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Holiday Breads
Pane di Pasqua, Molisan Easter bread
Pane di Pasqua (Easter Bread from Molise, with lard and lemon zest, Version I)
Originated from: Casacalenda, Molise, Italy
Occasion: Easter
Contributed by: Mary Melfi (her mother's recipe)

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For dough

1 kilo flour ["Five Roses Flour," if available]

1 1/2 packets [3 3/4 teaspoons or 14 g] of Fleischmann's traditional dry yeast, proofed in 1 cup of lukewarm water

10 large eggs

1/4 pound lard, melted (e.g., Tenderflake or Crisco)

16 oz [2 cups] sugar

Finely grated zest of 1 lemon

1 large potato, boiled, mashed or sieved

For greasing pans
o Vegetable oil for greasing large plastic container
o Tenderflake or Crisco for greasing cake pans

Equipment needed
o Large plastic container to store the uncooked dough in
o Blankets or towels to wrap the plastic container in
o 3 tall cake pans -- approximately 9 inches wide and 6 inches high (The pans should have the appearance of "angel cake" pans, but without the tube in the center.) P.S. Light-colored cheap aluminum cake pans work better than the more expensive thick non-stick, dark-colored ones. The ideal cooking pan is the 1960s-style "porcelain" pan that is black with white spots (It is generally used for roasting meats). While this style of pan is still sold at shops (including Wal-Mart) the desired small round shape [9 inches wide, 6 inches high] is almost impossible to come by.


o Boil potato. Remove skin. Mash or sieve.

o Proof yeast in 1 cup lukewarm water. Set aside for about 15 minutes.

o Beat eggs. Set aside.

o In a large bowl, mix proofed yeast and mashed potatoes. Mix well.

o Added beaten eggs to the mixture.

o Add melted lard (Tenderflake or Crisco).

o Add sugar. Mix well.

o Add a cup of flour and mix well.

o Add finely grated zest of 1 lemon.

o Add another cup of flour and mix well.

o Slowly add more four until the rest of the kilo of flour is used up (The dough should have the appearance of a soft and malleable dough). If the dough is too soft add a touch more flour. If the dough is too hard, add another egg.

o After one has a soft and malleable dough, knead it for 30 minutes.... If one uses the traditional Molisan method one kneads the dough by hand in a big bowl rather than on the standard lightly floured wooden board (P.S. One can grease the bottom of the container with a touch of oil so the dough doesn't stick; one can also moisten the palms of one's hands with a beaten egg). However, the traditional method requires a great deal of physical effort and an even greater amount of patience. The modern method simply requires a Kitchen Aid and dough hook attachments.

o After the dough has been kneaded for about 30 minutes, shape the dough into a ball and place it in a very large plastic container which has been greased with vegetable oil. Cover the container with plastic wrap. Place the plastic container in a very large pan that has a lid.

o Wrap the container with a blanket or towel and let the dough rest at room temperature. The temperature of the room should be warm, but not too warm (about 78 F degrees); there should be no drafts coming into the room (A conventional oven is a good place to place the container in, but it should obviously NOT be turned on).

o Let the dough rest over-night -- 8 to 10 hours.

o In the morning the dough should have doubled in size. If it has not doubled in size, wait until it does. Some cooks wait anywhere from 14 to 20 hours for this to happen. [P.S. If the dough doesn't increase in volume, then it will not cook well, and it will not be good to eat!]

o Grease 3 cake pans that the Eater Bread will later be cooked in. Use Tenderflake or Crisco (lard) to grease the cake pans (The lard used for greasing is still in solid form.).

o Divide the rested dough into 3 parts; knead each of the three parts two or three minutes, then re-shape each part into a ball and place in the greased pans.

o Cover the pans with plastic wrap. Place the pans in containers that have lids. Wrap blankets or towels round the containers and let the dough rest in a room that is about 78 F degrees and has no drafts [or place the containers wrapped in a blanket in a conventional oven that is NOT turned on]. Let the dough rest for another four to six hours (or as long as it takes for the dough to double in size yet again).

o After the second rise, remove any coverings from the baking pans.

o Pre-heat oven to 325 F degrees.

o Place the pans in the oven and cook at 325 F degree oven for about 40 minutes, or until the crust is a dark golden brown. [P.S. To avoid the top of the Easter bread from burning, one can cover the pans with aluminum foil after the dough has been in the oven for about 5 minutes].

o Cool.

o Remove from pan.

o Serve at room temperature.

N.B. Easter bread, after it has been cut, dries very quickly. Left-over Easter bread should be placed in a plastic bag and kept in the fridge, or better yet, it should be frozen until needed.


This is a recipe I myself was never able to duplicate. The photo attached is of my mother's Easter bread. It's the best Easter bread on the planet. This may be because she has that special magic touch that few have in the kitchen (Not that she would ever admit it!), or simply because she uses less lard than it is called for, making the cake less greasy, and oddly enough, lighter in texture. In any case, because my mother only bakes this cake at Easter, it makes the religious holiday worth waiting for. Of all the Molisan sweets, this style of "pane di Pasqua" is possibly the most traditional and best-loved from this region (Well, at least it is to those who immigrated from Molise to North America in the late 1950s).... Photo: Mary Melfi.

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