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Easter bread recipe: How Patsy's Italian Restaurant makes the traditional treat

Easter bread is a traditional item on Italian Easter tables all over the world. It also has a rich history in NYC, with most bakeries and many Italian restaurants making it for the holiday.

To see how the sweet bread gets made, we headed to one of the oldest Italian restaurants in the city, Patsy's.

Run by the Scognamillo family since opening in 1944, Chef Sal Scognamillo is the third generation in his family to work the line in the kitchen. The day we showed up was his birthday, and Deana Martin (daughter of Dean) called to sing him her best wishes for his 54th year. For a restaurant lined in framed photos autographed by famous actors and musicians, the call was somehow not surprising.

In the lead up to Easter on March 27, Scognamillo makes four or five Easter breads each day. He gives slices away to all the guests in the restaurant. If you want to order one, just call, he said. The price? $20.

The recipe is taken from the cookbook "Patsy's Italian Family Cookbook."

Easter bread with colored eggs

Makes 1 loaf, about 10 servings

Ingredients:

1 cup whole milk

1/2 cup sugar

2 large eggs

1 tablespoon instant (also called bread-machine) yeast

Finely grated zest of 1 lemon

2 teaspoons anise seeds or drizzle anise extract

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

5 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons, at room temperature

4 colored, hard-boiled eggs

1 large egg yolk

2 teaspoons nonpareils

This is the one and only Patsy's Italian Restaurant

Patsy's Italian Restaurant (236 W. 56th St.) has
Photo Credit: Diana Colapietro

Patsy's Italian Restaurant (236 W. 56th St.) has been owned and run by the Scognamillo Family since 1944.

To make Easter bread, start with milk

Add whole milk to the mixing bowl fitted
Photo Credit: Diana Colapietro

Add whole milk to the mixing bowl fitted with the paddle attachment to begin making the sweet dough.

Sugar and salt

After you pour the milk, add sugar and
Photo Credit: Diana Colapietro

After you pour the milk, add sugar and salt to the mix.

Next: eggs

As the milk and sugar are mixing, add
Photo Credit: Diana Colapietro

As the milk and sugar are mixing, add 2 large eggs.

Then, the yeast

Combine the instant yeast with a little water
Photo Credit: Diana Colapietro

Combine the instant yeast with a little water to make a liquid consistency and then add that to the mixer with the milk, sugar and eggs.

Lemon zest for tang

Zest 1 lemon and add into the mixing
Photo Credit: Diana Colapietro

Zest 1 lemon and add into the mixing bowl as the sweet dough continues to form.

Anise flavoring

Chef Scognamillo eyeballs how much anise extract to
Photo Credit: Diana Colapietro

Chef Scognamillo eyeballs how much anise extract to add to the mixer. Rule of thumb: If using extract instead of seeds, drizzle a thin stream into the bowl for about 2 seconds.

Slowly add flour

Add 3 1/2 cups of flour to the
Photo Credit: Diana Colapietro

Add 3 1/2 cups of flour to the bowl and allow to mix on low speed until combined and thick.

Time for butter

Add the butter 1 tablespoon at a time,
Photo Credit: Diana Colapietro

Add the butter 1 tablespoon at a time, waiting for each to be absorbed before adding another. Make sure butter is soft but not melted.

Add remaining flour

The tricky thing with bread, Scognamillo explained, is
Photo Credit: Diana Colapietro

The tricky thing with bread, Scognamillo explained, is that it can easily be messed up. How? By adding too much flour! When adding the remaining 1 1/2 cups of flour, add a little at a time to the mixer until the dough is soft and leaves the bowl clean with nothing sticking to its sides. This happens quickly. You may not use all of the flour.

Here's how it should look

Nothing on the sides!
Photo Credit: Diana Colapietro

Nothing on the sides!

Knead the dough

There are two ways to accomplish the next
Photo Credit: Diana Colapietro

There are two ways to accomplish the next step of kneading the dough. You could either use a dough hook attachment on your mixer, or knead it by hand. One way is easier than the other, but the choice is yours. Scognamillo worked the dough by hand when we visited, but when making more than one bread, he'll use the mixer.

If using the hook, mix on medium-low speed occasionally turning off and pulling the dough off the hook for about 8 minutes or until the dough is smooth, shiny and slightly sticky.

If making the dough by hand, put flour on a work surface and knead, adding more flour as necessary, until the dough is smooth, supple and slightly sticky or about 10 minutes.

Next, lightly butter a bowl, add the dough and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rise in a warm spot for about 1 hour. It should double in volume.

Cut the dough

Take the dough from the bowl, put it
Photo Credit: Diana Colapietro

Take the dough from the bowl, put it on a floured surface and cut into two (or three) pieces.

Roll it out!

Roll each piece of dough under your palms
Photo Credit: Diana Colapietro

Roll each piece of dough under your palms into two 22-inch ropes. They will be shorter if rolling three pieces. The ropes should taper out at each end.

Braid

Line the ropes up next to each other
Photo Credit: Diana Colapietro

Line the ropes up next to each other and braid, pinching the ends together.

Getting close...

Place the braided bread onto a baking sheet
Photo Credit: Diana Colapietro

Place the braided bread onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Cover with plastic wrap and allow to sit in a warm place for another hour or so. It should continue to rise.

Dye the eggs

Each hard-boiled egg should sit in a food-coloring
Photo Credit: Diana Colapietro

Each hard-boiled egg should sit in a food-coloring mixture (food coloring, water, a touch of white vinegar) for about 15 minutes.

Make the glaze

Mix egg and milk for the egg glaze.
Photo Credit: Diana Colapietro

Mix egg and milk for the egg glaze.

Brush it on

The egg glaze will give the bread a
Photo Credit: Diana Colapietro

The egg glaze will give the bread a sheen and also a pleasantly light crust. It is also a bit sticky, which allows the nonpareils to stick to it. Add those now.

Eggstravaganza

Distribute the eggs into the dough, nestling them
Photo Credit: Diana Colapietro

Distribute the eggs into the dough, nestling them in carefully.

Bake at 350 degrees

The bread will be done in about 30
Photo Credit: Diana Colapietro

The bread will be done in about 30 minutes. It should be golden brown.

Bread comes out

And it's time to eat! Let bread cool
Photo Credit: Diana Colapietro

And it's time to eat! Let bread cool completely before slicing.

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