(Not) My Mother’s Easter Bread

(Hat tip to my friend Joann Condino, whose beautiful hand wood blocked linen tea towel serves as the backdrop for this photo.)

* * * * *

Good recipes have a way of returning to us, even if they have been lost for awhile. Take this one for toasted coconut bread from a restaurant in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. circa 1982.

It’s not what I was looking for when I opened my mom’s old recipe file. What I was looking for was the recipe for her Italian Easter Bread, la treccia di Pasqua, a sweet braided loaf studded with raisins and scented with vanilla and a hint of anise.

But one thing leads to another. What I found was a time capsule, or maybe more like an archaeological dig: layers of recipe cards, brittle yellowed newspaper clippings, and folded up pages from the New York Times Sunday Magazine from the days when Craig Claiborne and Pierre Franey collaborated on a weekly food column. I had rummaged through this collection, which my mom kept in a utilitarian gray square metal box, many times, but not in years.

There was a recipe for Scottish shortbread that I myself had clipped from the Times when I was a teenager; and no fewer than three recipes for Shaker lemon pie ~ I don’t think my mom ever made any of them, though she was a master at lemon meringue pie, which she made often for dinner parties using Betty Crocker as her starting point.

I found other, more valuable recipes, those written by Mom, who is now too frail to cook, often with notes and revisions scribbled hastily in the margin. Some of these recipes have been published in my books. Still, each handwritten card is a gift and a memory. Most poignant, perhaps, was the one for bigné, written on a whispery sheet of airmail stationary by my Zia Adriana, my mom’s sister and my godmother, who passed away in 1976. But those are recipes and stories for another day. (Like I said, one thing leads to another.)

I did not find the recipe for Easter bread. But I’m happy I found this recipe ~ which, incidentally, I had searched for in vain six or seven years ago (I wanted to make it for my kids).

In the 1980s, when my sister and I were both students at Skidmore College, our parents would take us out to dinner when they came to visit. One of our favorite spots was a restaurant outside of Saratoga called the Caunterbury Inn. It was very much of its time, a sprawling barn converted to a restaurant, with rafters, hanging plants and indoor trees, and ~ the main attraction ~ an indoor pond. The other main attraction ~ more than the surf & turf menu ~ was the mini loaf of warm toasted coconut bread that showed up on every table. The restaurant gave out copies of the recipe, printed on sturdy paper, to any guest who asked (who didn’t?).

What a sweet moment to find the original recipe card in my mom’s collection, and to think back on those days. I don’t know if the time will ever be right again for hanging plants and rafters in restaurants (the Caunterbury has since been converted to a restaurant and hotel complex called Longfellows), but it is time to bring back this cozy quick bread. I know one day Mom’s Easter bread recipe will turn up, too, but in the mean time, a loaf of this toasted coconut bread will grace my table on Easter. Maybe yours, too.

Buona Pasqua!

Makes one 9x5x3-inch loaf or 2 to 3 mini loaves

Toasted Coconut Bread

This throwback to the 1980s deserves a comeback. It's easy to make and has a tender crumb and toasty coconut flavor. Back in the day this probably would have been made with sweetened coconut but I prefer unsweetened, which is easy to find now. If you like, substitute melted coconut oil for the vegetable oil. The cake will be slightly less tender, but the warm coconut flavor will be more pronounced. This recipe is from the (now departed) Caunterbury Inn.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup shredded coconut
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil (I use sunflower) or melted coconut oil
  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup milk (I use whole)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Spread the coconut flakes on a small rimmed baking sheet. Bake for about 5 minutes, until the coconut just starts to brown. Be careful to check a minute or two before the timer dings, as coconut can quickly go from underdone to burnt. Remove from the oven, toss to distribute the residual heat, and set aside to cool.

Grease a 9x5x3 rectangular loaf pan or 2 to 3 mini pans (I used one 3 x 5 3/4 and one 6 1/2 x 3 1/2).

Measure the flour, baking powder, salt, and cooled coconut into a large bowl and whisk to combine.

Beat the egg in a separate bowl, and whisk in the milk, oil, sugar, and vanilla until well combined.

Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl with the dry and mix until just combined. Don't overmix. Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan(s). Bake the single loaf for about 1 hour and the mini loaves for about 30 minutes, until they are risen and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Serve warm with plenty of butter.

24 Responses to (Not) My Mother’s Easter Bread

  1. Rosa Jeanne Mayland April 11, 2017 at 8:22 am #

    What beautiful breads! They must taste amazing, I’m sure.

    Thanks for sharing the recipe with us.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  2. Diane P. April 11, 2017 at 8:59 pm #

    I wonder if these could be made gluten free by using coconut flour instead of all purpose flour? I have a granddaughter who cannot have gluten products………….

    • Domenica Marchetti April 13, 2017 at 8:23 am #

      Hi Diane, I’m not familiar with the properties of coconut flour, so I can’t say for sure. Maybe try a GF flour blend?

