Friday, April 11, 2014

Happy Palm Sunday & "Cuzzupa" Traditional Italian Easter Cakes

Spring has finally arrived, even though the weather is still cool. But that is not going to stop the coloring of eggs, bunny rabbits, Easter bonnets, parades, and egg hunts as Easter is right around the corner. It’s also time to start thinking about baking Easter cakes and sweet desserts for your Easter dinner. Christians in over 80 nations will be celebrating Palm Sunday this weekend, and Easter Sunday next weekend. “Happy Easter” is translated in Italian as “Bouna La Pasqua,” and “Happy Palm Sunday” is “Felice Domenica delle Palme.” 

On Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday as it is often called, Christians celebrate the entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem, the week before his death and resurrection. The Bible reveals that when Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem, the crowds greeted him by waving palm branches and covering his path with palms. In Italy, this Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday, Mass will be celebrated by Pope Francis I. 

Chris coloring eggs
On Palm Sunday when I was growing up, we would go to church, and receive the Palms. When we returned home, I can recall creating palm crosses and beautiful braided wreaths. My mom and grandmother’s would show me how to design these beautiful handmade Palm creations. We would take these crosses and braided items, and place them around religious photos, statutes of Mary the mother of Jesus, or other holy objects.

Palm Sunday is the beginning of Holy Week and it is the holiest of all the weeks in the Roman Catholic faith. We would go to church on Holy Wednesday, Holy Thursday, and most of all we went on Good Friday. That was the last day of eating a meatless meal. On this day, Jesus died on the cross at 3:00 pm. Sometimes I would go with my family to the Easter Vigil. This took place on the Saturday night before Easter Sunday. I remember that it was a beautiful, impressive, but solemn mass.

Also want to wish all of my Jewish friends out there a “Happy Passover” as well. Passover begins at sundown on Monday evening, April 14th. Passover is a beautiful and meaningful holiday. It allows the Jewish community to relive its past, celebrate the present, hope for its future by lovely rituals, and by being together with family and friends which is bound by tradition.

During Holy week, between going to church, we would do all of our Easter baking. I have a wonderful recipe for a very traditional Italian Easter cake called Cuzzupa or Cruzzupe. This is a time-honored recipe from my great-grandmother Sofia and comes from Calabria, Italy. It is made with Anise seeds (licorice flavor) and made into a braided wreath or nest with a hard boiled colored eggs placed into the dough. Then colored sprinkles are added to top off the cakes. The consistency is a cake type of dough not a bread.

Basket from Academia Barilla

This recipe won first place in a contest for Easter Cakes on “Cooking With Nonna.” Rossella Rago, who is the owner of “CWN” chose my recipe last year, and what I won was a huge, beautiful basket filled with all delicious items from Academia Barilla. Thank you Rossella for the honor of posting my families favorite Easter Cakes.  

I remember a time when I was about 9 or 10 years old…………….
We had a large kitchen and we would prepare for baking day with a large wooden board that we used to roll out our dough, and create our special cakes and cookies, for holidays throughout the year. This antique pastry board was passed down through the years, which I have inherited to create my own delectable sweet treats. As I roll out my dough, I think back to a simpler time. The smells in the kitchen would always give me that warm and toasty feeling. It was a feeling of love, family, and food. Food was and still is a big part of my family.


6 cups of flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch of salt
Anise Seeds (between 1/3 and 1/2 oz of crushed and cleaned anise)
4 heaping tablespoons of Crisco (room temperature)
1 cup of sugar
6 eggs (save 1 egg white to brush on cakes before baking)
3/4 cup of milk
Confetti candy sprinkles

Color hard boiled eggs (amount is up to you) a few days ahead of time. Preheat oven to 350°F- -375°F depending on your oven. Grease flat cookie sheets or pans. Crush Anise seeds and put into a dish (before, use a cotton handkerchief to gather anise and twist hanky under it. Then rub hard on the ball of Anise. After rubbing it rolled up in between both hands (make fists.) Open carefully and sort out Anise from brown husks and sometimes small stones.)

Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Then mix in Anise. Mix in Crisco with sugar and after make a well shape. (Remember, this is the traditional Old Italian way, but you can also use a bowl to mix all ingredients.) Put in eggs (save/1 egg white) and milk. 

Gradually take flour from the sides of the well and mix with eggs and milk. Don’t break the wall as all liquid will run out. When all mixed you knead dough till all mixed good and a smooth texture. Might have to put a little flour on board or counter, so it will not stick. Not too much flour or the cakes will be too dry. Then cut a chunk and leave the rest on the side of a board or counter.

