Grandma's Italian Holiday Bread Recipes

Anita Fagiano shares her grandma's Italian holiday bread recipes, a perfect old-fashioned memory to create for the holiday season.
By the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Editors
December 1999/January 2000
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Mainly we baked bread—sweet pastries were reserved for the holidays.
PHOTO: KATRIN BODYIKOGLU/TABLEWARE COURTESY OF FISHS EDDY


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Learn how to make these Italian holiday bread recipes for the holiday season. 

Baking Italian Holiday Bread Recipes

Being a first-generation American born to Italian immigrants, I learned early on about cooking and baking. Mainly we baked bread—sweet pastries were reserved for the holidays. Though even these were not the sweet pastries we know today, but rather a simple mix of flour, eggs, milk and a small amount of sugar. Not very different from the bread, these pastries had to be dunked in coffee or tea to make them edible, but still they were a treat and a tribute to the holidays.

A more common treat were dough boys—fried bread sometimes sprinkled with sugar-made from the remains of our twice-weekly bread-baking sessions.

It was from all of this that I learned how to mix, knead and roll dough for homemade pasta and pies. There were no cookbooks, no recipes, no measuring cups or spoons. From my mother I learned the basics of baking and cooking, minus the modern conveniences. Later, as I got older, my mother teamed from me about recipes and measuring cups and spoons and different ingredients and all of the modern cookbook how-to's. She adapted to this new way quickly and did well, though she could not read.

We spent many a day, first in her kitchen and later in mine, trying new recipes or perfecting old ones. Among our favorites were those for traditional Italian biscuits—egg, pepper and wine.

Wine Biscuits Recipe

5 cups flour
5 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup sugar
1 cup red table wine (I use burgundy)
1cup corn oil
2 beaten eggs
 

Mix the flour, baking powder and sugar in a bowl and form a well at the center. In another bowl, mix wine, oil and eggs and pour into dry-ingredients well. Mix and knead, adding more flour if necessary for handling. Shape into braided sticks, about 4 inches long. (To make braided sticks, roll a piece of dough out to about 8 inches in length and a 1/4 inch around. Fold dough length in half, pinch the ends together and twist for braided effect.)

Place biscuits on greased cookie sheets, brush tops with a beaten egg and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 to 25 minutes. Makes about six dozen.

Italian Pepper Biscuits Recipe

4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon coarse ground black pepper
1 teaspoon fennel seed (optional)
 

Mix above ingredients and form a well.
In another bowl, mix:
1 egg beaten
3/4 cup corn oil
1/2 cup milk
 

Pour into dry-ingredients well. Add 1/2 cup of hot water, mix and knead thoroughly. Roll clumps of dough into 8 inch lengths, twist and form into round biscuits (like wreaths). Place on greased cookie sheets, brush with beaten egg and bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 to 25 minutes. Makes three dozen.

Egg Biscuits Recipe

In mixing bowl, combine:
3 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup corn oil
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
 

In another bowl, mix:
3 1/2 to 4 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
 

Add flour/baking powder mixture to liquid ingredients, knead until smooth, adding flour for easy handling. Shape into round wreaths (as for pepper biscuits), place on greased cookie sheet, brush tops with beaten egg and bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes. Yields three to four dozen.

Toasted Egg Slices Recipe

In mixing bowl, combine:
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup corn oil
1/2 teaspoon anise flavoring
 

In another bowl, mix:
2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
 

Add the flour mixture to the liquid ingredients, knead and shape into 3 inch by 9 inch loaves. Place on greased cookie sheet, sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes. Cool, then cut into approximately 3/4 inch slices, return to cookie sheet and brown on each side. Cool five to ten minutes, then stack in tins until ready to serve.

Sugarless Italian Biscuits Recipe

4 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon fennel seed
 

Mix above ingredients and form a well. In another bowl, combine:
3 eggs, beaten (save about half an egg to brush tops of biscuits)
1/2 cup corn oil
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup water
 

Add liquid ingredients to flour mixture. Knead until smooth. Shape into round rings (like doughnuts), brush tops with reserved egg and bake on greased cookie sheets at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 25 minutes. Yields about four dozen.

Anita Fagiano
Providence, Rhode island
 


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