Pane di Pasqua {Italian Easter Bread}

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Much like I do every year around Easter, I’ve spent the last few weeks expecting and even somewhat planning to make either challah or hot cross buns. This has always been kinda funny to me, as when it comes to the traditional religious affiliations with both breads, they’re kinda opposed. but whatever. I wanted to try and make a unique variant to the originals, as I’ve already posted a regular Challah recipe on the blog in past years, as well as a Vanilla Bean Challah. Additionally, last year, my Easter bread were these Hot Cross Buns.

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I was drawing closer and closer to this weekend and still hadn’t decided on a particular recipe to try. My previous Challahs have only been three-braided ones, so I thought about maybe challenging myself by making a variation that had 4-6 braids and was like, coated in cinnamon sugar or something and calling it “Cinnamon Toast 6 Braid Challah”.

And although I still think that sounds friggin amazing and I really just may try it in time for Passover this year, this particular week, just thinking about trying to pull that off wore me out. It was a no-go.

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After that idea was out, I considered doing a variation of Hot Cross Buns that were a vanilla overload; a vanilla scented dough, a thin vanilla glaze and a even a vanilla flavored ‘cross’. But that ended up just feeling like meh too. I wanted to do something REALLY unique this year. And pretty. So I started researching other Easter breads to experiment with and lo and behold, I came across something that caught my eye.

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I first heard of Pane di Pasqua through Allrecipes.com, although the variation I saw there was just a regular braid with drizzled icing and sprinkles on top. I still bookmarked it because I thought it looked pretty and it got great feedback. Then, I read a random article in The New York Times about a famous Italian style bakery that makes the stuff each year that really got my attention. Their variation featured individual loaves of bread that they shaped around dyed Easter eggs.

It was just BEAUTIFUL.

I saw it and I immediately thought,”I gotta try that.”

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So what I ended up doing was taking the recipe I bookmarked from Allrecipes.com and adapting it in the similar style of what I had seen the old Italian bakery guy pull off. The best part is, it really wasn’t as complicated as I thought it would be.  The most time consuming part of the whole thing for me was dyeing my eggs ahead of time, and then shaping the loaves themselves. However, as you guys can see, I made loaves that were filled with the Easter eggs as well as loaves that I decided to leave empty and just sprinkle with the nonpareils. This was partly because after egg number six, I just got tired of dunking them in and out of the pink/yellow dye. It was also partly because I had read accounts from other bakers who had attempted this recipe only to have the dye on their eggs slough off and stain the bread and got spooked. I wasn’t sure of whether or not the dye would stay on my eggs once they were in the oven and so, just to be on the safe side I did it half and half.

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Well fortunately, I had minimal staining from my egg dye and the overall results if I may say so myself were just PHENOMENAL. These loaves baked up light, fluffy and golden brown with no trouble whatsoever.

And can we talk about the smell that filled my apartment while these were in the oven? It was like being IN an Italian bakery. Which outside of Bath and Body Works candles is pretty much the best aroma that could fill your pad, bar none.

I’m sure you guys notice how I keep rambling on and on just to have an excuse to keep throwing pictures of this bread at you. Sorry. I can’t help myself. I feel like the guy who has the prettiest date at the prom and just wants to show her off to everyone.  Come on, doesn’t just looking at it make you want to try this recipe yourself? OR, at least  just make you crave ALLLLL the carbs?

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There’s still time to try this recipe before Sunday and I HIGHLY recommend that you do. This is a great tack-on project for after you  finish dyeing Easter eggs with the kids and want an especially fun and gorgeous way to serve them up for dinner.

Happy Easter everyone! Also, Happy Fiesta Friday #112, and a big thanks to Natalie @ Kitchen, Uncorked and Hilda @ Along The Grapevine for being our co-hosts this week.

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Pane di Pasqua{Italian Easter Bread}


Recipe Adapted from Allrecipes.com

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Ingredients

Directions

In a large bowl, combine 1 cup flour, sugar, salt and yeast; stir well. Combine milk and butter in a small saucepan; heat until milk is warm and butter is softened but not melted.

Gradually add the milk and butter to the flour mixture; stirring constantly. Add two eggs and 1/2 cup flour; beat well. Add the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring well after each addition. (This is where you may need the extra flour; my dough was too wet and I added just enough until it pulled away from the sides of the bowl and was staying attached to the dough hook of my stand mixer. Don’t add the extra all at once; about 1/4 cup at a time until it’s the right consistency).

When the dough has pulled together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes.

Lightly oil a large bowl, place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.

