Bread of Easter Brightness

A repost (and updating) of a recipe that has come to be the quintessential Easter recipe in our household. Even more so than the leg of lamb, this bread is what we break our fast with on Easter morning (or, depending on if we’re hungry after the Vigil, in the middle of the night). It’s David’s first, strongest association with the holiday. And it’s fundamental rightness in our household celebration delights me.wpid-photo-apr-24-2011-1003-am.jpg

Since I first developed this recipe, I’ve also added mahlab to the recipe, and this year I will experiment with mastic as well, if I’m lucky at the market. I’ve also moved away from adding melted butter and towards the brioche method of kneading in soft butter at the end.
Bread of Easter Brightness

  • 4 1/2 – 5 cups unbleached bread flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 1 tablespoon ground cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon ground mahlep
  • a pinch of mastic, powdered with mortar and pestle
  • 1 1/4 cup milk, warm
  • 1/2 cup soft butter
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 5 eggs, raw or hard boiled, dyed red
  • Optional: egg wash

Combine a cup of flour, the milk, and the yeast to create a poolish, and let it ferment for an hour or two, until it’s very bubbly.
In a large bowl, whisk together 3 1/2 cups of flour, the sugar, salt, and spices. Stir in the poolish and the beaten eggs, and knead for five minutes. Add flour gradually from the remaining half cup, if the dough is very sticky. Gradually knead in the butter. Let the dough rise until it’s doubled in bulk.
Weigh the dough, and divide it into six equal pieces. Roll each piece into an 18″ long rope, and dimple them at the halfway point with a fingertip.

Grease your baking sheet, and pinch together three ropes of dough at the top center of the pain. Braid until you reach the halfway dimples. Two strands of dough will naturally point one direction and the third will point in the opposite direction.

Rotate the pan 180 degrees. Join your remaining three ropes of dough at the top center of the pan and braid as above. Two strands will match up with the one strand from your first braid, and one strand will match up with the other two.

Rotate your pan 90 degrees, and braid these three strands down until you reach the end. Pinch the ends together and curl them under. Rotate the pan 180 degrees and repeat for the last arm of the cross.

At this point, the shaped loaf can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours. If you do this, let the dough return to room temperature and proof until doubled before you bake it.

Proof the loaf until it is doubled. Preheat your oven to 400 F. When the loaf is ready, you may brush the top with your egg wash and sprinkle it with the sesame seeds or sliced almonds. (I don’t like the texture of an egg wash and prefer the softer, more rustic look, so I skip it.) Insert the five red eggs into the cross. Nestle them deeply in between the strands of the braid, wide end down, or the oven spring will push them out. If you use raw eggs, they will cook fully during baking, hardboiled will be heavily overdone. Eggs dyed red with yellow onion skins don’t bleed as much as eggs with food coloring.
Bake the loaf at 400 F for 20 minutes, or until the loaf’s internal temperature reaches 185 F. Cool before cutting. It’s delicious when fresh and warm, but it shouldn’t be too hot to eat.
It’s a lot of bread, the recipe ought to halve well enough, but you probably can’t get a cross loaf out of a half recipe. If you make a half batch, I recommend just a straight braided loaf (with red eggs tucked into the ends).

Leave a comment

Filed under Recipe

Cinnamon Swirl Bread

There’s a little bakery in the town my mom grew up in, and it was the best bakery in the world. We would live for the twice a year visits to my grandparents, because it meant bakery. Cloverleaf rolls. Cake donuts. Peanut brittle. Cinnamon swirl bread.

I visited it as an adult a few years ago. The quality of its donut fry has gone off in later years, but the cinnamon swirl bread is the same delicious, toastable, raisin-free, slice it always was.

I’m literally on the other side of the US now. But I miss the swirl bread so much I just had to replicate it.

And you know what? I think my loaf might even be better. It makes fabulous toast, but is also delightful as-is. My baby practically inhales it.

Cinnamon Swirl Bread

  • 600g bread flour (4 cups)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 Tbsp salt
  • 2 1/4 tsp instant yeast
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 cups warmed milk
  • 4 Tbsp softened butter
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 Tbsp cinnamon*
  • more softened butter

Combine the bread flour, sugar, salt, and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer. It is actually important that you use bread flour here – it really does improve the texture of the loaf. You’ll also notice it’s measured in grams. I measure all my flour for bread by weight, as it improves the inter-loaf constancy.

