Italian Easter Bread

Dio dà il pane a chi non ha i denti. (God gives bread to those who have no teeth.)
—Italian Proverb

With Easter Sunday approaching, I’ve had bread on the brain. While Jews are fasting this week for Passover and eat unleavened matzoh crackers, Italians go carb crazy with at least four distinct breads made solely for Easter.

Up in the Bronx, the passionate team behind Gustiamo flew Columba Pasquale in from Padua (first class!). Made by master baker Luigi Biasetto, it is made from mother yeast, stone milled flour, eggs, butter, Sicilian candied orange peel, and almonds. I haven’t tried it, but Gustiamo’s Beatrice and Stefano rave about its melt-in-your-mouth sweetness.

They also received a visit from Stefano’s mother, who made Torta Pasqualina, a Ligurian Easter pie made with flaky pastry, chard, ricotta cheese, parmigiano, and at least five whole eggs.

The most popular Easter bread is traditional sweet braided bread studded with colored Easter eggs. My mother always made the bread in tandem with our annual afternoon of egg dyeing, while my brother and I fought to the death over the wire egg dipper that came in the decorating. (Seriously, egg coloring manufacturers, would it kill you to throw in a couple of those things?)

The brightest eggs would proudly bejewel Mom’s bread, which we couldn’t cut into until after Easter mass. Somewhere in the midst of the priests admonishing the twice-a year churchgoers, I’d start dreaming about it. Sitting in the kitchen following Mass, still wearing my white shoes, I’d quietly nibble around the pink dye that the egg leaked onto the bread itself.

Italians aren’t the only ones who make braided Easter bread. Contributor Natalie Hoch gave us a gorgeous recipe for braided Swiss bread, which suits the Easter version perfectly with the addition of colored eggs. My mom also recommends Betty Crocker’s sweet bread recipe.

pizza chiena, italian easter bread

Pizza Chiena from Mike's Deli, Arthur Ave.

But my grandmother made the absolute best Easter bread. Pizza Chiena, which many Italian-Americans and Sopranos fans might know as “Pizza Gain” because of the Neapolitan accent, is a labor intensive, expensive, not-for-any-ol’-day, invite-people-over-to-help-you event that is absolutely worth your time and effort. It can be a religious exercise unto itself.

My mother recalls helping to make the Pizza Gain as a child on Good Friday—a day of fasting—and how torturous it was not to pop a piece of ham or salami in her mouth. Being that Nana always cooked from memory, it’s often hard to replicate that which she did with such ease. But this recipe, adapted from Arthur Schwartz’s cookbook Naples at Table: Cooking in Campania, comes very close. The main addition is that of rice, which gave Nana’s Pizza Chiena the most incredible texture.

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  1. Gburg says

    Oh man that stuff is so goooood!!!!
    Larry Lagattuta at Enrico’s in Pittsburgh makes a great Easter Bread with so many delicious meats and cheeses in it. I could eat it at every Holiday and every Sunday in between.

  2. Anita says

    What you are calling Pizza Chiena looks to me like Pizza Rustica, or that is what it was called in Brooklyn. The only difference is there was no rice in Pizza Rustica, but all the other ingredients are the same.

  3. Charlotte says

    My grandfather as well as many residents of my hometown near Pittsburgh, PA came from Patrica, Italy. During holidays and saints’ day celebrations the older women of the italian community made dozens of large, hard, round sweet cookies that we called “chimalli”. It seems that only a handful of women knew the secret to making these sweets. The most famous is affectionately known as “Aunt Lucy”, who is about 90 yrs old and still baking them.
    I have yet to find a recipe for them and my efforts have only resulted in something resembling hockey pucks. The dough contains eggs and they are boiled then baked, similar to bagels but with a very porous, dry consistency. I cannot get them to rise and split open as they should. Mine are doughy and dense.
    I think the name comes from their shape which means ring in Italian.
    I’ve been told they are called taralli in some areas of Italy but they don’t seem to be the same according to the taralli recipes I’ve seen.
    The art of making these confections is dying off with the Aunt Lucys of my grandfaher’s generation.
    I desperately would love to find a recipe w/detailed instructions in the art of making chimalli.