Deflate the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Pinch off 12-14 small dough balls, then roll them into long, thin ropes about 13-15″ long. (This is going to take some patience. Have a small cup of water handy just in case your dough loses its moistness–it’s easier to roll out when it stays moist.Dip your fingers in the cup of water and rub a little bit of the water over the dough balls before you roll them out. Also, don’t worry about it if the ropes shrink a little bit after you roll them out; it’s not that big of a deal.)

Once you’ve rolled out two ropes at a time (don’t do them all at once) braid them together into 1 segment then pinch the ends together to form a rather close ring/wreath. If you are using dyed eggs, place your egg in the center of the egg. Try to form the ring so that at least some of the egg is sitting on dough. You don’t want the whole thing to be sitting on the sheet pan. Repeat with the other dough balls and eggs. I doubled the above recipe and got 14 rings, but your results may yield less or more than mine depending on the size of your dough balls and rings.

Place your rings on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper, cover with plastic wrap, then a clean kitchen towel dampened with warm water. Let rise for about one hour, until the rings have doubled and are puffy.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Beat the remaining undyed egg in a small bowl with the 1 tbsp. water. Using a pastry brush, brush the egg wash over the rings. Sprinkle the nonpareils  over the dough.

Bake in the oven for about 22-25 minutes, until golden brown and inner temp of bread rings is in the 190-195 degrees Fahrenheit range. Let cool completely and voila! 

Funfetti Layer Cake

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I don’t care who you are, how old you get, how your taste buds “mature”  to other things or how long it’s been since the last time you’ve had it. There is one thing I still know for sure:

Nobody ever stops loving Funfetti cake.

They just don’t.

Ever since that first taste we get of it in our childhoods at home or at birthday parties, I think there’s just this permanent appreciation we have of that distinctive taste; nothing can replace it. It’s a go-to, sure crowd pleaser for everybody. You serve a funfetti cake and chances are, EVERY ONE will want a piece.

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For me, there’s just one problem: most of the time, the only way I can get a funfetti cake is if it comes out of a box from a pre-made mix.

And if you guys know anything about me by now, it’s that I just…  I try to stay away from cake mix out of the box. I’ve got nothing personal against those that do use it, it’s just for me, once box cake is baked it starts a countdown for how good it’s still going to taste.

In my opinion that’s roughly only about a day or two. After that, there’s just something about the way the ingredients in the cake react to the exposure of the air and then the quality of the taste begins to decline.

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In addition, the canned stuff they try and call funfetti “frosting” sucks. Don’t even get me started on what happens to it after a day or two of sitting on top of a box cake in a baking dish.

Blegh. It’s pretty much inedible.

But all of that is still no reason why we shouldn’t be able to take a walk down memory lane and get that funfetti cake fix we’ve been missing from way back when.

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And yes, it CAN taste better.

I’ll show you.

At the core of every delicious funfetti cake, is a fantastic white cake recipe. You just have to have a good, moist and fluffy white cake with that intense vanilla flavor or its going to either taste way too sugary and artificial (like the box ones do in my opinion), or it won’t taste like much of… anything, really.

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After you’ve got the cake down, you’re still not out of the woods. For a grown-up funfetti cake, you also need a good, quality vanilla buttercream. Buttercream that’s delectably delicious enough to eat clear off a spoon.

Don’t you dare even THINK about using some pre-made crap that comes out of a can.

Have some respect for yourself. You’re better than that.

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My niece turned three a few weeks ago and I was lucky enough to be the one to put together her birthday cake. Her mother told me to make whatever kind of cake I wanted to, so I thought, who better  than to give her her first taste of Funfetti Cake, than her Auntie Jess?

Frankly, I’m honored to have been given the task. A child’s first Funfetti Cake is rite of passage so far as I’m concerned. This could change the trajectory of her entire life, am I right?

So naturally, there was no way I was going to let it come out of a box.

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There’s a crucial ingredient to both the cake and the buttercream that if you can get your hands on it, I REALLY do recommend you don’t do without: Vanilla bean paste.

Vanilla beans can run pretty pricey and I’ve found that vanilla bean paste is an excellent and more inexpensive way to still get all the flavor of you get from raw vanilla beans. I’ve found it at Hobby Lobby, and grocery stores that sell Wilton bakeware and cake decorating tools–and of course, you can always get it online. However, it is perfectly fine to use regular vanilla extract. The vanilla ‘punch’ just won’t be quite as strong.