Anyway. Give the dry ingredients a quick mix with the paddle, then crack in the egg and pour the warm milk into the running mixer. When all the milk is incorporated, swap out the paddle for the dough hook and start kneading. After about 3 minutes of kneading with the dough hook, drop the softened butter into the running mixer by tablespoons. Make sure all the butter is incorporated before adding more.

When all the butter is kneaded in, set the mixer bowl inside to rise until the dough has doubled. Meanwhile, combine your cinnamon and sugar with a fork, and grease a loaf pan with the extra softened butter. I’m using a 10″x5″ loaf pan.

When the dough has risen turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and roll it flat into a rectangle, the short side of which is a little smaller than the length of your loaf pan, and the long side is at least twice as long as the loaf pan.

Smear the entire surface of your dough with the cinnamon sugar mixture. There will be plenty. Wash your hands, then start rolling up the dough. Roll it as tight as you can, to prevent gaps in your swirl. Pinch the seam shut, pulling the bottom of the dough around to enclose the last bit of cinnamon sugar, and plop it seam side down into your prepared loaf pan.

Cover the loaf pan and let it proof until the loaf has risen to fill in the pan. While it’s proofing, preheat your oven to 350 F. Bake for 40 minutes. Cool the pan on a rack for 15-20 minutes, then turn the loaf from the pan to finish cooling.

*If you are a cinnamon connoisseur, this bread is a great recipe to use your expensive Vietnamese cinnamon. Whatever you do, don’t use Ceylon cinnamon.


Filed under Recipe

German Potato Salad

Memorial Day means barbecue. Which to first appearance means I don’t have to do any work, because Himself does the grilling. Seriously. I don’t even know how to light the grill.

But appearances are wrong, because barbecue also means side dishes. Lots of side dishes. (Yum!) And lots of dirty dishes. (Boo!) And lots of leftovers. (Yay!) And lots of indigestion. (Argh.)

For years, my barbecue menu has lacked potato salad. I hate mayonnaise, and it’s usually a critical ingredient in potato salad. So no potato salad for me and mine, thankyouverymuch. Then I discovered German potato salad, which has infinitely less mayonnaise and infinitely more bacon. Both pluses in my book.

German Potato Salad

  • 5 pounds red potatoes: cleaned, boiled, and peeled
  • 6 oz. bacon, diced fine
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced fine
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 4 Tbsp stone ground mustard
  • kosher salt, to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • chopped Italian parsley, to taste

Clean and boil your red potatoes in salted water until they’re cooked. Drain. When they’re cool enough to handle or about 30 minutes before serving, rub off the skins, and slice. As you stir in the dressing, they will crumble to a large dice. Don’t do this too early, the potatoes retain their heat better in their skins. After your potatoes are sliced, start making the dressing.

In a medium frying pan over medium heat, cook the bacon until it is golden brown and crisp. Throw in the diced onion and cook it with the bacon until it’s translucent. Stir the flour into the bacon and onion and let it cook for one minute, then whisk in the chicken broth, vinegar, sugar, and mustard. Taste it and adjust the salt – remember this will be flavoring the potatoes, and so the dressing should be salty. But not inedibly salty.

Bring the contents of the pan to a boil whisking constantly, when it thickens remove it from the heat. Dress the potatoes with the warm dressing, and add chopped parsley and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Serve warm or room temperature, but not cold.

Leave a comment

Filed under Recipe

Cinnamon Rolls

It’s taken me years to master cinnamon rolls. Proper, yeast rolls, without cheating and adding chemical leaveners. But I’ve finally done it. They are soft and sticky, glorious and raisin-free, everything a cinnamon roll should be.

These rolls are great for Sundays. I can throw the dough together in only fifteen minutes, before we leave for Mass. When we get home, it’s all risen and ready to turn into cinnamon rolls.

This dough does require a stand mixer. It’s very sticky, I don’t want to think about mixing it or kneading in all that butter by hand. Don’t worry, it’s easy on a mixer’s motor. Here we go!

