Saturday, March 19, 2011

Festive (Italian) Easter Bread

My husband remembers these pretty, festive breads at Easter time, given to him by his Sicilian stepmom.  What child wouldn't enjoy?  

Good for the St. Joseph's Table as well.
Festive Easter Bread
recipe brought from Sicily by Lorenza G. in 1954
edited by Gourmet Girlfriend 2001

1 teaspoon (or 1 package) active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1 stick butter
2/3 cup sugar, or more if desired
1/2 cup warm milk
3 eggs, plus 3 more (colored) raw eggs for decoration
1 tablespoon vanilla
zest of one lemon
4 1/2 to 5 cups flour
1 pinch salt

In a bowl sprinkle yeast in warm water and let it sit to proof until foamy.  Cream together butter and sugar.  Add milk, 3 eggs, vanilla and zest.  Mix well.  Stir in flour and salt.  Work the mixture with hands until it comes together and is soft and sticky.

Place in a greased bowl; cover tightly with plastic wrap and place in a warm place to rise. When double in size, turn it out onto a floured surface.  Roll out the dough into 1/4" thickness.  
Cut out dove shapes (or basket shapes, etc.) and place a 'whole uncooked egg in the shell' (may be dyed like an Easter egg) onto the dove.  Place a strip of dough (or braid) over the egg to ensure the egg will stay in place (again, dough strip may be done in a decorative fashion).  Optionally have seen three long strips braided around 3-5 raw eggs and formed into a wreath, or a straight braid with 3 raw decorated eggs placed in a 'loaf' fashion.
Bake 35 to 40 minutes in a 350 degree Fahrenheit oven.
Optional:  When cool, brush on a smooth, thin icing (1 pound of powder sugar and 1/4 cup of milk) and shake on candy sprinkles.

Bread of St. Joseph "Vuccidrato Pane di San Guisseppe"

2011 St. Joseph's Table
Looked all over the internet and did not see this particular recipe, some close, but none for this quantity.  This recipe makes enough dough for 3 large loaves (the size of at-home cookie sheets).

Bread of St. Joseph
brought to California by Lorenza G. from Sicily in 1954
edited by Gourmet Girlfriend ~2001

1 quart (4 cups) warm water
2 packages dry yeast
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
3 eggs, plus 2 beaten eggs for the egg wash to brush bread
1/2 cup light-colored oil (like canola oil)
16 cups bread flour (almost a 5 pound bag)

Pour yeast into warm water to proof for 7-10 minutes in a large bowl.  Add into the large bowl and mix well:  sugar, salt, 3 beaten eggs, and oil.  Slowly mix in the flour by hand.  Knead dough until smooth.  In a large oiled bowl, place the dough, cover and let rise in a warm place until twice the volume.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit.  Cut the dough into thirds.  Shape each piece into a rope, then twist like a braid.  Bring the ends together and secure, shaping a braid ring (or any shape).  Make shallow cuts 1 1/2" apart around the outside of the ring (easy to do with scissors).  Place on a greased baking sheet and let it rise in a warm spot (like on top of the preheated oven) until double in size.

With 2 beaten eggs (mixed with 2 tablespoons of water), brush egg wash all over the bread and place the bread in the oven.  Twice more during baking, brush the bread again with the beaten egg.  Bake a total of 30 to 40 minutes until golden brown.
St. Joseph's staff, hammer and a cross

St. Joseph's Table

Doing a St. Joseph's Table has a purpose.  It is most basically, the Italian version of the American Thanksgiving.  The Table is rich in meaning and has significance for those who create one.  A nun once told me, “There is no such thing as a coincidence.”  Another said, “only 'God-incidences.'”  Traditional Sicilians and Sicilian-Italian-Americans create meaning-laden St. Joseph's Tables to give thanks for blessings granted.  Having received many blessings, I volunteered to create one at a church.