I’ll tell you guys, that first bite you take of this cake will INSTANTLY take you back in time to when you were a kid. The thing is, your adult taste buds will also thank you because you’ll be able to taste the quality of the ingredients and the irreplaceable flavor of a cake that’s been made from scratch.

Let’s let everyone at this week’s Fiesta Friday #111 eat cake, shall we? Thanks to our co-hosts this week, Naina @ Spice in the City and Julianna @ Foodie On Board.

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Funfetti Layer Cake

Recipe Adapted from The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion & Southern Living Magazine

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Ingredients

For Cake:

  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick, 4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup (3 1/4 ounces) vegetable shortening
  • 1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) baking powder
  • 1 3/4 cups (12 1/4 ounces) superfine or granulated sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste (or vanilla extract if you don’t have the paste; but I DO reccommend using the paste, the taste is better)
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 5 large egg whites
  • 2 3/4 cups (11 ounces) cake flour (Like Swans Down)
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) milk
  • 1/4 cup of rainbow colored sprinkles (Jimmies are best, they’re typically the largest and won’t bleed as much as nonpareils)
  • About 1 tablespoon of all purpose flour

For Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 (32 0unces.) package powdered sugar
  • 6 to 7 table tablespoons milk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste (or vanilla extract if you don’t have the paste; but again, I DO recommend using the paste, the taste is better)
  • Rainbow colored sprinkles, optional

Directions

For Cake:

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter shortening, baking powder, sugar, salt and extracts until fluffy and light, at least 5 minutes. Add the egg whites to the butter mixture one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Stir one third of the flour into the creamed mixture, then half the milk, another third of the flour, the remaining milk and the remaining flour. Be sure to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl occasionally throughout the process.

In a small bowl, toss the sprinkles with the flour until they’re evenly coated. Shake off the excess flour from the sprinkles, then GENTLY fold them into the batter with a rubber spatula.

Pour the batter into two greased and floured or parchment-lined 8 or 9 inch round pans, three 8-inch round pans or a 9 x 13 inch pan. Bake the cakes for 23 to 26 minutes (for 8 inch pans), 25 to 30 minutes (for 9 inch pans) or about 35 minutes (for the 9 x 13 inch pans). Remove the cakes from oven and cool them on a rack.

For Frosting:

Beat butter and salt at medium speed with an electric mixer 1 to 2 minutes or until creamy; gradually add powdered sugar alternately with 6 tbsp. milk, beating at low speed until blended and smooth after each addition. Stir in vanilla bean paste. If desired, beat in remaining 1 tbsp. milk, 1 tsp. at a time until frosting reaches desired consistency.

Make sure both cakes are evenly leveled before beginning to decorate. Line the edges of a cake platter with strips of parchment paper to keep the platter clean while you assemble the cake. Place one (evenly leveled) cake layer on the platter. Spread 1 1/2 cups of the frosting evenly across the top of the cake with a spatula. Place the second cake layer on top, then spread with just enough over the top and sides to make a crumb coat. (It should be thin). Refrigerate cake for one hour until the crumb coat is firm. Finish spreading the remainder of the frosting on the cake, decorating with sprinkles if desired. Remove the parchment strips from the platter before serving.

Pan de Sal (Sweet Filippino-Style Rolls)

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I usually am not in the habit of blowing my own horn too often, but one thing I will say very definitely about myself is that I have always had an iron immune system.

By and large, I just don’t get sick. I’m not very prone to colds, flus or  the like. Being around sick people is usually no big deal to me because I’m pretty confident I’m not going to catch anything. When I was a kid this was sometimes annoying on the times when I actually “wanted” to get sick so I could miss school and stay at home and watch Bob Barker on the Price is Right or drink the “yummy” pink amoxicillin medicine that in retrospect was actually very bitter.

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Even on the off chance that I do get a cold, all that it really means is that I get a stuffy nose and a sinus infection and all I have do is pop a couple Mucinex and suffer through a sleepless night/day before the whole thing’s usually cleared up pretty quick. As an adult, this is very convenient when you know that getting sick won’t do anything but get in the way of you getting to where you need to go and doing what you need to do.

But as tough as my immune system is, sometimes it comes up against a pretty scrappy bug that proves to be just a tad bit tougher. And I get sick. Really sick.

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The sickest I can remember ever being in my LIFE was when I was in the fourth grade and caught an Enterovirus. Just the memory of it is rough. I couldn’t open my eyes without the room spinning. I was nauseous whether I was sitting, standing or lying down. My limbs felt like jello and shook uncontrollably.

