The Press-Enterprise (Riverside, CA)
April 19, 2000, Wednesday
To RISE and REMEMBER: Making Easter Bread has been a family’s holiday tradition for 71 years.
Mark Petix; The Press-Enterprise
FOOD; Pg. E01
The Easter Bread is patient.
It waits all year to be made and then it waits a little longer, rising for eight hours until the eggs, flour, butter and sugar are truly one and ready for the oven.
How long Mrs. Capperella had been making the Easter Bread is anybody’s guess, but it became a Petix family tradition the day she invited my grandmother Caroline into her home.
It was 1929, and Mrs. Capperella liked to brag about her cooking to the women of Weld Street, then an Italian neighborhood on the east side of Rochester, N.Y.
My grandmother dutifully admired the bread and asked, nonchalantly, how it was made. Nothing was written down.
“Well, you tell Mama one time and she’s got it,” said my aunt, Rosalie Proud of Riverside. “And she knew it was a treasure.”
For the next 50 years, my grandmother would rise early on Good Friday to make the Easter Bread.
With hands that had been making bread since she was a young girl in Sicily, grandma slowly worked the eggs, butter, sugar and flour until the dough was satin and gold.
She shaped the dough into rounded loaves and placed them into the oven, making the sign of the cross and saying a prayer that the bread would be good one more time. She prayed for more than luck.
Eggs were hard to come by in that part of Rochester in the early 1930s, even if you had money. My grandfather, Gaspar, owned a soda pop factory, and each spring he would work his way through the neighborhood, bartering pop for enough eggs to make the Easter Bread.
My aunt, Connie Petix of Whittier, remembers the sweet smell of the dough as it rose, and the simple richness of baking bread that filled the house.
“It was beautiful,” she said. “I don’t know if it was all the ingredients. I do know it was all the love.”
Aunt Ro saved the Easter Bread. For several years before my grandmother died in 1982, Aunt Ro pieced together the recipe my grandmother never did write down, and described a little different each time she was asked.
Aunt Ro tinkered with the recipe, adding a little more sugar, reducing the baking time and oven temperature, until the Easter Bread was once again perfect.
My family has been making the Easter Bread for 71 years. I have been making it for four.
One weekend each spring, I rise early to make the bread.
I work the dough with unskilled hands. When my hands are thick and sticky with dough, I call my wife Tena for help. She explains patiently, year after year, why it is so important to flour my hands before kneading.
The first time, when the bread was just not rising, I covered the dough with my great-grandmother’s quilt to keep it warm and placed grandma’s picture next to it. I made the sign of the cross and backed out of the bedroom where the dough rested, saying a little prayer as I left.
The bread was perfect. Sweet and golden.
In years since I’ve said the same prayer and used the same quilt, but I’ve added more pictures.
The Easter Bread needed seven pictures this year.
Next to grandma were pictures of my nephews, Sean and Tommy, and of my father, brother and grandfather. Late in the day, I added pictures of my wife and mother.
I placed the bread in the oven, made the sign of the cross and said a little prayer that the bread would be good.
One more time.
* * *
2 packages of dry active yeast
2 teaspoons sugar
5 pounds flour
1 pound plus 1/4-cup sugar
1 tablespoon or less of salt
2 dozen eggs
1 pound butter
2 eggs (for egg wash)
Mix the dry yeast and two teaspoons sugar in half cup of warm water (check the package for the best temperature). Let the mixture proof for 8 to 10 minutes.
Place the flour in a large roasting pan or kettle and mix with the sugar and salt. Make a hole in the middle.
Break the eggs into a bowl and lightly scramble the yolks. In a saucepan, melt the butter.
Add the eggs, yeast and melted butter to the flour mixture and mix well with a spoon.
Place the dough on a floured surface and knead well using the palms of your hands until the dough has a satin finish.
Coat the inside of a large menudo kettle with oil. Rub a little butter on top of the dough.
Cover with a sheet or towel and wrap in a blanket to keep the dough warm. The dough must rise in a warm room away from drafts.
Let the dough rise about three hours. Punch the dough down and let it rise another three hours. The dough should double in size.
Spray three bread sheet pans with PAM. Cut the dough into seven or eight loaves and cover with a clean warm cloth. Let it rise another two hours.
Brush bread with a mixture of two whole eggs and two teaspoons of water. Two egg whites can be used in place of the whole egg if desired.
Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.