Catholic Culture Solidarity
Catholic Culture Solidarity

Catholic Recipe: Italian Decorative Breads


  • 7 lbs. flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup salt
  • 1 cup shortening
  • 4- 4 1/2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 cup dry yeast
  • 1 egg
  • Sesame seeds (optional)


Prep Time: N/A

Difficulty:  ★★★★

Cost:  ★★★★

For Ages: 15+

Origin: Italy


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This recipe is part of the Sicilian tradition of the St. Joseph Altar. The dough from this can be formed into several decorative shapes. However, the yield for each of the shapes is based on the amounts used in the recipe. The dough was mixed with a commercial mixer using a "baker's hook" and baked in a commercial oven. If you are going to work this dough by hand, it may be easier if you "cut" the recipe in half, using only half the amounts given.


Mix flour, sugar, salt and shortening with water. Dissolve yeast in warm water and sugar. Pour yeast water into flour mixture and mix well. Knead. Let stand 5 minutes and knead again. Let stand 5 minutes more. (For cutting and shaping dough, see specific instructions below for decorative breads.) Place on a greased baking sheet and let rise to double in size. Brush entire dough well with beaten egg. Sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake in 400° oven until golden brown.

Joseph's Staff With sharp knife, cut dough into three equal parts. Roll dough to about 2 1/2 feet long. Place on greased cookie sheet in shape of candy cane. Slightly flatten dough with heel of hand. With scissors at a 45° angle, make one-inch snips along both sides and on top of dough. (Snips should all go in the same direction.) Yields 3 large staffs.

Palms Cut dough into four equal parts. Roll dough to about 2 feet in length. Place on greased cookie sheet and flatten slightly with heel of hand. Snip dough on both sides and in middle. Yields 4 large palms.

Cross Cut dough in half. Roll dough to about 4 feet long. Cut off 20 inches. Place the 28-inch piece on greased cookie sheet vertically and place the 20-inch piece horizontally forming a cross. Where it crosses, use your fist to mesh together the two pieces of dough. Tuck under ends of each bar to give a rounded, finished end. Yields 2 large crosses.

Twist Cut dough in half. Roll dough about six feet long. Cut off two feet. Bend remaining dough in half. Place the two-foot long section in the middle and begin plaiting. Yields 2 large twists.

Artichokes Cut dough in half. Roll out to 4 feet long. Flatten out with heel of hand. With scissors on an angle cut half-way through dough about every 3 inches all the way down only on one side. Starting at one end, roll as you do a jelly roll. Place on greased cookie sheet with cut end up. Let rise. (As it rises, the points take on the shape of artichoke leaves.) Yields 2 large artichokes.

Recipe Source: Viva San Giuseppe by St. Joseph Guild, St. Joseph Guild, 1200 Mirabeau Ave, New Orleans, Louisiana 70122