Updated: Jan 10
A traditional Italian bread that’s soft, light and aromatic. Flavored with anise, lemon, vanilla and almond, Easter bread is the perfect holiday centerpiece.
I’ve thought a lot about tradition lately, but I usually do around Easter. From egg hunts and photos with the Easter bunny, to our family traditions and church services, Easter was (and still is) one of my favorite holidays.
My family participated in many church activities when I was a kid. Often, we spent almost every day and evening at church during Easter week. My mom volunteered with several ministries and I served as an acolyte. I vividly remember the giant palms we waved on Palm Sunday, the somber prayers of Good Friday, and the the vibrant colors, joyful hymns and powerful incense of Easter Sunday. The church was our second home during Easter week.
Things were just as busy at our house. My mom planned, prepared and led our Easter activities, including our family’s most memorable tradition: Easter bread.
This bread is a labor of love. With three rise times (and up to 12 eggs if you make a full recipe), it’s an all-day affair. The unique aroma of anise, lemon, vanilla and almond is a dreamy combination — like the quartet of the baking world. But it’s not just the flavorings of Easter bread which make it special.
It’s a multi-generational bread which, in its beautiful simplicity, brings people together.
Easter bread dates back to the 1950s in my family, beginning with my great-grandmother. The recipe was passed down to her daughter, Joanne (my wonderful godmother, from whom I received my middle name), to my grandma, my mom, and then to me and my sister.
For me, it’s much more than a recipe. It’s a bread which has survived decades, and represents the love and strength of the amazing women in my family. Every woman who’s had her life touched by Easter bread is an inspiration to me: she is a loving mother, dedicated wife, sassy sister, caring daughter, and all-around strong, imperfect, honest and empowered woman.
Easter bread also sparks happy memories and nostalgia. Because the bread takes several hours to make, it allows for time to reminisce. My mom and I made the bread together this year, and we passed the time laughing at old memories, talking about our relatives and sharing stories. And that, more than anything else, is what makes Easter bread unique. It encourages sharing, story telling, laughter and love.
I am proud to continue the tradition of making Easter bread, because I know that no matter how many years pass, each loaf will represent my family history.
Whether you try the bread or have your own traditions, I hope you enjoy every special family moment this Easter.
HOW LONG SHOULD I BEAT THE EGGS?
I’ve never timed it, but beat the eggs until they are pale yellow. This incorporates air into the dough and is a vital part of the process.
DO I NEED A STAND MIXER?
Nope! Easter bread has been made without a stand mixer for decades. This year was the first time my mom and I used a stand mixer. It made the process easier, but it’s not necessary. You can still get a delicious bread using a handheld mixer.
WHAT ABOUT KNEADING THE DOUGH?
Even if you use a stand mixer, you should knead the dough by hand for 10-15 minutes until it comes together and is no longer sticky.
WHY SO MANY RISE TIMES?
Easter bread is an enriched dough, which takes longer to rise. Don’t skimp on the rise time, because it results in a successful, flavorful bread.
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6 eggs (12)
½ cup sugar (1)
1 tablespoon anise extract (2)
1 teaspoon lemon extract (2)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (2)
1 teaspoon almond extract (2)
3 teaspoons rapid rise/instant yeast (6 teaspoons, or 1 strip of 3 packets)
¼ cup warm water (½ cup)
½ teaspoon salt (1)
¼ cup oil (½ cup)
At least 4 cups all-purpose flour (8)
*Double batch amount in parentheses
1. Beat eggs, sugar and flavorings together until pale yellow.
2. In a measuring cup, dissolve the yeast in warm water.
3. Add the salt and oil to the egg mixture. Then add the dissolved yeast.
4. In an electric or stand mixer, beat in as much flour as needed; at least 4 cups, or eight cups if doubling the recipe. Continue to stir in flour.
5. When workable, place dough on a lightly floured surface and knead for 10-15 minutes. Keep adding flour as needed.
6. Put kneaded dough in a large, oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and at least three folded kitchen towels. Let rise in a warm place for 2-3 hours.
7. Punch the dough down. Let it rise again for 1-2 hours.
8. Shape your loaves. Let the loaves rise for about 45 minutes.
9. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 15-20 minutes, depending on the size of the loaves. Tap the bottom of the loaves and listen for a hollow sound to indicate doneness.