Makes 6 or 7 Rectangular Loaves or 4 Round Loaves
1 tablespoon salt
7 ¼ pounds all-purpose four, with 5 cups kept separate
3 ½ cups granulated sugar, with ½ cup set aside
2 packages active dry yeast
¾ cup lukewarm water (105-110 degrees)
2 cups warm milk (105-110 degrees)
4 oranges, for juice and zest (yields 1 ½ cups juice, ½ cup zest)
4 lemons, for juice and zest (yields 1 ½ cups juice, ½ cup zest)
½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and softened
9 jumbo eggs (or 12 small or 10 medium eggs)
1 ½ tablespoons vanilla extract
1 ½ tablespoons lemon extract
1 ½ tablespoons orange extract
1 ½ ounces anisette
1 ½ ounces light rum
4 to 8 ounces vegetable shortening, for greasing pans
24 ounces honey, for brushing on finished loaves
In a large bowl, combine the salt, 5 cups of the four, and 1 cup of the sugar. In a separate bowl, combine the yeast and the warm water. Dissolve the yeast and set aside for several minutes until bubbly. Then add the yeast mixture to the four mixture. Add the 2 cups of warm milk to the mixture. Mix until you have a solid, sticky paste; cover with wax paper and blankets and place in a warm room, preferably with sunlight. Allow to rise for approximately 3 hours, or until it is doubled in size.
Grate the zest from the oranges and lemons. Set the zest aside. Squeeze the juices from the oranges and lemons to equal 3 cups. Set aside.
In a mixer, beat the butter and 2 cups of remaining sugar, adding the sugar gradually until the combination is light and fluffy. Add the eggs and beat until blended (do not overbeat!). Add the vanilla, lemon, and orange extracts, anisette, rum, lemon and orange zests, and lemon and orange juices.
Add this mixture to the rising dough. Mix together slowly and add the additional flour cup by cup—usually 4 to 5 pounds—until the dough becomes firm in consistency and satiny in texture. Knead very well.
Form the dough into one large round ball; butter the top thoroughly and cover with waxed paper and blankets. Place it in a warm room, preferably with sunlight. Allow the dough to double in size, approximately 4 to 5 hours. (We use a medium-size white plastic dishpan, reserved only for making Easter bread.)
When the dough has doubled in size, knead slightly and prepare loaves in one of three formats: rectangular loaf, round loaf, or round loaf of separate buns. All pans should be greased generously with vegetable shortening.
To make separate buns, take a piece of dough, about the size of a woman’s fist, and roll it out between your hands to the proportion of a sausage. Place on a bread board and pat it down to about 2 inches width and ½ inch in depth. Wrap the piece of dough around the first and middle fingers of your free hand, to about 3 inches in length. Tuck in the top end and place standing up in a round baking pan. Start by putting one bun in the middle and fill around the pan with buns also with buns also standing on end. Butter the tops and cover, allowing to rise until it’s quite puffy, about 1 to 2 hours, and the dough doubles in size.
To make a round or rectangular loaf, place the dough directly in the pan. Butter the tops of the loaves and cover again. Allow the prepared loaves to rise for about 1 to 2 hours, until the dough doubles in size. When a round or rectangular loaf has risen fully, make shallow slashes in the tops in the form of a cross.
Preheat the oven to 275 degrees.
Bake until the tops are light brown and a toothpick, when inserted, comes out clean. Depending on the size of the loaves, this can take anywhere from 20 minutes to more than an hour.
When baked, remove from the oven and allow to cool for about an hour. Remove from pans while still warm, and allow to cool slightly on wax paper; brush honey on top. When the bread is completely cool, brush with honey again, then wrap in wax paper, then aluminum foil. (You have the option of sprinkling the extra ½ cup of sugar over the loaves after the second brushing with honey.)
Note: All ingredients should be at room temperature when preparation begins. The warmth of the house is instrumental in the times that are provided for the rising of the yeast mixture and dough. It is best to place the dough near a radiator or in a sunny spot so that the dough can enjoy the benefits of the warmest heat available. (Don’t be afraid to push up the thermostat!). Also, cover the dough with waxed paper at first so that in the event the dough touches the cloth, it can be easily removed. Finally, buttering the top of the dough before allowing it to rise prohibits a crusty top from forming, thus providing the best dough for kneading and ultimate result when baked.