Another Easter recipe! This time, one from my very own tiny town in Southern Tuscany, Manciano. We’re not famous for much, but we do make one hell of an licorice Italian Easter bread or schiaccia di Pasqua.
Italy as a whole has changed so much, even in the 10 years I’ve been here. I think a lot of tourists really want a snow globe experience where all the locals are just simple country folk who walk home in the morning with fresh bread under one arm and the day’s paper under the other. In the evenings, nonnas sit outside and gossip while tomato sauce cooks in the saucepan and their tubby little grandchildren ride their bikes.
But Italy wants to be just as modern as anywhere else and I think tourists are disappointed when they see the skyscrapers and the shopping malls and the McDonald’s they so love in their own countries!
I definitely know the feeling. I come from Southern Italian stock. We are big on Jesus, tradition, wearing black at funerals, not blaspheming and never, and I mean never, pointing at rainbows. True story. My grandmother believes you end up multicoloured and nobody wants that.
I can’t be home for Easter this year, but I still want a huge dose of family tradition and old school Italy, so I sought out my parents-in-law and asked them what traditional Italian Easter recipes they make. Hello schiaccia di Pasqua!
In other parts of Italy, the Colomba, or dove-shaped yeasted bread is the only Easter dessert served. Italians as a whole don’t really do sweet cakes or pastries as the French might. They love slightly sweet, but heavily spiced yeasted breads. Think Panettone or rum baba.
When Giulio’s parent’s had their bakery, they would make Colombas, but they didn’t sell like the schiaccia di Pasqua. This perfectly round little licorice Italian Easter bread is flavoured with aniseeds, citron liquor and saffron. It’s not too sweet, which is the Italians’ idea of heaven since they can eat it with ricotta and jam OR thin slices of guanciale (cured pork). There is nothing Italians like more than versatility in their sweets!
Each Easter, my parents-in-law would make upwards of 200 schiaccia di Pasqua. On top of that, they would also rent out their ovens to the women of town to bake their homemade licorice Italian Easter breads.
My father-in-law, who is a very practical man, used to dread Easter. On the one hand, renting out your oven was very lucrative. He’d charge the equivalent of €20 (in the old Lire currency) per bread, but the local women were a pain the butt. They would get into fights about who’s recipe was better, complain if the oven wasn’t the perfect temperature for them and then blame him if their Easter bread turned out wrong!
He was so happy when the women started baking at home.
This is a very old and very Southern Tuscan recipe, but it’s quite easy to follow. The key is to have all your ingredients ready before you start and to be patient with it. Yeasted breads can be tricky. If your kitchen is particularly cold, warm the oven a little, then turn it off and leave your licorice Italian Easter bread to rise in there with the oven light on.
Then put on your favourite CD and chill. I spent a very pleasant morning last Saturday making this with my parents-in-law. My father-in-law does all the kneading, but is terrified that my mother-in-law will come and tell him he didn’t make it right. She did, muttering all the while that she should have never taken her eyes off him. Her fears were misplaced. The schiaccia di Pasqua were divine!
We used panettone tins from the old bakery to bake these. They’re taller than your average cake tin and are about 18cm in diameter. When the licorice Italian Easter bread is baked in them, it puffs up and looks like a mushroom. You can buy panettone tins online or just use a normal loaf tin/cake tin or food cans. Just adjust your bake time accordingly.
Even if you are a little sketchy on aniseed-flavoured desserts, I really recommend you try this. The licorice Italian Easter bread has a unique flavour that reminds me a little of German gingerbread. It’s spicy and savoury-sweet. The citron liquor is made from this strange, thick-skinned lemon-like fruit that is so old, it was mentioned in Pliny the Elder’s Natural History encyclopaedia. My parents-in-law had this raggedy old bottle that they said might have been from their bakery days a decade ago. I had a sip and it tasted fine (alcohol doesn’t go off right?). It was really bright and sweet. The sort of liquor that awakens your senses and makes your throat burn all at the same time.
With a little saffron for colour, this licorice Italian Easter bread recipe is definitely my new favourite breakfast treat. In Southern Tuscany, Easter breakfast is really important. My mother-in-law will put on a huge spread with cold cuts, sliced cheese, boiled eggs and our schiaccia di Pasqua. And then I will cajole and bribe Giulio into coming to mass with me…
Licorice Italian Easter Bread (Schiaccia di Pasqua)
1 kilo bread flour
100ml warm water
150g fresh yeast
150g butter, melted
30ml citron liquor
zest of 1 lemon
pinch of saffron pistils
1 egg, lightly beaten, extra
Combine the yeast and water. Set aside in a warm place for 10 minutes or until bubbles appear on the surface. Place the flour and a pinch of salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the centre and add the yeast mixture, sugar, eggs, melted butter, citron liquor, aniseed, lemon zest and saffron. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 8 minutes or until smooth.
Cover with plastic wrap and a clean tea towel and set aside in a warm place for 30-40 minutes or until doubled in size. Beat back the dough. Divide into 5 balls. Place into buttered panettone tins. Cover with a clean tea towel and set aside in a warm place for a further 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 220°C. Brush the tops of the breads with beaten egg. Bake for 1 hour or until the outer crust is a dark golden colour.
Serve with guanciale or jam and ricotta. Makes 5 loaves.
Looking for more Easter recipes? Try my Spring holiday biscuit or Italian Easter Pie!