The Dough

  • 5 cups flour + extra for dusting
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups warm milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 8 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
  • more butter, for greasing pans

The Filling

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 Tbsp cinnamon

The Icing

  • 16 oz. powdered sugar
  • 2 Tbsp coffee*
  • 2 Tbsp milk
  • 2 Tbsp melted butter
  • pinch of salt

Combine your dry ingredients in your stand mixer’s bowl. Microwave your milk for ~2 minutes. When the milk is ready, give everything a quick stir with the paddle to combine it all, then crack in the eggs. Start the mixer, and pour the warm milk slowly into dry ingredients and eggs. When all the milk is combined, swap out the paddle for the dough hook and knead it for a couple minutes, until it looks mostly cohesive.

It will be very, very sticky.

Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, start the mixer again, and start dropping in the softened butter by tablespoons. Let each addition of butter be kneaded in completely before you add more. Mixing the butter in like this is what I call brioche technique. It lets the gluten develop without the butter undermining it’s structure, but still gets all the fat in there to make a tender bread. But it isn’t proper brioche because I don’t bother with preferments and long fermentation times and the like. My attention span isn’t long enough.

When all the butter is kneaded in, let the mixer go another minute or two, then cover the bowl and leave it to rise, at least an hour.

When the dough is ready, turn it out onto a well floured surface and shape it into a rough rectangle. Add a little more flour to the top and roll it out so it’s thinned to about a quarter inch, and cover the surface with the filling. Spread the filling out so it covers every bit of the surface

You’ll notice I don’t use melted butter in the filling. This dough is so butter rich that it doesn’t need more, and butter in the roll contributes to the rolls gaping as they cool, which I hate.

Roll your rectangle up tightly. This takes quite a bit of practice, don’t worry if your first few attempts aren’t that hot. Pinch the roll together at the edge – the dough is so soft you can pull the bottom and side of the edge around to encase the cinnamon sugar.

Cut the long roll into individual rolls and place into buttered pans. I cut mine into 16 pieces and bake two 9″ round pans of 8 rolls each. You can always cut bigger and bake a 9″x13″ pan containing a dozen. Or you can cut smaller and make lots of tiny ones.

On cutting cinnamon rolls. Some people use knives. But Joe Pastry taught me to use dental floss, and it’s really the only way to do this.

Brush the tops of the rolls with a little melted butter (this helps them pull apart better at the end) and let the rolls proof for another 30 minutes while you preheat your oven to 400 F.

Bake the rolls for 15-20 minutes. When they’re done, whisk together the icing and drizzle it over the rolls. If you don’t like/can’t tolerate coffee, feel free to substitute more milk, or water, or whatever. But I like coffee and always have the dregs of a pot floating around for just these sorts of emergencies.

Leave a comment

Filed under Recipe

Sweet Vinegar Dressing

I’m on a salad dressing kick. But this one is an old family recipe. My grandmother and mother and I all use it on our cole slaw. My mom’s family in Minnesota dresses cucumbers with it, with the addition of a little dried dill. It’s fantastic and versatile and easy to make in large quantities.

Sweet Vinegar Dressing

  • 4 Tbsp white vinegar
  • 3 Tbsp sugar
  • 2 Tbsp oil

Dissolve the sugar into the vinegar in a dressing jar. Add the oil. Whatever oil you have will work, but we usually use exrtra virgin olive oil. Shake it up immediately before using. And that’s it.

You can make it in any volume you need just by changing the measure.

Leave a comment

Filed under Recipe

Creamy Red Wine Vinegarette

We’ve been eating a lot of salad lately, so I’ve had ample time to experiment with salad dressing. I’m really addicted to this one. I especially love it on Cobb salads. The egg yolk keeps it from separating, even overnight in the refrigerator. Since it does have raw egg, I only keep any leftovers for 24 hours, but wow is it good.

The recipe doesn’t make a lot either. Enough for 2-3 large salads, depending on how generous people are with the dressing, or one large tossed salad served as a side.

If you’re immune compromised or just squeamish, use a pasteurized egg. Then it should be perfectly safe. If you leave the egg out, it’ll be a perfectly good vinegarette, but can no longer be called creamy.

