Calabrian Easter bread
At Easter time, in my town of Verbicaro everybody baked a sweet bread that we called buccellati, also called cuzzupe, cuculi or cudduraci in other parts of Calabria. Thesesymbolic breads are decorated with whole eggs still in the shell. The eggs are nestled into the surface of the dough, held in place with criss-crossed strips of dough, representing the crucifix, and baked along with the bread. These decorative breads, symbols of Christ’s resurrection, are given to children, with boys receiving a braided loaf and girls a loaf in the shape of a doll.
My mom used to bake these breads every year when we lived in Calabria and I always looked forward to my “pupa" ("doll") at Easter time. For some reason she didn’t continue this tradition after we moved to California--I guess I was too old for a doll --and not having a written recipe she had forgotten the amounts of each ingredient. So this past week we started talking about this lost tradition and it fired me up to bake these breads for my kids. She made a call to a relative in San Francisco that still makes the buccellati every year and I quickly had a recipe that I slightly modified, adding my favorite flavorings: vanilla and grated lemon peel. The recipe below will make three large breads or two of each of the three shapes in the pictures
Dough after kneading, ready for first rise:
Shaping the dough into ropes to form the braided bread:
Breads in three shapes ready for second rise:
Breads ready for baking; you can sprinkle the breads with nonpareils if you like:
Buccellato di Pasqua
1 cube butter (4 ounces)
2 cups milk
2 packages Rapid Rise yeast
3 whole eggs and 3 egg yolks
2 cups sugar
one teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons anisette liqueur or brandy
One teaspoon vanilla
grated zest of one lemon
8 cups flour or more if needed
Whole Eggs in the shell, to bake in the bread
1 egg, beaten with 1 teaspoon of sugar (for egg wash)
Nonpareils to decorate (optional)
Melt the butter with the milk. Add the yeast in the warm milk (make sure it is not hot) and stir to dissolve the yeast.
In a large bowl, mix the whole eggs and egg yolks with the sugar, salt, olive oil, anisette, vanilla and lemon peel. Add the warm milk with butter and yeast to the egg mixture. Slowly add the flour and stir with a fork to incorporate all the flour. 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.
With the dough placed in the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let it rise until doubled in size, about one hour.
Shape the dough into ropes and braid into the various shapes. Nestle the whole eggs in their shells in the braids and cover with thin ropes of dough. Let the dough rise again for another hour.
After the second rise, brush the dough with the egg wash. Decorate with nonpareils if you desired.
Bake at 350 F for 25 to 30 minutes.