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Easter Bread- What's Your Type?

We have a long-standing tradition of making Easter bread in my family. For the past 15 years or so, the bread-making has been done by my grandmother and me. Being of Italian descent, we favor a dense (not fluffy or airy by any stretch of the imagination), slightly sweet egg bread made with plenty of anise seeds. We also make the bread into specific shapes, depending on the purpose/recipient:
Little girls (and I, of course) get a doll shape, complete with apron and skirt hem (I've been jazzing them up a bit over the past few years, adding details here and there). Boys get a horseshoe with boiled eggs nestled into both ends. My grandmothers' friends and relatives of her generation get her usual oval loaves, while the rest of the family (adults) receive whatever special fancy shapes (braided, doughnut, etc.) I come up with that year. All loaves get an egg wash and a shake of tiny round sprinkles before baking (ok, every year I put a lot of candy on the kids' breads and every year I get yelled at, but I figure that if it will get them appreciate the tradition, then that's a good thing).
The most popular method of enjoying Easter bread among my relatives is to dunk it in a cup of American coffee.

How about you? Does your family have an Easter bread tradition, and if so, what kind? Or do you buy it? Where?

Buona Pasqua :)

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  1. How about sharing the recipe? Grazie!

    1 Reply
    1. re: mnosyne

      Sorry, mnosyne, I've been sworn to secrecy. Someday, when the recipe is mine, I may decide to share it. But while I am still the apprentice, it just can't be done.
      Do you bake Easter bread? Was there a specific tip you were looking for? Perhaps I can help with that ;)

      1. re: Passadumkeg

        Passadumkeg, do you make babka or do you buy it? I recently read an article on making babka, which taught me that the bread is meant to be high and light, with a texture contrast between the bread and the filling. I must admit that, until now, I have bought babka on several occasions, and it has always been kind of deflated, and heavy, and gooey... I love it this way, but I don't have a family of history of babka-making, and didn't know much about it (aside from the chocolate vs. cinnamon babka issue, as portrayed on Seinfeld). Have I been buying the "wrong" kind?

        1. re: vvvindaloo

          I like to make babka 2 lb coffee cans. When done, it looks like a mushroom. I decorate the top w/ icing, raisin, and candy, slice it off the stem and serve as dessert w/ coffee. The "stem" is plain, sliced into rounds and eaten w/ paska, a sweet cheese, or sour cream.

          1. re: Passadumkeg

            That sounds wonderful, and involves way less clean-up than what we do: each loaf/shape is baked on cut-up sheets of oil-sprayed brown paper bags! My great-grandmother did it this way, and we continue to do it, despite the little round sprinkles that run all over the place...

            1. re: vvvindaloo

              My grandmother and mother baked in the coffee cans. I really like the mushroomed loaf that comes out. We always made a big XB on top out of raisins for the Russian letters for Christ and Risen.

          2. re: vvvindaloo

            I think there are many variations of babka around. I am polish, and the traditional babkas my mother baked and that I can buy at polish bakeries here are far from heavy and gooey. But I have bought a "jewish" babka (actually recommended in the Montreal edition of Gourmet magazine a few years ago) and didn't like it at all. That babka was indeed heavy and goopy.

            The babkas I know are light and airy, with a glaze on top. They either have raisins or candied fruit peel in them. There is also a heavier type of babka - piaskowa which uses no yeast, which gives it a denser crumb.

        2. I make Greek Easter Bread called tsoureki. It is eggy and sweet and is braided with bright red eggs inserted in each end. The bread contains maklepi- the pits of wild cherries that are soaked in hot water to make a perfumed water used in the bread along with some grated lemon and orange peel. Labor intensive but very delicious. I use a recipe that was in a Saveur issue a few years ago which had recipes for an entire Greek Easter.

          5 Replies
          1. re: emilief

            We make tsoureki in our family too...though my mom's family never used egg in their recipe. We make the same recipe at New Year's...it's anise flavored and at easter gets red eggs baked into it. Great toasted.

            Lent just started for Greeks...so we're still six weeks out from bread making.

            1. re: emilief

              I have been attending my best friend's Greek Easter celebration just about every year for 15 years now. We've had cheese and phyllo pastries, lamb meatballs, whole roasted carcasses on spits, and a wide assortment of homemade goods that take them days and days to prepare... but never any tsoureki. Not one piece! This year I am going to have to ask them why.

              1. re: emilief

                How much mahlepi and how much water do you use compared to number of cups of flour? Do you grind the mahlepi or use it whole?

                1. re: mcwv

                  I just saw this. I will have to look it up and get back to you later. No I do not grind the mahlepi- just steep the whole pits in hot water.

                  1. re: mcwv

                    Steep 2 tsp makhlepi in 1/2 cup simmering water for 5 minutes. Strain, discard makhlepi and set aside liquid to cool. this goes into my recipe which is for two loaves of tsoureki.

                2. hot cross buns, fresh from the oven; steamy, doughy, and sweet.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: mrsjenpeters

                    I am right there with ya Mrsjen! I love hot cross buns, but of course, I have to drench in frosting, not just the tradional x. I also use dried cranberries sometimes in them too and those have a light pink frosting on them so I know what they are.

                  2. My mom used to make cozonac for Easter but lately we only get it once a year when we go home for X-mas.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: Lucia

                      Cozonac is something I would love to try, but I have never once seen it for sale anywhere. I am sure it wouldn't be the same as homemade, but do you know where it can be bought (I am in NYC, too)?

                      1. re: vvvindaloo

                        Unfortunately, no--I've only had the homemade kind. You may want to ask on the Outer Buroughs board--there are some Romania restaurants and shops in Queens.

                    2. sicilian easter wreath with the colored eggs baked in.

