On Easter Eggs

Eggs are a conspicuous part of an Italian Easter bread, and for Greek Easter bread as well as reader Rick reminds me. The two are virtually identical save for the fact that in the Greek version the eggs are all dyed a single color: a deep crimson red. That’s standard for Greek Orthodox Catholics, being a bit more doctrinaire than most Roman Catholics. I guess they don’t call it “Orthodox” for nothing.

In the orthodox tradition Easter eggs are always dyed blood red to symbolize the drops of blood shed by Christ on the cross. Roman Catholics, like other Christians who celebrate Easter, tend to approach Easter eggs with a bit more frivolity. Ours come in all colors of course, they can be tie-dyed, drawn upon, you name it. …

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Moveable Feast: Not Just Another Catering Company

We’re getting some warm spring breezes in Louisville today and they’re welcome after a not very snowy but conspicuously cold winter. Puts an old Catholic like myself in the mood for Easter, because if Easter isn’t about tulips, short sleeve shirts and roast spring chickens, then what’s it about? The resurrection of Christ thing, that’s a for-sure.

Reader Dusty wrote in to ask an interesting question: why does Easter move around the spring calendar so drastically when other big Christian holidays like Christmas are always on the same day each year? That’s a lovely one, and it all goes back to a little something called the Council of Nicaea, a gathering of Christian leaders that was convened in 325 A.D. by Constantine the Great, the Roman emperor whose conversion to Christianity turned the entire Roman Empire Catholic in one fell swoop, transforming the faith from an underground religion to an officially sanctioned church.

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How to Make Fancy Pastry Like a Pro

Reader Michelle writes:

Joe, I’m frustrated. I consider myself a fairly accomplished baker but every time I set out to make a really fancy pastry the whole thing ends in disaster and my entire day is wasted. I don’t want to give up but I just can’t seem to get the fancy pastry thing right. Should just stick to bread and cookies? Help!

Michelle, as a white-haired man named Clinton once said: I feel your pain. There’s not much worse than spending a long day making components for an elegant pastry, then having the whole thing collapse into an ugly, delicious mess. It happened to me over and over again, then I went to work in a pastry shop and saw how the pros avoided my mistakes.

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Italian Easter Bread Recipe

What we have here is something similar to brioche, though not as fussy. You mix it all together in one step (no beating in the butter once the dough is made) and let it rise as you would any bread dough. The result is a bread that’s still quite soft and rich, but without the explosive rise of brioche, which in this context is a good thing. You’ll need:

4 ounces (1/2 cup) butter
6 ounces (3/4 cup) milk
1 lb. 1. 1/2 ounces (3 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
zest of one orange
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
6-8 hard boiled eggs, dyed Easter colors
egg wash

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Next Up: Italian Easter Bread

I know I’ve been spending a lot of time in Italy lately, but the food is good so why not? Plus who can resist braided brioche with a dyed hard-boiled egg baked in the middle? My girls are going to go nuts and the breads will look amazing on the Easter table. I promise to do something very different after I’m done getting all Martha Stewart on you. Cool?

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Raised Doughnut Tweaks

Comments from a few readers have spurred me to make a few changes to the raised doughnut recipe. I’ve always like them but they’re in overdrive now, boys and girls. Try them and see!…

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Making Amaretti

Coffee lovers, meet your new favorite cookie. These things are dynamite with an afternoon cup, just small enough and and light enough that you won’t feel guilty crunching your way through a couple of them with your three o’clock pick-me-up. They store well, which means a batch will last you a week or two, and who knows? You may find them handy for crushing and sprinkling over some cut fruit or a little sorbet. They’re handy for all sorts of things. Start yours by preheating your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and assembling your ingredients.

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The Death of Dessert?

I was recently reminded that I neglected to comment on a couple of interesting articles from the Washington Post that appeared last month discussing the decline of dessert. Not the decline of sweets or pastries mind you, but the decline of dessert as a meal course. Dessert, so claims reporter Roberto Ferdman, is a happening that’s vanishing both in the restaurant and in the home. The chief culprit isn’t health or calorie concerns, but time.

Only 12 percent of dinners eaten at home in the United States ended with something sweet last year, the lowest reading in more than 30 years, according to data from market research firm NPD group. Just 10 years ago, in 2004, 15 percent of families indulged after the main course. And 28 years ago, in 1986, the number was nearly 25 percent.

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Now What?

It’s become traditional to ask for project suggestions after my late winter fishing trip. With the exception of the candies (which I have yet to tackle since I’m not very good at confectionery) I completed most of last year’s project requests, and many more besides. What shall I plan for the this coming year? Please weigh in if you’re so inclined.

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Where do amaretti come from?

That’s a tricky one. There are a couple of origin stories, one a myth and the other a probable myth. The first one goes like this: once upon a time in the early 1700′s, in the northern Italian town of Saronno, there lived a pair of newlyweds. These two loved to bake and make sweets, so when they heard that the Catholic Cardinal from the nearby city of Milan was preparing to visit, the wanted to make something special. They gathered the meager ingredients they had: almonds, sugar, egg whites and apricot kernels, and using a mysterious technique that remains a secret to this day, prepared a batch of small cookies in the Cardinal’s honor. Tasting them, the Cardinal was so delighted that he blessed their marriage — and their cookies — wishing them a long and prosperous marriage. Today of course that secret is owned by the D. Lazzaroni Company who makes the classic Amaretti di Saronno. No surprise that they are the people largely responsible for propagating this myth.

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