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Italian Easter Bread (Pinza)

 

Having never made something before has never stopped me from 1) making it, and 2) serving it to a large gathering of people.  My thought process is the worst thing that can happen is it’s inedible and I throw it away.  Since that really hasn’t happened in 30 or so years, I don’t worry about it.

And on that note, I started making Lidia’s Easter Bread.  Her Pinza.

I love Lidia’s cooking.  For the most part it is simple mixing of simple flavors to get anything-but-simple results. But every once in awhile she throws a curve-ball.  And the Pinza is one…

Reading through the recipe, I realize that this is going to be a process.  I didn’t have the probably 12 hour stretch the bread needs to make, so I figured I’d break it up over a couple of days.  It worked, more or less (actually, the flavor of the bread came out fantastic!) but I do think that I 1) needed more yeast, and 2) really should have let it rise more.

The recipe calls for 4 ea 3/5 oz cakes of fresh yeast or 4 ea 1 oz packages of dry yeast.  Basic dry yeast comes in 1/4 oz packages and I haven’t used fresh yeast in 45 years – since I worked at The Donut Center.  Having done a considerable amount of baking in my time, I thought that even using 4 packages of yeast for three loaves of bread was a lot.  I figured the 1 oz was a typo.  But I put in 4 packages, nonetheless.

So…  Friday after work I started the bread.  It doesn’t take much work, but there is a lot of wait time.  At $3.50 a gallon for heating oil, our house is not exactly a baker’s paradise.  It easily took 2 1/2 hours for the first risings.  I completed the next step – the 5 cups of flour, and then placed it in the fridge.  (It was late and I didn’t want to leave it out overnight.  I probably should have…)

When I got home from work on Saturday, I took it out and started where I had left off.  Again, not the warmest place in town.  It took forever just to reach room temperature.  It sat out while we all colored eggs.

I finally got it formed into the three balls and late Saturday night and it went back into the fridge.  Early Sunday morning, it was back out, again.

I made the traditional cuts along the top and set it out to warm and rise.  I turned on the heat, I turned on the oven.  I set them in the sun. S-L-O-W-L-Y they were rising.  Very slowly.  They had not completely doubled in size when I had to get them in the oven.  We had to be at Steve and Marie’s at 2.  It was 12:30pm.  The bread had been out for almost 6 hours.

They came out delicious!  Having never made them before, I still don’t know exactly how they should have turned out, but I do think they should have been a bit lighter.  They were absolutely wonderful the way they were, but… I don’t think they were quite right.  Folks raved about it and everyone was going back for more so I know it wasn’t folks just taking a ‘polite’ piece – they really did like it!

I’m going to make it again one of these days – when I have the time to complete them start-to-finish in one day.

I’ll let ya know how they come out!

Easter Bread

Lidia Matticchio Bastianich

  • 1 1/2 cups golden raisins
  • 1/2 cup dark rum
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup granulated sugar plus 2 tablespoons
  • Four 3/5-ounce cakes fresh yeast, crumbled (1/3 cup), or four 1-ounce packages instant dry yeast
  • 9 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, or as needed, sifted
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 6 large eggs yolks, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the bowl of dough
  • 1/2 cup Vin Santo, Verduzzo, or other sweet white wine
  • Grated zest (yellow part only, without the underlying white pith) of 2 large lemons
  • Grated zest (orange part only, without the white pith) of 1 orange
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons water

Combine the raisins with the rum in a small bowl and toss to mix. Let soak, tossing occasionally, while preparing the bread.

In a medium-size saucepan, heat the milk over medium heat to lukewarm, about 100°F.

Pour the warmed milk into a large bowl and add 1/2 cup of the sugar and the yeast. Stir until they are dissolved. Add 1 cup of the flour and stir until the mixture is smooth.

Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and let it rise in a warm, draft-free place (such as on top of the refrigerator or in a gas oven with the pilot light on) until frothy. (If it doesn’t get frothy, that means the yeast is no longer active and you will have to start again with fresh yeast.)

Stir the dough with a fork to deflate it, then let it rise and froth two more times, stirring it down thoroughly and covering it again after each time. Depending on the environment, these three risings can take from 20 minutes to 45 minutes each.

In the bowl of a heavy-duty electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip 2 of the whole eggs, 2 of the yolks, and the remaining 1/2 cup sugar together at medium speed until foamy and pale yellow.

Add 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) of the butter, the wine, zests, salt, and vanilla. Beat until only small pieces of butter remain. Scrape the yeast mixture into the mixer bowl and beat until blended.  Change to the dough hook attachment of the mixer and reduce the speed to low.

Add 5 cups of the remaining flour, 1 cup at a time, beating until the mixture forms a sticky dough. Wait for each cup of flour to be incorporated before adding the next and stop the machine occasionally to scrape any unmixed ingredients from the sides and bottom of the bowl into the dough. The dough will be quite sticky; form it into a rough ball, clean the sides of the bowl, and cover the bowl with a kitchen towel. Let the dough rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in bulk, 1 to 2 hours.

Return the bowl of dough to the mixer fitted with the dough hook.

Mix the dough at medium-low speed until deflated. Add the remaining 4 egg yolks and 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter and beat until incorporated. Gradually add enough of the remaining flour — about 2 cups — to form a firm but slightly sticky dough, stopping the mixer occasionally to scrape any unmixed ingredients from the bottom of the bowl into the dough. Add the raisins and rum and mix until incorporated. Dough will be quite wet and sticky at this point.

Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface.

Knead the dough, adding as much of the remaining 1 cup flour as necessary to prevent the dough from sticking to your hands and to the table, until the dough is smooth, soft, and only very slightly sticky if left to rest a minute.

Place the dough in a large lightly buttered bowl and turn the dough to butter all sides of it.

Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and set the dough to rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in bulk, 1/2 to 2 hours, depending on the environment.

Turn the risen dough out onto the floured work surface and knead until deflated.

Cut the dough into three equal pieces and knead each into a ball, gathering and pinching the seam side of the dough together to form as smooth a ball as possible. (These formed loaves can be tightly wrapped in plastic wrap and refrigerated overnight.  Allow extra time for refrigerated loaves to rise in the following step.)

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Place two loaves on one of the baking sheets, leaving as much space between them and the edges of the pan as possible. Place the third loaf in the center of the other baking sheet. With a pair of kitchen scissors, make three 1 1/2-inch-deep, 3-inch long intersecting cuts that meet at the center to form a six-pointed star pattern on the rounded top of each loaf. The cuts should be quite deep — at least halfway through the loaf — to allow the dough to rise up from the center and form the traditional crests on the loaf.

Cover the loaves lightly with kitchen towels and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in bulk, 1 to 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 325°F.

Bake the bread for 35 minutes. Whisk the remaining whole egg with the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and the water until very smooth and the sugar is dissolved. Brush the pinze with this egg mixture, return them to the oven, and continue baking until very deep golden brown and a knife inserted into the center of the loaves comes out clean, about another 20 minutes.

Cool the pinze completely on a wire rack before slicing.

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