I’m not sure if all of you are aware of it or not, but Thursday was the Spring Equinox. I usually celebrate by making a small feast: A roast, roots, egg custard, salad with edible flowers…you know, that type of thing.
It should come as absolutely no surprise that the Spring Equinox reminds me of Easter, and I have a very private and sacred tradition on Easter: Watching ‘The Last Unicorn,’ and eating Pane di Pasqua (Italian Easter Bread) while I cry myself silly (in a good way).
Pane di Pasqua/Italian Easter Bread: A sweet, braided bread baked with dyed Easter eggs. It may also contain dried fruit and/or topped with icing and sprinkles.
I live in an Italian-American neighborhood, and there’s an Italian grocery store down the street from me. It’s wonderful! It’s one of two places I can actually find scungelli, and their bakery? Absolutely un-fucking-believable. They have stuff you can only typically find back home in New York or New Jersey…stuff like sfogliatelle (lobster tail pastries). For the last maybe…two or three years, I’ve gotten my Easter bread from them, but I’ve been itching to take a crack at making my own for a while.
So, since Thursday was kind of a not-so-great day for everybody else to celebrate Spring, I had my mini feast on Friday, and used it as an excuse to try baking myself some Easter bread for the first time. I figured I could stay up late on Thursday to make the bread so I had time to complete the food preparation Friday afternoon, and that’s what I did.
Here’s the thing: I’m a cook, not a baker. I love cooking. As a matter of fact, cooking is how I bonded with my mother. We both love to cook and love food. Most of my childhood memories take place next to my mother’s legs while she was cooking one thing or another, and when I was a teenager, my favorite thing to do on a Friday night was go to the grocery store with her.
While my friends ate frozen and canned food in university, I cooked my meals. I even fed my roommates. Hell, I sometimes flagged down my neighbors and fed them, too.
What can I say? I’m a little stereotype. I LOVE cooking so much.
But baking? Hahaha…
The only thing that I’m confident about baking is a simple French bread. It’s just water and flour and yeast with a bit of salt. Sure, it’s time consuming, but it’s difficult to fuck up. Anything else, and it’s a total gamble. I’ve burned bread…using a BREAD MAKER.
It’s quite difficult to imagine what a neighbor would’ve thought had they been able to hear what was happening in the kitchen last night:
Whir, whir, whir…
‘No, no, no, no, NO! What are you DOING?’
‘You dirty son of a BITCH!’
‘You’re SUPPOSED to be satiny! WHY AREN’T YOU SATINY?’
I must’ve done something very wrong because my dough did NOT rise. Maybe the water was too hot for the yeast? Who knows. All I know is that somehow, I ended up with this:
And yes, I’m boring because I didn’t color the egg.
It wasn’t a replica of the Easter bread from the bakery, as each braid kind of…rose up and separated from the others, but I was pleased to have it look half-way decent.
The next morning, I got up and worked on it a bit:
The recipe I used for the icing said to mix powdered sugar and orange liquor. Not only does synthetic orange flavor make me gag, I thought lemon liquor would taste better with the bread, so I used Cavarella.
While the icing was perfect (so perfect, in fact, that I kept sampling what was left over and began to feel mysteriously lazy), the bread was dense. My guests did not seem to mind, as they went back for seconds, but I was a bit disappointed. But hey, this is why I tested it out before the day I really want it to go right.
I did learn something, though: Icing is a REALLY fun way to get drunk.