Did I mention it attacked in the middle of a road trip where I was crowded into a backseat with 5 + other kids? Cause it did. Hell on Earth, guys. It really was the worst.

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Up until this past week, that was the only time I’ve ever had a virus or gotten really seriously “sick”. So, I guess my body was kinda overdue for something to finally slip through the cracks and gunk up the works. Long story short, I caught another one on Monday. It wasn’t as terrible as the enterovirus, but it was no picnic either.  What’s cray cray is, I woke up on Monday morning feeling just fine; it was just the rest of my family who had been hurling through the night. I drove my sister and niece to her doctor appointment still feeling 100%….but then when we were leaving walking towards the car in the parking lot, I felt ‘it’:

The weakness in my limbs. The queasiness in my stomach. The achey sensation creeping up my body. By the time we got home, I was ready to stop being in denial about it. I was sick with another virus. I spent the rest of the day in bed, and in the particularly awful moments, on the floor. I popped bismuth and acetaminophen pills and (Like any normal, sick Michigander) consumed nothing but saltine crackers and Vernors.

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My immune system may not have been ironclad enough for me to not catch the virus in the first place, but it’s still a tough old broad.  She got me back in order to the point where I was pretty much well enough to go back to work the next day. Today I’m pleased to announce that I’m completely bounced back from my little virus. I’d also like to emphasize for the record that I’m perfectly fine with the next one taking another sixteen years to strike my body and knock me out of  commission.  It’s a perfectly reasonable time frame, so far as I’m concerned.

Now, onto more pleasant subjects.

Pan de Sal is a recipe I’ve had on my radar for a while now. I’ve seen others make it with fantastic results and wanted to see how it would turn out for me in my kitchen. There’s good news and bad news with my own attempt. I’ll start out with the bad:

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First, I know that traditional pan de sal rolls are dusted with bread crumbs before baking. The problem I had was that I was MAKING bread; I have any spare old bread on hand I could pulse down to crumbs. All I had that I thought would maybe be a decent substitute was yellow cornmeal. So I went with that. Pan de Sal Purists, don’t throw eggs at me. Secondly, as you can see, my rolls didn’t turn out quiiiiiite as uniform in size and proportion as I would’ve like them to. When I set them on the sheet pan to rise I really didn’t expect them to proof so big and fluffy, or else I would have used two small ones for this recipe rather than one large one. By the time I noticed it’d happened, it was too late to change it so I just decided “oh well” and let it continue doing it’s thing.

Now onto the good news: this has to be is one of the better yeast breads I’ve made. Ever. I ended up actually being thrilled that the rolls proofed so high n’ fluffy: it made them SOOOOO soft and chewy and rich on the inside. And (yes) I do like the last minute addition of the cornmeal to the outside; it created a very nice balance of texture to the soft chewiness of the inside of the bread. And I’d be lying if I said the next time I make these, I won’t just stick with my little inprompto adjustment.

I’ll be taking my recovered, healthy self and my rolls to the Fiesta Friday #110 party this weekend, co-hosted by Jhuls @ The Not So Creative Cook and Apsara @ Eating Well Diary.

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Pan del Sal (Sweet Filippino-Style Rolls)

Recipe Adapted from Saveur

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Ingredients

  • 6 cups bread flour, plus more
  • 1 cup plus 1 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 12 tsp. kosher salt
  • 2 12 cups milk, heated to 115°
  • 1 tbsp. active dry yeast
  • 4 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted, plus more
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup plain bread crumbs (or yellow cornmeal, in a pinch)

Directions

Whisk flour, 1 cup sugar, and salt in a bowl. Stir 1 tbsp. sugar, 1 cup milk, and yeast in another bowl; let sit until foamy, about 10 minutes.
Add remaining milk, plus the melted butter and egg; whisk until smooth. Slowly stir in dry ingredients until dough comes together. On a lightly floured surface, knead dough until smooth, about 3 minutes.
Transfer to a lightly greased bowl and cover loosely with plastic wrap; set in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Place bread crumbs (or cornmeal) on a plate. On a lightly floured surface, divide dough into 4 equal pieces. Working with 1 piece at a time, pat dough into a 4″ x 9″ rectangle about 12″ thick. Working from one long end, roll dough into a tight cylinder. Cut dough crosswise into five 1 12″ rolls.
Gently coat cut sides of rolls in bread crumbs; place cut side up on parchment paper-lined baking sheets, spaced about 2″ apart. Cover loosely with plastic wrap; set in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Heat oven to 350°. Bake rolls until golden, 15–20 minutes.