Creamy Red Wine Vinegarette

  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • ~2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

This is really easy. Throw everything except the olive oil into the bowl of a food processor. Or maybe a blender. I don’t own a blender though. Blend it up thoroughly. Drizzle the olive oil slowly in while things are blending up, and keep it blending about 30 more seconds. Remove to a salad dressing jar and use immediately. Certainly within 24 hours.

Leave a comment

Filed under Recipe


This is an Italian Easter meat and cheese pie. I’ve always wanted to try it. Since today is the Octave of Easter, I decided to make it for dinner. I didn’t really have a recipe, but why let that stop me?

Result? Pretty darn good! But it leaves you with a definite understanding of why you should only eat this once a year!


  • 250g all purpose flour
  • 125g semolina flour
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp yeast
  • 1 cup warm water
  • eggwash


  • 1 lb italian sausage*
  • 1 cup sweet onion*, finely diced
  • 1/4 lb pepperoni*, diced
  • 1/4 lb genoa salami*, diced
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 lb ricotta**, drained
  • 1 lb shredded mozzerella
  • 1 cup parmesan
  • 1/4 tsp ground pepper

* You can use whatever combination of italian meats you want in this pie, really, to the tune of about 1.5 lbs of meat. Prosciutto, capicollo, etc***. We, however, are not super wealthy, so I went with the cheaper option of browned italian sausage and added a little sweet onion I had hanging around leftover from something else.

** Traditionally it uses Italian Basket cheese, but that’s not available here and now.

***I wouldn’t use prosciutto though. That would be a terrible waste.

Make your crust. This is a yeast crust, so it needs to rise for about an hour. The dough will be a little sticky, but as long as it’s mostly holding together, don’t add any extra flour. Knead it lightly and leave in a bowl to rise. Flip it over once or twice, you don’t want any big bubbles here.

Brown up your sausage and onion, drain it and let it cool. Dice up your other meats – I buy mine straight from the deli sliced on ten, this permits a nice small dice. Mix all the filling ingredients together.

Preheat your oven to 350 F.

Divide your dough in half. Spread out a piece of parchment, and drop a dough ball on it. The dough will be very sticky. Add about a tablespoon of flour to the top of the dough, and start rolling it out. When you’ve reached a big enough size for a deep dish 9″ pie pan, stop and leave it alone for 5 minutes. The dough will shrink back some. Roll it out again, and transfer it to the pie dish, but don’t trim it.

Start adding your filling to the pie plate. The filling will fit the bottom crust neatly into the pan. As necessary, lift up the edges of the pie crust to allow the air to be pushed out. The filling will completely fill a 9″ deep dish pie plate.

Roll out the second half of the crust in the same manner as the first. Drape it over the top of the pie. Use a fork to crimp the crust edges firmly together, then trim the edges of the dough off.

You can bake the scraps of crust as breadsticks if you like.

Brush the top crust with egg wash, and cut slits. Bake at 350 F for 45 minutes, or until the filling is oozing from the slits in the top crust.

Allow to cool 15 minutes before cutting.

Leave a comment

Filed under Recipe

Easter Cookies

I had in my mind to make a certain kind of Italian Easter cookie. Buttery, flavored with orange zest, dipped in multicolored sprinkles… Only as far as Google can tell me, this cookie has never existed. I made it anyway, but I guess I can’t call them Italian.

And then I made them again, because they were really, really good. You can leave off the nonpareils if you don’t want them – my mom didn’t like them – but I love the color and texture they add to the cookie.

Easter Cookies

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • zest of one large orange (~1 Tbsp)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp orange extract*
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 3 oz. nonpareils in a small pinch bowl

Preheat the oven to 375 F.

Cream together the butter, sugar, and orange zest. Watch it carefully, due to the orange zest, it only lightens in color subtly when it is properly creamed.

Mix in the orange extract and eggs. Sift together the dry ingredients and mix into the wet. Roll 1″ balls of cookie dough, and dip the top into the waiting nonpareils. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet.

Bake trays of cookies at 375 F for 10-12 minutes, or until the edges of the cookies are just turning golden brown. Don’t over bake.

Cool on wire racks.

* a note on orange extract. Mine is from Penzey’s and is 61% alcohol. If you substitute a baking emulsion, I would start out using less and add more if the flavor is insufficient.