  3. Faith Bahadurian April 11, 2017 at 9:58 pm #

    What a lovely story to go with this recipe, my mother’s lemon meringue pie was especially good too, one of the only desserts she made. I’m sorry to hear your mother doesn’t cook any more but hope she’s still enjoying some good meals.

    • Domenica Marchetti April 13, 2017 at 8:24 am #

      Thanks Faith. I have yet to master the meringue topping. My mom’s always turned out beautifully, piled high with lots of swirls ~ and no weeping. Cheers, D

  4. Marisa @ All Our Way April 12, 2017 at 7:45 am #

    Thank you for sharing! Recipes with history are the ones we treasure the most. I’m looking forward to making this recipe ASAP. I’m sure your mamma enjoys seeing you continue her love of cooking. Buona Pasqua!

  5. Laney Sachs April 12, 2017 at 7:55 am #

    Often times, the memories that go along with recipes are even more important to us than the finished product. Thanks for sharing both…Buona Pasqua!

    • Domenica Marchetti April 13, 2017 at 8:27 am #

      Yes, for sure. So much about the food we love has to do with our sentimental attachment to it. Buona Pasqua, Laney xx

  6. elisa April 12, 2017 at 8:47 am #

    I just love anything with coconut! I will make this this weekend. Domenica, I have quite few recipes fro Easter Bread from my cousins in Abruzzo, some are with cheeses and salami and others sweet with anise and liqueur. If you give a hint what your lost Easter bread was like I search among the ones I have and you can choose whatever you want. Buona Pasqua a te e famiglia!!!!

    • Domenica Marchetti April 13, 2017 at 8:29 am #

      That’s very kind of you, Elisa. Mom’s treccia was a sweet yeasted bread with raisins, but the crumb wasn’t especially airy. It had a lovely flavor ~ I think she used lemon zest and aniseseed. I wish I had paid more attention all those times she made it! Buona Pasqua, cara amica.

      • elisa April 15, 2017 at 8:53 am #

        Domenica, this is the recipe I follow since I saw it on YouTube, it is the perfect Italian Easter bread, an I add either lemon or orange zest , plus raisins and although I have a box full of Easter bread recipes, I found this one is the closest to what I ate in Abruzzo and is in U.S. measurements Hope this help!.

      • elisa April 15, 2017 at 9:06 am #

        ..also I forgot to tell you that I add 1/4 tsp. ground anise seeds….

  7. eastofedencook April 12, 2017 at 9:39 am #

    Your sweet post spoke to me in so many ways. Food memories are always so strong, all the senses get involved. My mom’s favorite sweet was anything with coconut. I don’t remember when I first made Coconut Cake for her, but after that it was all she asked for. Her birthday, Easter, Mother’s day. I wouldn’t make it at Christmas, she would ask, how about New Year’s? She would love this recipe! I will have to try it in her memory, savoring every bite and thinking sweet thoughts of baking for her.

    • Domenica Marchetti April 13, 2017 at 8:31 am #

      What a nice memory ~ thanks for sharing. There is something very special about a good coconut cake, isn’t there…

  8. stefano - italian home cooking April 12, 2017 at 10:42 am #

    … so, I guess, we have now a mistery: where is mom’s easter bread? – was it Italian or more American… ? stefano
    ps your cake sounds good. I recently made an old Maida Heatter’s coconut cake that reminded me how good they are, especially at tea time

    • Domenica Marchetti April 13, 2017 at 8:33 am #

      Ciao Stefano, I’ll have to look up Maida Heatter’s recipe. As for my mom’s Easter bread, I believe it was Italian ~ or at least Mediterranean, as I know there are similar breads in the Greek tradition. I’m going to keep searching. Cheers, D

  9. Napoli Restaurant Alert April 12, 2017 at 4:32 pm #

    How very lovely. I have a book my mother penned for me in Italian over ten years ago with some of her recipes, its one of my most treasured possessions. When we moved house I thought I’d lost it and I was beyond devastated, but it was recovered!

  10. Diane Threlkeld April 14, 2017 at 11:21 am #

    HELP! Sweetened coconut flakes or unsweetened?

    • Domenica Marchetti April 14, 2017 at 1:47 pm #

      Hi Diane, I think you can use either. I mention in the headnote that I prefer unsweetened, but I suspect that the restaurant version was made with sweetened. Hope I’m not to late with this answer. Cheers, D

  11. Sonia Gupta April 16, 2017 at 4:56 am #

    Appreciate this recipe. I made a vegan banana bread that came out so good and I am sure you will love to try the recipe.

  12. ciaochowlinda April 17, 2017 at 10:20 pm #

    What lovely memories, Domenica. It’s wonderful how food memories stir thoughts of so many other things – sitting around a holiday table, meeting relatives for the first time, a first meal made for a new boyfriend, etc. etc. These recipes that are saved are so precious and it’s wonderful that blogging has made it easier to share with everyone and to preserve online. Now waiting for your mom’s Easter bread recipe to appear.

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