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Counter Intelligence: Celebrate Easter with heirloom bread recipe

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — It’s not every day that you can go back in time with a friend and re-create an heirloom recipe.

The friend in question here is Cindy Boggs, our “CindySays” fitness columnist, and the recipe is her nonna’s casadil — Italian Easter bread.

Cindy saved the day when we were chatting about gathering all of the Sunday Gazette-Mail Life & Style columnists for a cooking activity. A little meet-and-greet.

Most of us work freelance and we have a new Life editor. Wouldn’t it be fun to connect in the kitchen!

Cindy didn’t hesitate.

“Every year, I make my Tuscan grandmother’s recipe for Italian Easter bread. It would be a great group activity, and it makes a ton.”

With that, just like magic, Cindy and her Italian baking partner, Mary Jo Paterno, orchestrated a baking lesson like no other.

They arrived with an entire pantry of ingredients so we could all see the secret recipe unfold.

They also surprised us with aromatic loaves of this traditional, rich recipe, already baked and wrapped for each participant to take home and savor. And there were loaves to enjoy on the spot.

When the loaves emerged from their tidy packages, the aroma was absolutely intoxicating. Literally!

We cut the soft loaves into slices and enjoyed the tender, delicious bread. The explosion of flavor honestly melted in our mouths.

Cindy suggested we toast some of the slices, creating a completely different taste.

“Toasted, it’s magnificent!” exclaimed Vines & Vittles columnist John “Wine Boy” Brown. We all agreed.

While we nibbled, Cindy and Mary Jo demonstrated the mixing — lots of eggs, beaten with sugar until very thick and light.

We all watched while they added a host of additional ingredients, in careful order, mixing by hand throughout. “This is when it starts getting tough,” Cindy laughed. “I’ve broken more wooden spoons ...”

Once the dough was mixed, it was turned out onto a well-floured counter. We rolled up our sleeves and took turns kneading the sticky mass, not at all minding the dough clinging to our hands.

With so many involved, the very soft dough was quickly transformed into a smooth, shapeable dough.

Cindy divided it and set it in a warm place for its first rise. She and Mary Jo would take this dough home and bake it there for their extended families.

While making this most gorgeous heirloom Easter treat, we newspaper people were so grateful for a fun evening together, as well as learning a new skill.

Then Cindy said, “As an Italian, it only makes sense to come together over food — in the kitchen — because in addition to making great food, it’s the natural way to make great friends.”

Happy Easter, everyone!

Italian Easter Bread

”This DeAngelis family recipe has been passed down over the years from my grandparents, Vincenzo and Irene DeAngelis, from Manciano, Italy, in the Tuscan region, and is a family favorite at Easter. My Aunt Margaret made it best as she was a natural-born pastry genius. My cousin and I continue to try and make it as good as we remember. Its flavors range from yeasty orange and lemon to anise and rum with hints of vanilla and cinnamon. The eggs and ricotta make it rich and heavy, taking it hours to rise. But once baked, it surprises you with layers of delightful flavors which can be eaten sliced thick or thin, untoasted or toasted and topped with butter, ricotta or nothing at all.” — Cindy Boggs

Makes 15 loaves.

10 eggs, room temperature

2 pounds granulated sugar

12 packets dry yeast

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

5 pounds all-purpose flour, plus extra for kneading

1½ teaspoons salt

1½ teaspoons cinnamon

2 cups whole milk, warmed to about 100°

1 cup Crisco, melted and cooled (still liquid, but not hot)

1 pound ricotta cheese, room temperature

1 cup dark rum

1 cup anisette liquor, or Pernod

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

4 each oranges and lemons, rinds grated (wrap and refrigerate fruit for other use)

3 eggs, beaten for “egg wash” to brush on bread before baking

BEAT eggs, with a mixer, in a large bowl until thoroughly combined and thick.

ADD the 2 pounds of sugar, a little at a time, beating constantly until creamy and pale yellow.

COMBINE the 5 pounds of flour with the salt and cinnamon.

POUR yeast into a bowl and sprinkle with the 3 tablespoons of sugar and add 1 cup of the warm milk.

TRANSFER the egg mixture to a very large bowl.

ADD the ricotta, rum, anisette, vanilla and grated citrus rind to the egg mixture and stir well.

STIR in about half of the flour mixture and stir well.

ADD yeast mixture and stir gently.

MIX in remaining flour alternately with warm Crisco and remaining 1 cup of warm milk. Mix well.

TURN the very wet dough out onto a large, well-floured work surface.

KNEAD thoroughly, adding flour as necessary to create a workable dough (this may require several extra cups of flour).

PLACE in a large pan that has been generously greased with warm Crisco, turning to coat the whole mass of dough (we used a long, deep, disposable foil pan).

COVER with wax paper and a large cloth.

RISE the dough in a warm place until doubled (could take several hours).

DIVIDE dough into 15 equal pieces.

PLACE each dough piece into a well-greased loaf pan — dough should fill up halfway in pan (disposables are OK — or invite friends over with their pans).

COVER the loaf pans and let rise again until doubled.

BRUSH each loaf with the egg wash.

HEAT oven to 325°.

BAKE 3 loaves at a time (depending on oven size), for about 50 minutes until golden brown.

REMOVE from oven and let cool.

TURN out onto cooling racks and brush with melted butter.

COOL completely before sealing in airtight bags.

MANGIA! Eat, share, enjoy! Happy Easter!

April Hamilton has always said, “Cooking is fun!” She shares her easy, practical recipes for delicious food through her cooking classes for kids and families. April’s husband and three daughters help with testing and tasting in their Charleston kitchen. Hungry for more? Visit www.aprilskitchencounter.com.


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