Roll out dough in a long and thin strip. Make the strip the thickness of a wooden spoon handle, not any thinner as the dough will break. If you twist 2 strips together to make a braid make each a little thinner than your finger. They will swell as they bake. Put your colored eggs in the braid, nest or dolls, whatever you decide to create. Be careful as you put them on a baking sheet so they don’t break or crack. Roll small pieces of dough and then flatten out with the palm of your hand to cover around the side of the egg on dolls or nests. This helps keep the eggs more secure. If you make dolls, put a slit on feet and hands.

Now beat saved egg white and with a pastry brush, brush egg white on all parts of your cakes. (Careful not to get egg white on cookie sheet as it will burn and also try to keep egg white off of colored eggs as they will be spotty after they bake)  After the egg whites are on brushed on the cakes, dip a finger in egg white mixture and then dot with candy confetti sprinkles on the dolls, crosses or what ever you made. 

Then bake in oven for about 20-25 minutes, depending on your oven. They should be lightly browned. Let them sit about 10 minutes to cool off before taking them off the cookie sheet/pans, they may crack or break so be careful removing them from the pans. You can store in an airtight cookie tin for about a week, if they don’t get eaten before that. Enjoy! Ciao!

Till Next Time……………………………….........................

Copyright © 2014 “Family Plus Food Equals Love” All Rights Reserved


  1. Good evening Dottie , what a wonderful post and the Cuzzupas looks delicious , I know they taste yummy . You had a wonderful time growing up and so full of joy and happiness ... now that's what wonderful memories are made of .
    Dear Dottie you post was very moving and the way you told it brought a tear to my eye ... good work my dear , it made me think of the happy times I had as a child growing up . Enoyed it very much as I do all your ;-Dpost .Have a great weekend and blessing dear Dottie ... Nee :

    1. Good evening Nee, My eyes are tearing up just reading your post. Thank you so much for your touching words. I am so happy that you enjoy reading my blog as well as it brings back memories. To me thats what it is all about. Sharing my memories with others, that I can touch someone else and bring family back to this crazy world we live in. Yes, these cakes are fabulous and so delicious that you can make them other times within the year, just omit the colored eggs. Yes, I agree with you Nee, I did have an enjoyable childhood, with lots of family members around all the time. Thank you again dear Nee, and you as well enjoy your weekend..Blessings on this Palm Sunday, Dottie :)

  2. Dear Dottie, My mother had a big wooden board that came out to bake with too. I would love to go back in time just to see the kitchen again with all the flour and pots and pans for the holiday cooking. It was so nice. Of course, I had a small wooden board to bake on as a child so I could bake along with my mother.
    The Easter treats were so nice and different from the Christmas goodies. It is a blessings to have these memories, though it does leave a void in your heart too.
    Beautiful recipe too. Blessings dear. Catherine xo

    1. Dear Catherine, Thank you for stopping by and I am so happy that I could bring back your childhood memories. I agree, I wish that we could go back in time, I would have loved to be able to learn more from my grandmother, and great-grandmother Sofia. She died when I was really little, so I never got to know her. I know what you mean though all the hustle and bustle at holiday time. Flour on the flour, the aromas, of the baking, and of course the laughter of the family. That must have made you feel so grown-up with your own board, baking along with your mother. A simpler time and I can feel the void like you said with a heavy heart, but we have our memories and that will last forever. .Thanks again, have a wonderful blessed Palm Sunday weekend. Dottie :)

  3. What a beautfiul post, Dottie. I'm so sorry I didn't get here yesterday to wish you a Happy Palm Sunday.

    Easter Week was always such a joyous time in our house. You have such aromatic memories as do I. Those were wonderful days weren't they Dottie. Loved ones took center stage as they prepared for the festivities and we would sniff about the kitchen seeking a taste here and there.

    I must say, I don't remember such a recipe, although I do remember the scent of anise wafting through the air. I don't cook with it much but I do remember that licorice smell, lol...I'm sure these cupcakes of yours are delectable. I haven't decided what I'm going to bake this week but I will be baking something!

    Happy Holy Week, Dottie and thank you so much for sharing your wonderful memories and recipe with us.

    1. Dear Louise,
      How wonderful that you stopped by, this is such a busy time, especially with Holy Week upon us. Happy Palm Sunday to you as well, even though it is a day later.
      Yes, I agree Louise the aromatic memories will never go away. They sure were fun and carefree times. We were much younger and didn't have the responsibilities of cooking a huge meal for everyone. There were many days we would sneak a taste of the fried veggies or a chunk of bread dunked in the sauce cooking on the stove.
      This recipe was from Calabria, in Italy and they are cakes that are shaped into nests, with the anise seeds. These are like a cake dough not a bread, but they are to die for.
      Have a blessed Holy week to you as well, I hope you have a good week of baking. Thanks...Dottie :)