Italian Anise Easter Bread
Makes three 9-by-5-inch or freestanding braided loaves
Here is a special family recipe from my friend Lisa Warren. The austere bread is infused with the strongly scented oil of anise, a plant also known for its soothing digestive qualities. Lisa's recipe is triple this one; she uses a full five pounds of flour to make extra braids for gift giving. Note that the dough rises slowly at room temperature before a final rise and shaping. The crust of this bread is dark and glossy and sprinkled with fennel seeds. You may add a cup or two of golden raisins to the dough, if you wish. This bread freezes well.
1 cup milk
1 cup sugar
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
Pinch of sugar
1/4 cup warm water (105 degrees to 115 degrees F.)
6 to 6-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
4 large eggs
2 tablespoons pure anise extract
1 egg, beaten, for glaze
1 tablespoon aniseed or fennel seeds, for sprinkling
1. In a medium saucepan or microwave-proof bowl, combine the milk, the 1 cup sugar, and butter. Heat, stirring occasionally, until the butter is melted. Let the mixture cool until warm, 105 degrees to 115 degrees F. Pour the warm water in a small bowl. Sprinkle the yeast and the pinch of sugar over the surface of the water. Stir to dissolve and let stand at room temperature until foamy, about 10 minutes.
2. In a large bowl using a whisk or in the work bowl of a heavy-duty electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine 3 cups of the flour, salt, and baking powder. Make a well in the center and break the 4 eggs into the well. Gradually mix a few tablespoons of the flour into the eggs, add the anise extract and yeast and milk mixtures, and beat until soft, smooth, and sticky, about 2 minutes. Add the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until a soft dough that just clears the sides of the bowl is formed. Switch to a wooden spoon when necessary if making by band.
3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead until smooth and elastic, 4 to 5 minutes, dusting with flour only 1 tablespoon at a time as needed to prevent sticking. It is important that this dough remain very soft and springy.
If kneading by machine, switch from the paddle to the dough hook and knead for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and springy and springs back when pressed. If desired, transfer the dough to a floured surface and knead briefly by hand.
4. Place the dough in a greased deep container. Turn once to coat the top and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let rise at cool room temperature until doubled in bulk, about 12 hours or as long as overnight.
5. Gently deflate the dough and let rise again at room temperature until doubled in bulk, 1 to 1-1/2 hours. Gently deflate the dough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Grease the loaf pans or parchment-line a baking sheet.
Divide the dough into 9 equal portions. Roll each portion into a rope 12 inches long. Place 3 ropes parallel to each other. Begin braiding, starting in the center rather than at the ends for a more even shape. Take one of the outside ropes and fold it over the center rope, then repeat the movement from the opposite side. Continue by alternating the outside ropes over the center ropes. When completed, turn the dough around and repeat the procedure. Pinch the ends together and tuck them under. Repeat to make 2 more braids. Place each braid into a greased 9 -by-5-inch loaf pan, or on the baking sheet. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until doubled in bulk or I inch above the rims of the pans, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
6. Twenty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Brush the tops with the egg glaze, taking care not to let it drip down the sides of the pan. Sprinkle with the fennel seeds. Place the pans or baking sheet on a rack in the center of the oven and bake 35 to 40 minutes, or until deep golden brown, and the loaves sound hollow when tapped with your finger. Transfer to a cooling rack. Cool completely.
The Bread Bible
By Beth Hensperger
528 pages, 30 illustrations
Information provided by the publisher.
The Bread Bible
Visit the main Easter Recipes page.
This page created March 1999