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: eLizard

                        Is that Sicilian eLizard? That's the one we make! I love it with my Easter morning cup of coffee. I color the eggs raw and drench them in honey & tiny candy sprinkles. My brother-in-law once ate 6 in a row. I still feel sick when I think about it......

                        1. re: Boccone Dolce

                          I don't know if the sicilians have any real claim to it, but i'm pretty sure it's italian! i color hard cooked eggs and bake em into the dough. i'd be interested to see your recipe!

                          1. re: eLizard

                            That's what we do, and it is definitely Italian. Come to think of it, I am not sure where in Italy this method originated, but I'm sure it's southern. Thanks for the photo!

                            1. re: vvvindaloo

                              do you have a recipe? I'm always interested in seeing variations on the bread my grandmother made for decades before i was born. and that i've been making since she passed.

                            2. re: eLizard

                              My sister has to send me the recipe every year- this year she told me she was busy and to use frozen Bridgeford dough!!! I ended up soooooooooo sick that I didn't make anything. I was sad. Still am, I have 36 eggs in my fridge. Once I get the recipe I will share with you. It's a sweet dough, and it has to rise. The honey and sprinklies are not-optional. They make me happy!
                              We make a Christmas-time treat we always called "ZAPE-La's" - I believe it's spelled zeppole. Dough fried in hot oil, then you shake them in a brown paper bag with tons of powdered sugar. That and another one I can't spell but we call "STREW FALA" it's the tiny dough balls covered in honey with the sprinkles... Oh dear G-D it is GOOD and you start and can't stop, yer fingers get sticky so you figure why stop now? Just to wash?? Naaah.. Keep going!!
                              We are Northern Italian but we cook many similar if not exactly the same things my Sicilian Mother in Law also makes, so I'm sure these things blend...... Anyway, I have that recipe someplace too if you want...

                              1. re: Boccone Dolce

                                I'd love to hear more about how you make yours (though I'm really in no position to ask anyone for an actual recipe ;)). By the way, the other dessert you mention is spelled s-t-r-u-f-f-o-l-i, and it seems that nearly all Italian-American families make some version of this. Where in the north is your family from? The photos I added further down are representative of this year's batch of Abruzzese bread, though I think most Italian styes are really variations on one bread of southern origin.
                                Oh, and I love your handle!

                        2. I am Armenian and have been making a traditional Easter bread called Choereg. It is very similar in taste and texture to the Greek bread Tsourecki which is a braided bread with a red egg (I have just gotten really good at the braiding of the dough, but haven't attempted adding in the hard boiled and dyed egg-just didn't want to mess with the perfection I have achieved just yet :) The bread uses some special spices that you can only get in an Armenian/Greek grocery. It is called Mahleb or Mahlepi and adds a very distinct taste to this really rich-almost challah like bread. It is really a must for the Easter holiday, but is delicous all year long to have with coffee or tea. Freezes well too.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: cyndiok

                            How does mahleb/mahlepi compare to anise? Or is it entirely different? I have good friends who are Armenian, and have been treated to various tasty sweets, including my favorite- Christmas Pudding. But I've never had Choereg, and I'll have to ask about it :)

                            1. re: vvvindaloo

                              Mahlepi is very different from anise. Not so strong, more perfumey. Hard to describe. It is a very nice addition to bread- once you have it you will know what it is. I have seen it in powdered form but I but the cherry pits and steep them in hot water and use the perfumed water in the bread.

                          2. This is my great-great grandmother's recipe for Paska:
                            My son can't have dairy and I'm going to be making him a paska-shaped challah from the King Arthur Whole Grain cookbook. I'm going to add lemon zest and raisins to make it more paska-like.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: maggiehc

                              Thanks Maggie- I'm going to have to try this sometime, it sounds fantastic.

                            2. Well, after approximately 15 hours (mixing, kneading and allowing the dough to rise 3 times before shaping, decorating and baking), I have 14 breads in various shapes and sizes. This year I used about 8lbs. of flour to 2 dozen eggs. Here are some photos of my Abruzzese-style bread:

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: vvvindaloo

                                I usually let mine raise twice and then shape and raise again. Do you find a third raising before shaping makes a difference. I am open to any and all suggestions.

                                1. re: mcwv

                                  Honestly, we do it that way because my great-grandmothers did. And probably someone in Italy before them :) At this point, I'd be too concerned to change my method, considering the consequences of making a mistake would be a lot of eggs and many hours of work down the drain. But I would be interested to know how many variations there are on raising and shaping and how they work.

                              2. I understand your not wanting to share your recipe. I have been baking Greek Easter bread for many years and still am searching for a perfect recipe. I have the bread part down. It's the flavoring I can't get just quite right. As a child we always had Greek Easter bread from a local bakery and mine just doesn't taste the same. Would you be willing to just tell me what flavors/spices you use in your bread.

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: mcwv

                                  Sure! I think I mentioned above that we use anise seeds as our flavoring. I am not sure that this would be right fdor a traditional Greek bread, though, it seems lke mahlepi is the way to go :)

                                  1. re: mcwv

                                    The traditional greek easter bread has grated orange rind, orange juice for part of the liquid and mahlepi. The mahlepi gives it its unique flavour - unmistakeable and really delicious.

                                    I just bought my mahlepi and can't wait to make my tsoureki.

                                    Oh yeah, I also make cozonac, and it took me many many many tries before I found the perfect recipe. It works and tastes delicious every time.

                                    1. re: maisonbistro

                                      Wow- it sounds like you have a lot of work ahead of you (and fun). Please post some photos if you can!

                                      1. re: vvvindaloo

                                        Nahhhh, I love it. Baking bread is fun - kneading, the aromas... the eating....

                                        Will try!