In The Tucci Cookbook, this recipe is called Maria Pia’s Easter Bread. This sweet bread-like ring was originally baked every Easter by Mr. Tucci’s grandma and the tradition was passed along to his cousin Maria Pia. This recipe and my Italian friend, Angie, are the reasons I decided to do a traditional Easter meal.
For Christmas, Angie’s family does a traditional Italian meal that centers on lots of seafood. I found this fascinating when she told me because I had no idea there was such a thing. Admittedly this makes me sound clueless at best, uncultured/unworldly at worst. I certainly hope that’s not the case.
I live in downtown Long Beach (Calif.) which is one of the most diverse cities in the nation. I am blessed to be privy to tons of authentic international cuisines such as Mexican, Salvadorian, Peruvian, Brazilian, Argentine, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Thai, etc. up and down Los Angeles and Orange Counties. There are not a ton of authentic European restaurants that I know of in the immediate area (other than a German butcher/deli where my German neighbor told me I can find braunschweiger–she is from Germany and I am part German and grew up eating the strongly flavored pate-like “sausage”). Sure there are pizza joints and Italian places in the area but I guess I don’t eat Italian enough at local restaurants to know where to find authentic eats. I eat it more so at home.
I’ve become somewhat obsessed with “authentic” international recipes recently. A few weeks ago I learned that Cashew Chicken that I’ve always thought of as native to China is actually Chinese-American. (Again I’m either clueless or uncultured.) In fact the fried version of cashew chicken is dubbed “Springfield” Cashew Chicken. It originated in Springfield, Missouri (per Wikipedia) by a Chinese chef who came to the US in 1940 and was struggling to find something that would appeal to Americans. Knowing of Americans’ love for fried chicken, he incorporated it into the dish. I personally think fried chicken tastes delicious anywhere in any dish, but it also makes me somewhat sad that this Chef struggled to share authentic Chinese dishes. This makes me more so motivated to seek out authentic international recipes to enjoy the traditional, regional flavors.
My sister has a lot of Chana Dal at her house and I asked my friend Radhika, who moved here from India when she was younger, for ideas. She sent me a recipe for Chana Dal Hummus. I think it’s pretty clear I’m fond of hummus and am very excited to try this particular recipe.
I’ve gotten off track! Back to the traditional Italian Easter Bread.
This was the least favorite of all the Italian dishes we ate on Easter. And not because it was even remotely bad. It’s just that there were so many amazing flavors we ate this seemed kind of bland/boring by comparison.
Also, my ring of bread looked nothing like the one in The Tucci Cookbook. It did not even hint at being brown. Not even when I kept cooking it thinking it likely was not close to being done.
One of the steps in the recipe is to throw some uncooked eggs into the dough; the eggs will cook to a hard-boiled consistency while the bread bakes. You can optionally color the eggs (or use uncolored eggs). I intended to go full bore on for this step, but I ended up needing to use two of the eggs I’d set aside and colored for another dish after I realized we were completely out of eggs! (I had more than 2 dozen when I started cooking the Easter foods.)
I had a pink, blue and purple egg prepped for this recipe and the pink and blue egg were used elsewhere. It looked awkward to have one random purple egg in the ring of bread. Also I feel like I didn’t “bury” the egg well enough inside the dough. It just kind of sat on top the dough or looked like it was perched on top. The criss-cross section of dough mounded on top the egg made the egg look even more ridiculous. You can see I cropped this part out of all the pics.
I was also ambivalent about the texture. It seemed too dense. I assumed I’d done something wrong since I’d never heard of, tried or had this type of bread. But my bonafide Italian friend assured me she had eaten the bread before and that the texture was accurate. That made me feel a bit better!
On the bright side for this lemon-lover, this bread has a fairly strong lemony flavor that comes from the glaze. (I lurve lemon.) It’s my opinion that the glaze makes the bread. I feel as though if you didn’t have it, the sweet bread would be terribly bland.
I’m curious to make this again to try to make a better presentation than the one that came out on Easter but also because in writing this blog it occurred to me I may have left out an important ingredient. I cannot remember adding into the mixer! If I make this again, I resolve to make it with more bland foods so it doesn’t get lost in the crowd.
- 9 large eggs, room temperature, divided (6+3)
- 1/2 c. granulated sugar
- 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
- 4 c. all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp. salt (the recipe calls for kosher salt which is what I always use anyway)
- 4 tsp. baking powder (OMG – did I add this?? My bread ring was totally flat.)
- 12 T. or 1 1/2 sticks butter, softened to room temperature
- 1 1/2 c. powdered sugar, sifted
- 2 T. cream, milk or water
- juice of 1 or 1/2 lemon plus rind of 1 or 1/2 lemon (I used half a lemon but would have probably liked even more lemon flavor)
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat 6 of the eggs, the sugar and vanilla at medium speed until pale yellow and frothy.
- In a large bowl stir together 3 cups of the flour, salt and baking powder. Add the butter and blend with your hands or two knives to form a crumbly mixture. Gradually beat the crumbles in with the egg mixture. If necessary, add additional flour to for a soft dough. It should be dry on the outside but sticky on the inside. (I honestly feel like my dough was not really like this…)
- Gently roll the dough into a log about 15 inches long and 2 inches round. I struggled with this. Cut off a 1-inch long piece of dough and set aside. Place the log on a baking sheet and bring the ends together to form a ring. (I struggled with this too. My “ring” looked tiny!) Pinch the ends of the dough together. If using the optional 3 eggs, place 1 of the remaining eggs into the dough where you joined the ends together. Place the other 2 eggs evenly apart and gently press into the dough.
- Roll the reserved dough into six ropes about 1/2-inch wide and 4 inches long. Place two of the ropes in an “X” shape over each egg, pinching gently to seal the ends of the rope to the ring.
- Bake until the bread is light golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. (Mine never even hinted at turning any sort of brown.) Remove from oven and allow to cool completely.
- Mix the powdered sugar, milk and lemon juice and rind together in a small bowl or 2-cup glass measuring cup with a pour spout until smooth. Drizzle the icing back and fourth over the bread in a decorative manner. Allow the icing to set for at least 30 minutes before serving.
Recipe rating: 1/2