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      The Easter Cakes of Italy

      Mar. 30, 2013

      Easter in Italy is traditionally celebrated with a great variety of dishes and sweets that vary from region to region. Writing more specifically about cakes and cookies, let’s have a virtual tour of traditional cakes in Italy from south to north.

      In Sicily we find la cassata siciliana, made with almond paste and ricotta cheese. In the past it was prepared by Sicilian nuns, but it is available now pretty much everywhere in Italy. It is usually given on Easter Day to the man of the house as a present.

      Moving up, we stop in Naples, famous for its pastiera, made with boiled wheat, ricotta cheese, eggs, spices and candied fruits. Legend says that la pastiera was created by nature. The wives of fishermen had gone to the beach and left in a basket offerings to the sea, asking for the safe return of their men. The following day when they went back to the beach where they had left the basket, they discovered that the waves had mixed the ingredients thus creating what came to be known as la pastiera.

      The centre of Italy celebrates Easter with la pizza di Pasqua that can be either savoury or sweet. The procedure to make la pizza di Pasqua is similar to the recipe to make panettone, where the ingredients are added a few at the time.

      In Abruzzo we find la pupa and il cavallo di Pasqua. The tradition of these two cakes goes back to the engagement ceremonies of olden times: the family of the groom to be would give the horse-shaped cake to the family of the bride to be who in turn would give the doll-shaped cake to the family of the groom to be. The exchange of these cakes symbolized the families’ consent to the union of their children. From a religious point of view the breaking and sharing of these sweets symbolize the breaking of the bread by Jesus during his last supper. Both are baked with an egg nestled in the dough. Abruzzo is also home to il fiadone, similar to a cheesecake.

      The cake that is sold in great quantity and that everyone associates with Easter, no matter where in Italy, is la colomba pasquale, originally from the city of Verona. The version of la colomba that we know today was designed around 1900 in order to use the same ingredients and the same machines that were used to produce il panettone natalizio.

      In Veneto people also eat la fugassa, made with flour, sugar, yeast and butter. The top is decorated with almonds and white sugar sprinkles. In the old days the baker used to give this cake as a present to his/her customers. In the area around Vicenza a typical homemade cake is la bussolà (bucellato), a round think bunt cake. Its old origins and its popularity are attested to by a fresco by Giovanni Antonio Fasolo found in Villa Caldogno dating back to the middle of the 1500s.

      Italians emigrated abroad are often the ones that cling to traditions the most. Their cooking and baking skills thrive, especially during important celebrations such as Easter. If more known cakes such as la colomba are now available in many stores outside of Italy and can be easily found even in remote and less known places, the rich Italian traditions of home baking is still preserved in many houses of emigrants where, during Easter, inviting and at times mysterious aromas make for the perfect holiday ambience.

      Why not try a new recipe this year?

      Easter Bread


      1 cube of butter (9 tbsp)
      2 cups of milk
      2 packages (total of 16 grams) of Quick Rise Yeast
      3 whole eggs
      3 egg yolks
      2 cups of white sugar
      1 tsp salt
      2 tbsp olive oil
      2 tbsp anisette liquor or brandy
      1 tsp vanilla
      Grated zest of 1 lemon
      8 cups of flour (more if needed)
      Whole eggs in shell to bake in the bread.
      1 egg, beaten with 1 teaspoon of white sugar, for egg wash

      Melt the butter with the milk. Add the yeast in the warm (not hot) milk and stir well to dissolve the yeast.

      In a large bowl, mix the whole eggs and the egg yolks with the sugar, salt, olive oil, anisette (or brandy), vanilla and lemon peel. Add the warm milk with butter and yeast to the egg mixture. Slowly incorporate the flour stirring well with a fork. Mix with your hands and add more flour if needed until the dough is no longer sticky. Knead it until you have a smooth dough.

      Put the dough in a bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. Let it rise for about an hour. At this point the size of the dough should have doubled.

      Shape the dough into ropes and proceed to braid into different shapes as shown in the picture.  Place the whole eggs in shell in the braids and cover them with ropes of dough (you can make a cross that covers the eggs). Let the dough rise for about another hour.

      Brush the dough with the egg wash. You can decorate with sprinkles, if you wish.

      Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 25 to 30 minutes.

      Buona Pasqua!

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