In many cultures, bread is symbolic for life and sustenance. If there is bread in the house, no one will go hungry. Bread has symbolic meanings in different religions as well. Throughout Europe, Easter bread symbolizes new life and served at breakfast on Easter morning. The history of Easter bread goes back hundreds of years and is enjoyed during a meal at the end of Lent.
During its life cycle the grain of wheat dies and is reborn months later in the form of a spike capable of providing sustenance to human beings. Wheat is the quintessential nutritional plant. It was believed to contain the mystery of life and death and thus it became a sacred plant. One of the essential features of the Neolithic era was plant cultivation. This led to a way of life that had previously been unimaginable and gave birth to new beliefs that completely altered the spiritual universe of humankind.
There are many recipes for Easter bread with a variety of ingredients and shapes. Traditionally, Italians and other Europeans develop their family recipe with the usual ingredients of flour, milk, eggs, butter, sugar, and yeast. Additional ingredients, like oranges and anise are added to the dough. These special ingredients personalize the bread and show what Easter means to the family or town. Every loaf of Easter bread tells a story. The bread means life. The three braids symbolize the elements of the Holy Trinity, and the eggs mean new birth. (Jovina Cooks). The baker becomes the storyteller of their family history and Easter significance.
This Easter bread recipe is slightly adapted from Bon Appetit, April 2012. It is less involved than other traditional recipes because a “starter” is not required. Yet, I kept the shape simple as one long braided loaf decorated with eggs and poppy seeds. Another benefit I learned, is there’s no need to hard boil the eggs before you color them. They cook in the oven with the bread. It is always great to have one less thing to do around any holiday.
Before I researched the history of Easter bread, I believed challah and Easter bread are the same, with the exception of the decorated eggs. There are similarities, but ultimately they are different breads. Easter bread is made from a sticky dough, has fewer eggs, and is sweeter than challah. Additional ingredients in Easter bread are oranges, anise, and dried fruits or nuts. I also learned Easter bread is similar to Panettone, but has a different shape.
Without question, Easter bread is delicious and fun to make. It is an airy, pleasantly sweet, and fresh tasting bread. I made the bread once with orange zest and fennel pollen, and once without. Both versions produced bread with delicate subtle butter flavor perfect for a delicious breakfast treat. Also, don’t be afraid to eat the eggs as long as the Easter bread has not been sitting unrefrigerated for over 12 hours. As always concerning any egg product, use your common sense.
You should make this bread just to fill your home with its seductive scent. For 24 hours, my house filled with a warm buttery scent causing everyone to perk up and take a break from their work. Joy was in the air. Don’t we all need a break from work, and have a chance to look around? This time of year, there are so many wonderful surprises to discover. New plants and flowers are popping up every day and the sun feels warmer and warmer. I love Spring and the activity of life that comes with it.
Make creamy ricotta to spread on your sweet Easter Bread. A heavenly breakfast of homemade ricotta smeared on homemade bread.
I don’t know about you, but whenever I make bread I am happy. Baking bread brings me joy and a great sense of accomplishment. Maybe it is because the touch of dough is so smooth and soft. I love feeling my hands wrap around the supple dough. I tell myself to stop and resist temptation to play with my food. If you find yourself succumbing to this seduction, please stop yourself or you will have tough overworked bread.
At last, Spring is here along with every reason to celebrate new life after a dormant winter. At any time, a loaf of homemade bread brings the promise of life and sustenance for all to enjoy. Without hesitation, the promise of your specially prepared loaf is revealed in the joyful expressions of friends and family. Join the fun and start your Easter celebration at breakfast with sweet Easter bread.
© 2017, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.