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!
Adapted from Lacy Lynn
Makes one 10-inch round loaf
2 ½ tsp. active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
2 Tbs. white sugar
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.)