Happy Easter!

Easter is a wonderful time of year as spring is arriving and hopefully snow is disappearing (although I know not everywhere) friends and family get togethers and down time is a wonderful weekend for many. It is also a time to reflect on those who are not here or those you miss as they are far. I tend to remember those family and friends by cooking. I know, not a surprise really but whether it is a recipe that I enjoyed with them or a recipe I was given it truly is something that I cherish and hope my family does as well. If not now, as they get older. The Italian culture embraces #Easter as do many cultures and the special family recipes that are included during this time of year are a dedication to those who continue them.
My grandmother #nonna passed away in 2016 and there was a huge loss in our lives and Easter was a time that her giving nature shined (it shined all year long, but this was different). She would make pizza and call all the kids to come pick some up many times a year. But at Easter she made her Easter bread (a lot of it!) and the calls for pick up started. I loved helping her knead and her carefully showing me how to braid or roll and brush the egg wash on. After she passed away I knew I had to continue with this tradition to keep her and her bread going strong. I included the recipe in my cookbook and it continues to be one that many people make and bring on as a new tradition to share with their friends and families. It puts a smile on my face every time I see another email or photo about it. I know she is smiling and happy to know that she lives on this way in many people's lives. Thank you Nanna Ortenzia, buona #pasqua, ti amo and I miss you!


Egg and Raisin Bread

During Easter I think is when we eat the most delicious breads that are braided, shaped and twisted into beautiful gifts to share with family. I remember standing right beside my grandmother to get every measure for this recipe because I love it so much. I drove her nuts that day, but it was worth it to be able to share this delicious recipe.
You can double this recipe and make some for the freezer. 
This bread freezes beautifully and is a great gift for family and friends. I enjoy using this bread to serve with coffee but also toasted with butter. It also makes a great French toast for brunch!

1 cup (250 mL) sugar, divided
1/2 cup (125 mL) hot water
1 Tbsp (15 mL) active dry yeast
1 cup (250 mL) + 1 Tbsp (15 mL) milk
4 eggs, divided
1/2 cup (125 mL) butter, melted
1 Tbsp (15 mL) orange zest
1/4 tsp (1 mL) anise extract (optional)
5 cups (1.25 L) all-purpose flour (approx.)
1 tsp (5 mL) salt
1/2 cup (125 mL) golden raisins, soaked
  
Egg Wash:
1 egg
1 Tbsp (15 mL)

In bowl, dissolve 2 tsp (10 mL) of the sugar into water. Sprinkle with yeast and let stand for 10 minutes or until frothy. Whisk in milk.
In another bowl, whisk together 3 eggs and remaining sugar, butter, orange zest and anise extract, if using. Whisk into milk mixture. 
In a large bowl, stir together flour and salt. Pour yeast mixture over flour mixture stirring to make soft slightly sticky dough. Stir in raisins. Scrape dough onto floured work surface and knead to make soft smooth dough, adding more flour if dough is sticky. Place dough in oiled bowl. Cover and let rise in warm place for about 1 hour or until doubled in size. Punch down dough and divide into 4 or 6 balls. Roll out each ball of dough as desired and place on baking sheets or in baking pans and let rise for about 1 hour or until doubled in volume. 
Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C).
Brush loaves with egg wash and bake in oven for about 30 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool slightly before removing from pan to cool completely.

Egg Wash:
To make egg wash mix egg with milk and beat well.

Makes 4 to 6 loaves.
Tip: To soak the raisins, simply pour boiling water over raisins to cover and let stand until ready to use. Drain well before using.

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