warm spot, and let the dough rise for one hour.
After the dough has risen, knead it again.
Divide the dough into four equal pieces and form each into a circular loaf with a flat bottom. Cover the loaves with a plastic bag and a towel, and let them rise in a warm spot for one more hour while you preheat the oven to 350 F.
Beat one egg and brush onto loaves. Add sprinkles generously and bake for 25 minutes.
Serving suggestion: Our family loves to slice the loaves, toast the bread, slather it with butter and serve with coffee after a meal.