Scarcella (Italian Easter Cookie Bread)

One thing that's a typical favorite on Italian dessert tables is scarcella, an Italian Easter cookie that usually holds a dyed "hard-boiled" egg. For simplicity, I say "hard-boiled" since the egg will cook in the oven and not over a stove.


Of course with Italians, nothing is straightforward - it's called a variety of other names and often people categorize it as a bread, while others say it's a cookie. For the sake of celebrating the holiday without arguing (good luck), let's just call it a cookie bread.


If you want to know my stance, all I have to say is it has the dense consistency like a cookie and does not contain yeast..so I'll let you come to your own conclusion. But anyway, it's easy to make, sweet, lemony and a holiday staple. So, enjoy!


Ingredients

Dough

  • 4 1/4 cups Flour (all-purpose) - have extra for working the dough

  • 3 teaspoons Baking Powder

  • 4 Eggs (large)

  • 3/4 cup Olive Oil

  • 1 cup Sugar (granulated)

  • Zest of 1 Lemon

Decoration

  • 4 Raw Dyed Eggs (do not hard boil them first)

  • 1 Egg (large, beaten)

  • Rainbow Nonpareils


Steps

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line three large baking sheets with parchment paper.


2. In a large bowl, whisk together the Flour and Baking Powder. Set this bowl aside.

let's be Frank: I usually do all my mixing/whisking in a stand mixer since it's easier.

3. Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, beat together on medium speed the 4 Eggs, Olive Oil, Sugar and Lemon Zest until fully combined.


4. If using a stand mixer, switch the paddle attachment to a dough hook.


5. Gradually mix the flour mixture into the egg mixture until fully combined.


6. On a floured surface, gently knead the dough until it is workable and not overly sticky.

let's be Frank: Make sure to have floured hands and a measuring cup of flour accessible for ease.

7. Shape the dough into a ball and divide up into 9 equal portions and reserve an additional small ball of dough for later.

let's be Frank: You'll need this small reserve of dough to secure the dyed eggs into place.

8. Roll each of these 9 portions out until they are approximately 3/4" or 1" wide.

let's be Frank: The length of them is irrelevant as long as they're roughly the same size. 

You'll need to repeat the following Steps 9-12 for each equal portion of dough.


9. Once all rolled out, you'll want to braid together three strands. Shape this braided dough into a wreath and seal the two ends together using a little water on your fingers.

let's be Frank: The length of the braids will determine how big of a wreath you make. Don't make them so big that they won't fit on your baking sheet! Typically, I cut the braids in half and make smaller wreaths - if you do this, just remember to make extra dyed eggs!
let's be Frank: If you want to get creative, you can shape the braids into a cross, which we typically do at Easter. 

10. Take one of your Raw Dyed Eggs and place it on the seam of the two braided ends. With two small 1/4" strands of the leftover dough, secure the egg in place with a cross over the egg.

let's be Frank: As you did before, wet your fingertip to secure the small dough strands to the braided bread. 

11. Beat the leftover Egg and gently brush the dough with the egg wash and sprinkle the braids with Rainbow Nonpareils.

let's be Frank: You'll want to lightly brush the entire dough (including the straps securing the egg) with the egg wash. This will give the dough a shiny golden color and crust while baking. Do not brush the dyed egg with the egg wash. 
let's be Frank: If you want a more golden complexion, do the following instead: (1) brush the dough with the egg wash (skip the nonpareils now), (2) bake for about 5 minutes, (3) open the oven and then brush the dough again with the egg wash, (4) sprinkle with nonpareils and (5) let it finish baking in the oven.

12. Bake for ~15 minutes or until the tops of the braids are lightly golden and shiny. The bottom of the Scarcella should be lightly brown.

let's be Frank: I typically start checking at about 10 minutes, especially if I made small wreaths or thin braids.

13. Remove from the oven and serve at room temperature.