Our mother, Josie, was the champ of fresh pasta. She would turn out delicious homemade macaroni, gnocchi, passatelli with unrivaled speed. However baking was not really her thing – except for her Easter Sweet Bread (and oddly her molasses crumb cake). At Easter, I still think about her dense, delicious version of this Italian tradition and of course, to this day, I still cannot quite recreate her magic.
I do have a version of her recipe – a handwritten sheet of paper tucked into her old Italian cookbook. The recipe entitled ‘Mom’s Sweet Bread’ is in my handwriting but I do not remember when I wrote it. As with most recipes of the day, it calls for margarine along with butter. It calls for you to scald the milk. Joey and I had a fun discussion about whether this was still necessary to do and after consulting a bunch of websites, we concluded that it couldn’t hurt as it denatures the whey proteins in the milk and helps the dough to rise.
Typical Italian Easter sweet breads can be a thing of beauty. However, her version never had fancy braids or colorful hard-boiled eggs tucked into the dough. It doesn’t call for an egg wash or colorful sprinkles. The dough is simply tucked into loaf pans for a second rise and then baked. (Maybe her simplified, no-nonsense version was a necessity due to having 2 little kids running around the house while working full time?) And yet, above any that I have tasted, it is her version that I think about every Easter – a slightly warm slice, lightly toasted with butter, is the stuff of dreams.
I have tried year after year to recreate it. I, of course, have subbed out the evil margarine for butter. I don’t use my stand mixer – only a hand mixer to cream the butter and then knead the soft dough by hand as she did. I have kept the order in which she added ingredients and I have changed up the order in an effort to recreate the crumb and density of her sweet bread. And I have *finally* gotten closer to her sweet perfection – almost. This version, only slightly modified, is the closest I have come.
And even though my kitchen is now covered in test loaves of sweet bread, I will keep trying…..maybe that next batch will be THE exact one! To all my baking-loving friends out there, any suggestions on the recipe below are greatly welcomed – you may save me from gaining 10 pounds before the end of Easter weekend!!
Wishing all those who celebrate a beautiful Easter – Buona Pasqua, tutti! 🐣
xx tanti baci,
My Mom’s Easter sweet bread was legendary…a simple, no-frills version of the beautiful Italian Easter breads we see everywhere. Eat warm, toasted with a slather of butter – heavenly!
- ½ cup milk
- 1 package (3/4 ounces, 21 g) active dry yeast
- ½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
- ½ cup sugar
- 4 eggs
- 3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
1. Scald the milk and allow to cool to lukewarm.
2. Add the lukewarm milk (no hotter than 110 degrees Fahrenheit) to a small bowl. Add in the yeast and a pinch of the sugar and allow to dissolve.
3. Using a hand or stand mixer, cream the softened butter with the sugar in a large bowl until the mixture is pale yellow and fluffy.
4. Add in the eggs and mix until incorporated.
5. Using a wooden spoon, add in the yeast mixture, followed by the flour, salt and cinnamon. Mix until incorporated then using your hands, knead until a soft dough forms. If too sticky, add in a little flour.
6. Place dough in a large, oiled bowl, cover and let rise in a draft free place until it doubles in size, about 2 hours.
7. Punch down the dough and remove it from the bowl. Divide into 2 equal pieces. Butter 2 (8 ½” x 4 ½”) loaf pans. Place each half in a loaf pan and cover to let rise an additional hour.
8. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Uncover the pans. Bake in the oven until golden and cooked through, about 25-35 minutes. Slice and serve toasted with a slather of butter!