Easter bread

Butter, melted, 1 stick
Canola oil, 1/4 cup
Milk, slightly warm, 1/2 cup
Yeast, 3 packages, dissolved in 1/3 cup warm water with 1 tbsp sugar
Sugar, 2 cups
Anise, 2 tbsp
Eggs (8)
Flour, 10 cups
Egg, hardboiled (optional)

Icing (optional)
Powdered sugar
Nonpareil candy sprinkles, multicolored

1. Mix butter, oil, warm milk and dissolved yeast in in mixing bowl.
2. Beat in sugar and anise.  
3. Beat in one egg at a time.  
4. Add flour until you have a nice smooth dough. 
5. Knead until somewhat shiny.
6. Let rise several hours, shape and let rise a couple of hours more. If you are shaping into the traditional doll shape, you may want a hardboiled egg (with shell on) to use in place of the doll's face. 
7. Bake at 350˚F for 20 minutes.
8. Allow to cool. 
My mom and the mixing bowl, 
March 2012
9. While cooling, mix anise (to taste), powdered sugar and milk to make icing. 
10. Ice and decorate with sprinkles if desired. 

Note: YOU CAN CUT THIS RECIPE IN HALF. It will raise faster. 

The story: Every year, my grandmother Ida baked this bread into doll- and football-shaped loaves for the many members of our family - more than 30 loaves in all, preparing in huge batches in a giant, custom-made stainless steel mixing bowl. She baked every day during Holy Week; everyone stopped over after church to have some with their coffee. Adults got ring-shaped loaves, with one giant ring just for Easter morning. 

I loved the aroma of anise and having freshly baked bread all to myself - no sharing! My grandmother passed away in 1999, when I was 17 years old (and as previously mentioned, barely capable of boiling water). Not quite ten years later, my first attempt at making it myself was a total disaster. I was spending the Easter holiday with a friend's parents on Lake Oconee in Georgia, so I opted to blame the humidity. Last year, when my then-two-month old son got his first loaf (doll-shaped and happily consumed by his mother), I marveled at how much they resembled each other!

Growing up in a small town in upstate New York with a big Italian community, I never wondered about the origins of this recipe or the tradition of the doll shape. As a graduate student studying anthropology, I attended a lecture on food and culture, where the speaker discussed a village on the coast of Spain and described the same Easter tradition. This year, remembering that talk, I finally turned to Google to explore it further and discovered that many Greek, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese families share similar recipes. Although there are many names and variations (including a wide variety of braids and baskets studded with hardboiled eggs), the one closest to our family tradition is pupa con l'uova, very simply, a doll with egg.
My sister (looking startlingly like her nephew) and my grandmother, c. 1985

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