Last year I missed out on my nonna’s pane di Pasqua, or ‘Easter bread’ in English, or ‘squooti’ in her Siderno, Italy dialect (don’t ask about that last one). Even if you’ve never tried it, I’m sure you have seen it: bread braided to nest or hold eggs. I’ve come to look forward to this treat every year, so much so, in fact, that it has become a staple of Easter in my mind. I didn’t want to go another year without it, so I spent all of yesterday in the kitchen with my nonna – a day she probably never saw coming, as I’ve never been ‘that’ Italian girl. I have always gone out of my way to stay as far from the kitchen as possible. Why should I help with anything domestic when my brother gets to sit with the rest of the guys in the living room? I always found it unfair, and to be honest, I still do. But it was nice having that one-on-one time with her. We didn’t have to serve anyone; we were simply having fun adapting a decades-old recipe into one that was gluten free.
Before we got down to business, my mom surprised us and popped in. Would this be a case of ‘too many cooks stirring the pot’? I’ve seen what happens when my mom, nonna, and uncle (who happens to be a chef) cook a meal together; it can very easily turn into Hell’s Kitchen. Truth be told, my mom’s presence was a godsend. She had been helping with the recipe all week, translating my nonna’s instructions into English, and actually having her in the kitchen was helpful, too. She acted as translator when the language barrier got in the way, but, more importantly, she became our unofficial ‘Overseer of Operations’ when my oh-so hard-headed nonna would try to veer away from the written instructions and toss in a few extra ingredients. Normally I’d say, ‘nonna knows best,’ and back off, but I’ve read gluten free flour mixtures can be finicky, and I didn’t want to take any risks with how this bread would turn out!
What you’ll need
6.5 cups gluten free flour mixture (this is what my Bulk Barn trip was for, by the way!) I mixed the following flours and then measured out 6.5 cups for the recipe:
- 4 cups brown rice flour
- 2 cups cornstarch
- 1 cup coconut flour
- 1 cup tapioca flour
- 1 cup sorghum flour
- 1.5 tbsp guar gum
6 eggs (plus however many more you want to remain in tact — with the shell — to be braided into the bread)
1 cup sugar
3 tsp. yeast
1 cup milk
1/8 cup butter
Grated rind of 1 lemon
2 tsp. Sambuca (Italian anise-flavoured liqueur)
What you have to do
1. Sift different flours together and mix well. Measure out 6.5 cups for recipe
2. Dissolve yeast in ½ cup warm water
3. Beat eggs with yeast
4. Mix eggs and yeast with flour, milk, butter, rind, Sambuca
5. Kneed until smooth, elastic, and not sticky
6. Cover and let it rise, or ‘let it grow up,’ as my nonna put it, in a draft-free place for a few hours (we let it sit for 3 hours)
7. Divide pieces of dough and shape however you want. The traditional way is to ‘braid’ the dough and then place whole, washed, uncooked eggs within the braid.
8. After dough is braided, let the pieces sit for another hour or so to ‘grow up’
9. Brush with beaten egg for a nice gloss
10. Bake in preheated 325-degree oven for 40 minutes
We pulled it off! In the end, nonna, mom, and I (three generations of highly territorial, stubborn, and authoritative women) worked together to produce a tasty and traditional gluten free pane di Pasqua. I was very surprised we managed to bake a g-free bread that didn’t taste ‘off’ or crumble like so many others I have tried. What’s more surprising is that for some reason I cannot fathom, it was definitely not a case of ‘too many cooks’ at all. It was easy going, relaxed, and we actually had a few laughs along the way. We may have even inadvertently added to the Easter bread tradition: instead of just chowing down on the annual treat, we’ll now reunite in my nonna’s kitchen and bake a few loaves every year.
Happy Easter, everyone! 🙂