St. Joseph's Table was introduced to me almost a decade ago by my husband's Sicilian stepmother.  This was the first year I've helped, or put one together.  When I offered to do one, had very little notion about it.  We were in hubby's hometown twice to see my stepmother-in-law put one on, and that was it.  She said each had taken her three months' of work.  Now her heath prevents her from creating her own, and she passed the tradition on to me.
Did a lot of online research, called and visited many bakeries asking if they could make the shaped-breads and colorful cookies I'd seen.  My favorite Italian cookie that my stepmother-in-law makes is a lemon/orange cookie--knew that was the one item I would bake for the table.

Stepmother-in-law had piles of handwritten recipes.  Nine years ago, I agreed to type and organize the recipes.  A cookbook was presented to stepmother-in-law for Christmas shortly thereafter.  Mistake in her name on the cover, resulted in an extra kept cookbook.  Leafing through it for the citrus cookie recipe came across the Calabrian Easter Bread and St. Joseph's Bread recipes.  (Earlier posts detail the baking.)

By chance, did not feel well on Friday and rested.  Saturday morning rolled around with me doubling over every so often with intestinal pain.  Held off leaving as late as possible, but kept in mind the Table needed to get done!

As the Sicilians believe, "St. Joseph will provide."  Arrived and began with my sweet husband's help, to put the room and table together.  Many small mishaps, though the Table came together.  At every turn, someone offered help (seemingly out of the woodwork).  Planned to have this year be a solo table, but it really turned into a community effort (as they are suppose to).
Throughout the process of making the St. Joseph's Table, had help and backing.  When the table finally came together, it was relatively small, and quietly sensational.  Seeing the happy honored faces; eating good food; seeing the community support; meeting a number of parishioners and hearing their stories added to the beauty of the event.  Many people left happy.

This whole experience of community, through the temporary St. Joseph's Table immersion, has colored my world with a different type of blessing.  Grazie San Giuseppe!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

St. Joseph's Table Preparation II

Spent today baking for the St. Joseph's Table next Saturday.  Friday after work shopped for the baking items.  Funnily enough, Whole Foods was completely out of bread flour--not in bags, not in bulk foods.  They must have underestimated the number of people wishing to bake bread from scratch this weekend.
The Sicilians began St. Joseph's Table in the middle ages to honor St. Joseph whom they believe interceded on their behalf.  They were having a terrible drought and no crops would grow, but they prayed and vowed if rain came to help their crops they would give a feast in celebration to honor God and St. Joseph.  Rains came, so they gave thanks by helping the poor with items from the harvest.
Followed the same game plan as last Sunday, however today took half as long.  Began by making Lemon Cookies.
While the Lemon Cookies cooled, mixed the dough for Calabrian Easter Bread.  Easter Bread was set aside to rise, and then mixed the dough for St. Joseph's Table Bread.  By then the Easter Bread was ready to form and bake.  Today the green colored raw eggs were put into a basket shape.
As the Easter Bread baked, iced the Lemon Cookies.  As last Sunday; red, white and green; the color of the Italian flag.  Except the icing was darker, so it reminded me of the Mexican flag colors instead.  
The Lemon Cookies with icing dried, the Calabrian Easter Bread cooled, then the SJT Bread was formed, went for a second rising and then baked.  This time the shapes were a pineapple for hospitality, a fish for lent/disciples, and a Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Could not decide what shape to make the last loaf, and so settled on the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Think it came out well, and taught me that the bread can really be put into any shape one wishes.
raw fish
baked fish
Sacred Heart of Jesus in St. Joseph's Table Bread

On Friday the fourth of March made chicken noodle soup for charity.  To cover the next few days of soup, on Tuesday the eighth of March shopped for, and cut up four zip-lock bags worth of vegetables.  On Wednesday the ninth of March made vegetable rice soup for coworkers and a church group for Ash Wednesday.  On Friday repeated the process for Lenten soup supper with Stations of the Cross.  It will be a while before feel like making soup again, so we had croque madame sandwiches for dinner tonight with CSA broccoli (still good from two weeks ago!)