Spring is one of my favorite times of year. Everything becomes green again, flowers bloom and it is a nice little reminder that our semester is almost over and summer is right around the corner. But my favorite part of spring has to be Easter.
When I was a kid, Easter was a big deal. I grew up in a large, Catholic Italian family and Easter was considered to be the most important holiday.
Every Easter (and every other holiday for that matter), we would somehow fit our entire family into one house – all the cousins, uncles, aunts, my grandmother and even family friends. I will never forget waking up to my grandmother’s warm Easter bread, putting on my Sunday best and praying that church would go by quickly so we could run home and start the Easter egg scavenger hunt. Looking back on childhood memories is difficult sometimes, when you realize things weren’t as big as you once thought.
Those baskets full of goodies were not as big as I once imagined, and the blow-up Easter bunnies we used to play with now only reach my hip. We should put those revelations aside though and keep that child’s view to find the best way to recreate our memories. For me it was through family traditions, which always started around the kitchen table. I would like to share with you some fun and simple recipes that will brighten up everyone’s Easter and maybe even help you start your own traditions.
Easter Egg Sugar Cookies
You can’t go wrong with a simple sugar cookie. These are so fun and easy to make and everyone will love this little Easter touch.
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, room temperature
1 ½ cups sugar
3 large eggs
5 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
4 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 350ºF.
Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
Beat in eggs, one at a time, until well combined. Beat in vanilla.
Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a separate bowl.
Slowly beat into butter mixture, just until combined. Cover and refrigerate for one hour.
Scoop 1/4-cup amounts of cookie dough, roll each into a ball and flatten slightly.
Place on parchment-line baking sheets 2-3 inches apart.
Bake for 10-12 minutes or just until set; do not brown.
Let cool on baking sheet for 3 minutes before removing to cooling racks or paper towel to cool completely.
5 cups icing sugar (confectioners sugar), sifted
1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
1-tablespoon vanilla extract
7 tablespoons milk
Mix together all ingredients until smooth.
1 cup shredded coconut
Chocolate covered almond eggs, chocolate eggs or jellybeans
Place 1/4-cup coconut into four zip lock bags.
In a small bowl add 1/4-teaspoon water and desired food coloring, swirl to combine.
Pour into one of the bags, seal and shake until the coconut is evenly colored.
Rinse the bowl and repeat with remaining colors. (To make the purple, use 3 drops red and 2 drops blue of liquid color.)
Top each cookie with frosting, a good sprinkling of coconut and chocolate eggs.
Makes approximately: 2 dozen cookies
Cupcakes & Cream Cheese Frosting
The other day, I had to make a desert for an early Easter brunch event. I love to experiment in the kitchen but sometimes you just have to stick to what you love and know will be a hit. And let me tell you, these little babies lasted a good five minutes on the table. They were gone before brunch was even served! So if that doesn’t get you to try these out, I don’t know what else will.
2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2-teaspoon ground nutmeg
1-teaspoon ground ginger
2 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
4 large eggs, room temperature
3 cups grated carrots grated
(I used 2 cups of carrots and one cup of grated apples, mmm mmmm)
Preheat oven to 350ºF, and line two cupcake tins with paper liners.
In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger, and whisk together.
In a large bowl, whisk together the oil and sugar until combined.
Add the eggs one at a time, whisking to incorporated between each addition.
Fold in the carrots, add the dry ingredients to the wet, and using a wooden spoon, gently mix just until combined, and all dry ingredients are wet.
Spoon into lined muffin tins, until each cup is about 3/4 the way full.
Bake for 16-20 minutes on the middle rack, until a toothpick entered into the center of the cakes comes out clean.
Let cool in pans for a few minutes, then remove from tins and let cool completely on a baking rack before frosting.
16 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1-teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
Pinch of salt
In a stand mixer, combine the cream cheese and butter, and beat on medium high speed until smooth.
Add the vanilla and salt and mix until incorporated.
Gradually add the sugar, and beat until light and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes.
Pipe or spread onto cupcakes as desired.
Marzipan sugar dough
Add food coloring to Marzipan. Mold into mini carrots and place on top of cupcakes.
Italian Easter Bread
Now here is what I will always remember when I think back to Easter with my family, warm, sweet Easter bread. As an Italian tradition you can prepare this bread in a few ways. In some cases Easter bread is braided and baked with whole colored eggs nestled in the crevices. My grandmother made it as a loaf with sprinkles on top and through the years I have found myself preparing it somewhere in between the two but the most important part is the ingredients within the bread that makes it different from other sweet breads. With a touch of anise and an essence of orange it is hard to compare it with anything else. This bread is the perfect start to your Easter brunch, and like I said before, it’s a great way to start a tradition.
For the Bread Dough:
8 cups all-purpose flour
1½ cups whole milk
½ cup granulated sugar
2 oranges, zested & juiced
4½ teaspoons (2 envelopes) active dry yeast
1 cup margarine, melted
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon anise oil
For the Glaze:
2 cups powdered sugar
¼ cup whole milk
Sprinkles, if desired
Place the flour in a large mixing bowl; set aside.
Heat the milk in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring occasionally, until it is warm to the touch, but not hot. If you have an instant-read thermometer, the temperature of the milk should be
between 110 and 115 degrees F.
While the heat is warming, place the sugar in a small bowl and add the orange zest. With your fingertips, rub the zest into the sugar until it is completely incorporated and the sugar is moistened.
Once the milk reaches the correct temperature, stir in the sugar and zest mixture, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
Add the yeast, stir, and let sit for 10 minutes.
Add the milk and yeast mixture to the flour and begin to mix it into the dough (it will be shaggy at this point).
Next, add the melted margarine and continue to mix.
Add the orange juice to the dough and mix to combine.
In a small bowl, use a fork to lightly beat together the eggs, salt,
and anise oil.
Add to the dough and continue mixing.
At this point, you may need to add more flour to the dough; depending on how much juice you get out of your oranges. (I added quite a bit
more to get the dough to come together.)
Once you have a sticky ball of dough formed, turn it out onto a floured surface and knead for about 5 minutes, or until the dough is soft and elastic. It will remain slightly tacky.
Place the dough in an oiled bowl, turning to coat, and cover the bowl loosely with plastic wrap. Place in a draft-free area and allow to rise until doubled in volume, about 1 hour. Meanwhile, line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
Turn the dough out onto a clean surface and divide in two.
Divide each half into two (you will have four pieces of dough).
We will work with one pair, and then the other.
Roll two pieces of dough into 24-inch long ropes.
Loosely twist the ropes together and transfer the braided rope to one of the prepared baking sheets and bring the ends together to form a ring, twisting and pinching the ends together to seal.
Repeat with the remaining two pieces of dough so that you have two circular, braided loaves.
Brush the tops of each with melted butter, loosely cover with plastic wrap, and let rise until nearly doubled in size, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.
While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Bake one at a time (unless you have the oven capacity to correctly bake both at the same time) until golden brown on top, 30 to 40 minutes.
Remove from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.
Once the breads are cooled to room temperature, you can glaze them (if
Whisk together the powdered sugar and the milk, adding more if necessary to reach the desired consistency.
Use a pastry brush to brush the glaze onto the top and sides of the bread, and decorate
The bread is best served at room temperature. If you have leftovers, wrap well in plastic wrap and store at roomtemperature for up to 3 days.