By: Jerry Finzi, Grand Voyage Italy
March 19 is a very special feast day in Italy… La Festa di San Giuseppe. This is the day that Catholics celebrate not only Saint Joseph, but all fathers. Consider this day as the Italian Father’s Day…
A special tradition consists of making and serving Pane di San Giuseppe, a shaped bread formed into a variety of designs for loaves that will adorn La Tavola di San Giuseppe.
You’d be surprised at the amazing and luscious spreads on Italians’ tables for their Cena di San Giuseppe, both in private homes and for community and church groups.
Traditional forms for breads are crowns, crosses, crabs, donkeys, staffs, wheat, images of St. Joseph, and braids representing the Blessed Mother.
This bread has a rich texture and a slightly sweet taste. To pay homage to St. Joseph’s craft, breadcrumbs and sesame seeds signify dust fallen from his carpenters’ saw.
(The celebrations were called off this year, but the traditions will return in 2021.)
Here is a basic recipe for making Pane di San Giuseppe in a braid form…
- 2/3 cup warm milk, 110 degrees F.
- 1 package dry active yeast
- 3 cups bread flour
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 2 tablespoons melted butter
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 teaspoon anise seed or 1 teaspoon anise extract
- 1 beaten egg for glaze
- Sesame seeds for topping
- Dissolve the yeast into the warm milk and allow to proof until it becomes foamy on top.
- Place 1 cup of flour and salt into the bowl of your electric mixer and briefly mix well using a dough hook. Then add the yeast mixture and blend at low speed. Scrape down sides as needed.
- Next, add the melted butter and honey, then mix for a minute or two while adding the eggs, anise seed/extract.
- Gradually add more flour, little by little, scraping down sides as needed, then mix on medium until you see strands of gluten developing. Depending on humidity, you might now need all the flour. The dough should be sticky but forming into a rough, sticky ball.
- Place the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead for several minutes, producing a smooth ball of dough.
- Transfer the dough to a bowl wiped with olive oil. Cover and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled in volume.
- Gently punch the dough down, then place onto lightly floured surface and cut into three equal parts.
- Roll each piece of dough into ropes, each about 16-18″ long.
- Place the ropes parallel to each other onto a half sheet baking pan lined with a sheet of parchment. Then gently braid the ropes together, tucking under the ends. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm place to rise for another hour.
- Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Once the dough is risen, brush with the beaten egg, then sprinkle with sesame seeds.
- Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until golden brown, and a straw or toothpick when pierced into the middle of the bread comes out clean.
- Transfer to a wire rack to cool.