Leave a comment

Filed under Recipe

Baptism Cake

Once upon a time, almost six years ago now, I had a baby. And almost exactly five and a half years ago we (finally) got him baptized. And of course this needed, nay demanded, a cake. I’ll be three days dead before I buy a bakery cake. Instead I just made the cake that I currently wanted, which was Italian cream. And there was much rejoicing.

Once is as good as tradition in our house. Ever since that fateful sacrament, Italian cream cake has been Baptism cake. I make it for baptisms, and baptismal anniversaries, and last year I had the brilliant idea to make it in a lamb cake mold for Easter.

I did, and the head promptly fell off. No amount of icing could reattach it. It was a true cake wreck. But delicious.

This year I tried again, with a slightly modified recipe. Behold my success!

Baptism Cake Recipe

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 6 large eggs, separated
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup flaked coconut
  • 1 recipe Basic Cream Cheese Frosting (without pecans for a lamb cake)

Butter and flour your cake pans. The whole recipe makes one 9″x13″ quarter sheet cake, three 9″ round cakes, two 9″ square cakes, or two lamb cakes*. I routinely halve this recipe for baptismal anniversaries and Easter, when I’m not serving a whole baptism’s worth of guests!

Cream together the butter, olive oil, and sugar. When it is fluffy and lightened in color, add the egg yolks and vanilla. Sift together the flour and baking soda, and add alternating with the buttermillk. Mix in the coconut.

Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks, and gently fold them into the rest of the cake batter. Pour your batter into your buttered and floured pans. Bake at 350F until a toothpick in the center comes out clean, about 25 – 35 minutes depending on which pans you’re using.

Frost when the cake is completely cool.

Lamb Cake Mold Instructions:

First, you must thoroughly butter and flour the cake mold. Don’t skimp. Don’t cheat and use a baking spray, even one of the fancy ‘flour’ sprays. Get the butter into every crevice, and then flour every bit of butter.

Fill the bottom of the mold. The top will have a hole for steam to escape. Don’t confuse the two. It will look like far too much batter, but mound it in there anyway. Now, grab some toothpicks, or bamboo skewers if you’ve got ’em. Reinforce the neck and ears by sinking a piece of skewer or several toothpicks into strategic areas. You must sink them, otherwise they’ll just float on the surface of the cake as it rises.

Put on the top of the mold. Tie the mold together tightly with kitchen twine.

Bake at 350F for one hour. You heard me. One hour. Don’t skimp. The exterior of the cake will be a little dry, and the delicate areas will end up crispy. But the point of a lamb cake is the presentation, and the cake will remain tasty enough to eat even if it is a trifle overbaked.

Let the cake cool in the mold on a rack until it’s cool enough to handle, then cut the twine and turn the cake out of the mold. Lay it on it’s back on the cooling rack and let it cool completely before standing it up.

To frost, use a whole recipe of the cream cheese frosting, even though you only made a half recipe of cake. Glue the cake upright to the platter with a foundation of frosting. Frost the whole cake, and sprinkle/press gently with about a half cup of flaked coconut. For the eyes and nose, dip the end of a skewer into some gel icing color and use this to gently tint the icing to give the lamb eyes and nose.

Not pictured, you can place some edible greenery around the base of the lamb to give the impression of grass. I purchased some mint for this purpose, but it withered too quickly. Rosemary worked better, and gives a better impression of grass, but I forgot to take a picture.

My flag is made from a couple of bamboo skewers. I cut one down for the cross bar, and notched both skewers so they fit together in the middle, then tied them with red embroidery floss. The flag is made of plain white sketch paper, drawn with marker, and pasted to the skewer.

*  Amazon Associate Link


Filed under Recipe

Basic Cream Cheese Frosting

This is one of those basic repertoire recipes that is almost embarrassing to post. But, if you’re curious how I make it, this is how.

Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 1 8oz. brick cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 16 oz. powdered sugar.
  • Optional:  1 cup toasted chopped pecans

Beat the cream cheese and butter together until mixed and light and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla. Beat in the powdered sugar.  Mix in the nuts, if desired.

Frost your cake.

Shamelessly lick the bowl.


Filed under Recipe