31 March 2012

Italian Breakfast Bread

Ah, there is nothing quite so indulgent as an Italian breakfast.  A cappuccino, a sweet pastry, and well, then you can face the day.  My days of late have been unbelievably busy, as I am in the midst of wrapping up the last major experiments for my doctoral program and am under the gun to finish writing my dissertation.  It's been hard hanging in there, getting up each morning to slog through the work that must be done, and having a morning treat sometimes makes the biggest difference in getting the day going.  I've been missing you, friends, and have been itching to do more blogging.  Until the craziness settles down, though, I won't be around as much.  But, I wanted to let you know that I'm thinking of you, and I wanted to share with you a delicious sweet Italian breakfast bread that will have you hopping out of bed to start your mornings too.  It's a fantastic recipe to try out for Easter next week!

Springtime in the Italian culinary world means it's time for yeast-leavened breads, tender green peas, and eggs.  Food that is symbolic of the new life emerging this time of year.  And just like fresh green shoots springing from the ground, or the celebration of new life at Easter, this breakfast bread, rising and puffing up out of its baking pan, is a beautiful thing.

Every Easter, for as long as I can remember, my mother has baked a traditional Easter bread.  When us kids were younger, she would give us half of the dough, letting us shape our own bunny loaves, decorating the bunnies with raisin faces and buttons down their fronts.  With the other half, she would form a braided wreath, tucking colored eggs into the loaf, according to our Italian family tradition of symbolizing the new life that arises from Jesus' crown of thorns.

Sharing similarities with our original family recipe, this bread is a lightly-sweet, yeast-leavened bread, enriched with egg and studded with golden raisins, dried cranberries, and chunks of candied lemon peel.  With a golden, crusty exterior and a soft and fluffy interior, this bread is delicious just as it is, or toasted with a bit of butter.

And I imagine leftovers would make an absolutely amazing bread pudding, should you be wanting something a little more decadent!  Best wishes to you this springtime, and happy Easter!

Italian Sweet Breakfast Bread
Adapted from Lacy Lynn
Makes one 10-inch round loaf

2 ½ tsp. active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
2 Tbs. white sugar
2 eggs
½ cup nonfat plain yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon salt
4-5 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
¼ cup dried cranberries
¼ cup golden raisins
¼ cup chopped candied lemon peel

In the bowl of a large stand mixer, combine yeast, water and sugar. Cover and let stand 10 minutes, or until foamy.  (If yeast does not foam, discard and begin again with new yeast.)  Add eggs, yogurt, vanilla, lemon zest, and salt. Mix well. With the paddle attachment of the stand mixer, stir in flour ½ cup at a time, scraping sides of bowl down, until dough starts to form (after adding ~3 cups).  Switch to the dough hook and continue adding flour (about 1 more cup) until dough forms a manageable mass.  Continue kneading for 5 to 10 minutes, adding flour as necessary, until dough is soft and pliable, but not sticky (up to 5 cups).

Form dough into a large ball and coat all sides with vegetable oil.  (I like to lift the dough out of the bowl, pour a tablespoon of oil in, then turn the dough around in the oil until the dough, as well as the sides of the bowl, are greased.)  Let dough rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.

Punch dough down in bowl, transfer to a floured surface, and knead in the dried fruits.  The goal is to get the fruits uniformly throughout the dough without any of them actually bursting out into the exterior of the bread (as they will burn if exposed in the oven).

Form dough into a ball and place in a greased 9-10 inch round pan.  Cover loosely with plastic wrap and cool rise in the refrigerator overnight.

The next morning, remove pan from refrigerator and let come to room temperature (about 1 hour before baking).  Bake in a preheated oven at 350 F  for 45 minutes, or until loaf is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  (If bread browns too quickly on top, cover with a piece of foil.)


the Junkie book said...

Wonderful as ever! Happy Easter to you too!

Dissertation is grueling...painstaking hours for piles and piles of papers...but the degree is the cherry on the top!

Anonymous said...

That's looks so yummy! I've never tried to make yeast containing bread before... for some reason, I feel intimidated by it. I'll have to bookmark this recipe to try one day... good luck with your dissertation!!! I can't believe you're doctoral student. By the way, not that I remember anything anymore, but I was a biochem major and did undergrad research for 2 years before I realized I didn't want to be a "scientist". Lol!

erica said...

Thanks for the well wishes, you guys!

Ah, yes, I am a doctoral student. The day-to-day of biology research has been challenging on so many levels, and since Apricosa is my happy space, I've tried to keep mention of it here at a minimum. :) But I'm looking forward to the end that's coming soon!

Unknown said...

Can this be made in a breadmaker?? I was thinking about buying one...but I'm not even sure how I'd use it! :)

erica said...

Hi Cara! Well, I must confess I have never used a bread maker before, but it could be worth a try! If you have access to a friend's breadmaker, I'd say try borrowing theirs to try it out and see how you like using the machine and how it works with the recipe before investing in one. :)

Susan Lindquist said...

What a beautiful round loaf! It has risen! And it's a lovely symbol of the season ...

Best of luck with the finishing touches on your post grad work - such hard work! It is a slog, but you will be all the better for having completed it!

linner said...

i know it's been a few years, but i hope you will still see this question/comment...
this bread looks delicious and i can't wait to make it, however, i don't have a standing mixer (only an old-style one, with the egg-beater whisks). are there any particular utensils (in place of the paddle or hook) you would recommend i use when i try to make this "manually"?
thanks for any ideas!

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