Most of the Christian Mediterranean cultures have some form of rich, festive egg breads that they prepare for the Holy Week before Easter. This is when pinze were made at our house. It is a tradition that is still strong in the Veneto region of Italy. The panettone and colomba cakes often found today in the country are derivatives of pinza. Making good pinze requires some understanding of leavening and bread making–which I have described carefully below. It also requires patience because the dough, rich with eggs and butter, requires several long risings. Serve slices of pinza with espresso, tea or in the morning with caffe latte. For a richer dessert, top with whip cream or mascarpone and berries or enjoy it as is on a wonderful festive table or have it for brunch on Easter Sunday. The loaves keep well for one week if sealed in plastic wrap or 6 to 8 weeks in the freezer. For the effort, it pays to make a larger quality and enjoy for weeks after.
- 1 ½ cups golden raisins
- 1/2 cup dark rum
- 1 cup milk
- 1 cup granulated sugar plus 2 tablespoons
- Four 3/5-ounce cakes fresh yeast, crumbled (1/3 cup), or four 1-ounce packages instant dry yeast
- 9 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, or as needed, sifted
- 3 large eggs, at room temperature
- 6 large egg yolks, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the bowl of dough
- 1/2 cup Vin Santo, Verduzzo, or other sweet white wine
Combine the raisins with the rum in a small bowl and toss to mix. Let soak, tossing occasionally, while preparing the bread.
In a medium-size saucepan, heat the milk over medium heat to lukewarm, about 100°F. Pour the warmed milk into a large bowl and add 1/2 cup of the sugar and the yeast. Stir until they are dissolved. Add 1 cup of the flour and stir until the mixture is smooth. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and let it rise in a warm, draft-free place (such as on top of the refrigerator or in a gas oven with the pilot light on) until frothy. (If it doesn’t get frothy, that means the yeast is no longer active and you will have to start again with fresh yeast.)
Stir the dough with a fork to deflate it, then let it rise and froth two more times, stirring it down thoroughly and covering it again after each time. Depending on the environment, these three risings can take from 20 minutes to 45 minutes each.
In the bowl of a heavy-duty electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip 2 of the whole eggs, 2 of the yolks, and the remaining 1/2 cup sugar together at medium speed until foamy and pale yellow. Add 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) of the butter, the wine, zests, salt, and vanilla. Beat until only small pieces of butter remain. Scrape the yeast mixture into the mixer bowl and beat until blended.
Change to the dough hook attachment of the mixer and reduce the speed to low. Add 5 cups of the remaining flour, 1 cup at a time, beating until the mixture forms a sticky dough. Wait for each cup of flour to be incorporated before adding the next and stop the machine occasionally to scrape any unmixed ingredients from the sides and bottom of the bowl into the dough. The dough will be quite sticky; form it into a rough ball, clean the sides of the bowl, and cover the bowl with a kitchen towel. Let the dough rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in bulk, 1 to 2 hours.
Return the bowl of dough to the mixer fitted with the dough hook. Mix the dough at medium-low speed until deflated. Add the remaining 4 egg yolks and 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter and beat until incorporated. Gradually add enough of the remaining flour- about 2 cups- to form a firm but slightly sticky dough, stopping the mixer occasionally to scrape any unmixed ingredients from the sides and bottom of the bowl into the dough. Add the raisins and rum and mix until incorporated. The dough will be quite wet and sticky at this point.
Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface. Knead the dough, adding as much of the remaining 1 cup flour as necessary to prevent the dough from sticking to your hands and to the table, until the dough is smooth, soft, and only very slightly sticky if left to rest a minute.
Place the dough in a large lightly buttered bowl and turn the dough to butter all sides of it. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and set the dough to rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in bulk, 1/2 to 2 hours, depending on the environment.
Turn the risen dough out onto the floured work surface and knead until deflated. Cut the dough into three equal pieces and knead each into a ball, gathering and pinching the seam side of the dough together to form as smooth a ball as possible. (These formed loaves can be tightly wrapped in plastic wrap and refrigerated overnight. Allow extra time for refrigerated loaves to rise in the following step.)
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Place two loaves on one of the baking sheets, leaving as much space between them and the edges of the pan as possible. Place the third loaf in the center of the other baking sheet. With a pair of kitchen scissors, make three 1 1/2-inch-deep, 3-inch-long intersecting cuts that meet at the center to form a six-pointed star pattern on the rounded top of each loaf. The cuts should be quite deep- at least halfway through the loaf- to allow the dough to rise up from the center and form the traditional crests on the loaf. Cover the loaves lightly with kitchen towels and let rise in a warm draft-free place until doubled in bulk, 1 to 2 hours.
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Bake the bread for 35 minutes. Whisk the remaining whole egg with the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and the water until very smooth and the sugar is dissolved. Brush the pinze with this egg mixture, return them to the oven, and continue baking until very deep golden brown and a knife inserted into the center of the loaves comes out clean, about another 20 minutes.
Cool the pinze completely on a wire rack before slicing.