Cathie Campbell

A culinary tradition

Even though Easter is now behind us, and I know I have said this before, but whenever Easter rolls around, I get to thinking of a favorite childhood memory: my Italian Nana baking Easter breads for her after-church guests.

I was fascinated with the variety and the flavors and aromas (and tastes, of course). Many in my family still carry out this tradition. If you would like to bake some delicious breads to share with loved ones, here are a few recipes that I have always liked. Easter Sunday was on March 27.

Lemon meringue muffins

Adapted from a recipe from Taste of Home.

6 tablespoons butter, softened

1 cup sugar, divided

2 eggs

1/2 cup lemon yogurt

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon grated lemon zest

1/4 teaspoon lemon extract

1 1/3 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

2 egg whites

1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon vanilla

1. Preheat oven to 350. In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and 2/3 cup sugar until light and creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in lemon yogurt, lemon juice, lemon zest and extract.

2. In another bowl, whisk flour, baking powder and baking soda. Add to creamed mixture and blend together just until the dry ingredients are moistened. Fill greased or paper-lined muffin cups three-fourths full. Bake 17 to 19 minutes in preheated oven or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. (See instructions for making the meringue and prepare that while muffins bake.) Remove from the oven and set aside. Increase oven setting to 400.

3. While muffins are baking, in a small bowl, beat egg whites on medium speed until soft peaks form. Gradually add remaining sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating on high after each addition until sugar is dissolved. Continue beating until the mixture forms stiff peaks.

4. Spread meringue over the tops of the muffins. Return to oven and bake 6 to 8 more minutes, or until the meringue begins to brown nicely. Cool 5 minutes before removing muffins from the pan, then arrange on a wire cooling rack. The muffins are very good served warm. Refrigerate any leftovers. Makes about 1 dozen.

Easter bread with orange butter

Recipe passed around through several generations.

1 envelope (1/4-oz.) active dry yeast

3/4 cup warm water (110 to 115 degrees, or as directed on yeast package)

3 eggs

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup canola oil

2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons grated lemon zest

4 to 5 cups flour

1/2 cup raisins (I prefer golden)

2 teaspoons butter, melted

3/4 cup butter, softened

3 tablespoons orange marmalade

1. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Add the eggs, sugar, oil, salt, lemon zest and 2 cups flour; beat until smooth. Stir in enough remaining flour to form a soft dough.

2. Turn onto a floured surface. Sprinkle with raisins; knead until smooth and elastic, about 6 to 8 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease the top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.

3. Punch dough down. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and divide dough into three equal pieces. Shape each into a 20-inch rope. Place ropes on a greased baking sheet and braid; pinch ends to seal and tuck under. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour. Preheat oven to 350.

4. Bake in preheated oven for 24 to 28 minutes or until golden brown. Brush with melted butter. Remove from pan to a wire rack to cool. In a small bowl, combine softened butter and marmalade; serve with bread. Makes 1 large loaf.

Old-fashioned spiced hot cross buns

2 packages (1/4-oz. each) active dry yeast

2 cups warm, whole milk (110 to 155 degrees or as package directs. Rapid Rise takes a higher temperature)

2 eggs

1/3 cup butter, softened

1/4 cup sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon allspice

6 to 7 cups flour

1/2 cup dried currants

1/2 cup raisins

1 egg yolk

2 tablespoons water

* Icing:

1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar

4 to 6 teaspoons whole milk

1. In a small bowl, dissolve yeast in warm milk. In a large mixing bowl, combine eggs, butter, sugar, salt, spices, yeast mixture and 3 cups flour; beat on medium speed until smooth. Stir in currants, raisins and enough remaining flour to form a soft dough (dough will be sticky).

2. Turn dough onto a floured surface; knead until dough is smooth and elastic, about 6 to 8 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease the top. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.

3. Punch down the dough. Turn onto a lightly floured surface; divide and shape into 30 balls. Place the balls of dough 2 inches apart on greased baking sheets. Cover with kitchen towels; let rise in a warm place until doubled, 30 to 45 minutes. Preheat oven to 375.

4. Using a sharp knife, cut a cross on top of each bun. In a small bowl, whisk egg yolk and 2 tablespoons water; brush over tops. Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from pans to wire racks to cool slightly.

5. For icing, mix confectioners' sugar and enough milk to reach desired consistency. Pipe a cross on top of each bun. Serve warm. Makes about 2 1/2 dozen buns.

Sweet potato and coconut bread

3 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup butter, softened

2 cups sugar

4 eggs

2 2/3 cup cooked, peeled, mashed sweet potatoes (or yams)

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup flaked coconut

1 cup chopped walnuts

1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 10-inch tube pan. In a medium mixing bowl, blend together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt.

2. In a large bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer until creamy, about 2 minutes. Gradually beat sugar into creamed butter until fully mixed, about 3 more minutes. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating each egg completely before add the next. Mix in sweet potato and vanilla until well blended. Stir flour mixture, coconut and walnuts into butter mixture until just combined. Pour batter into the prepared tube pan.

3. Bake in preheated oven about 1 hour and 10 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Makes 1 10-inch bread.