This is a bread from my childhood. Easter marks new beginning. In many cultures, traditions are deeply rooted and celebrations are surrounding food this time of year. Growing up, ending the fast of Lent, was a big deal in my home. Most fasting included obtaining from sweets. Easter breads are often rich, egg breads ranging in sweetness, and sometimes are studded with luxurious ingredients such as anise, chocolate or dried fruit. This Italian Easter bread recipe is nostalgic and would be the treat my family would break the long fast with.
For the Bread
½ cup milk, warmed to 100F’ degrees, no higher
¼ cup sugar
2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast (1 packet)
4 – 5 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, divided
1 teaspoon salt
1 orange, zested and juiced (about ½ c juice)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
¼ cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
½ teaspoon ground anise or pure anise extract
For the Braid
6 raw eggs, dyed if desired ( I prefer to color them after they bake)
1 egg, beaten with 1 teaspoon of water for egg wash
In the bowl of your stand mixer add the warm milk with the sugar, wait for the sugar crystals dissolve stirring ocassionally. Add the yeast, and set the mixture aside until it begins to foam slightly, about 5-10 minutes.
While the yeast is activating, combine the flour with the salt. Set aside. In a medium bowl or pitcher, whisk together the orange juice and zest, beaten eggs, melted butter, and ground anise or extract. Set aside.
Using the beater attachment. Add the orange juice mixture top the activated yeast mixture. On low to medium speed, begin to slowly incorporate the flour and salt mixture a little at a time, mixing until the dough comes together.
Change the beater attachment to your mixers knead hook and knead dough until smooth and elastic. About 5-8 minutes. Dust with minimal flour if sticking, and occasionally stop the mixer and scrape the bottom with a flour dusted rubber spatula. The dough will be slightly tacky. If kneading by hand, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes, until soft and smooth.
Shaping the Dough
Once dough has been kneaded and is smooth, place into a clean, lightly oiled bowl, turning to coat the dough with oil. Cover the dough with plastic wrap or a slightly damp tea towel, and set in a warm, draft-free location to rise for 1 hour. Inside an oven is a good place.
When the dough has doubled in size, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide the dough into 3 equal pieces and gently roll each into an 24” rope.
If the dough springs back on you, cover the ropes with a slightly damp towel and let rest for 5-10 minutes to relax the gluten. Then try rolling them out again.
Pinch one end of all three ropes together to secure the dough in place and begin to very loosely braid the strands. Shape the braid into a ring and move onto the back side of a prepared baking sheet.
Gently press the dyed, raw eggs into the braid. Be sure to place the eggs on the top, and slightly closer to the center of the ring as opposed to the outer edge, tuck deeply into the braids. During the second rise, the eggs sometimes roll to the outer edge of the dough ring.
Gently brush the dough with the beaten egg wash, add optional sprinkles –being careful around the dyed eggs (the moisture from the egg wash tends to make the dye run). I use un-dyed eggs to avoid the dye bleeding onto the baked bread. Then I paint them by hand after baking.
Allow the dough to rise a second time until puffy and doubled in size, about 45- 60 minutes. Bake in a preheated 350F’ degree oven for about 20-25 minutes, or until the ring is golden brown.
Allow the bread cool on the baking sheet for at least 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
If you are embellishing eggs after baking, allow bread to cool before painting.
I love to make individual rings also, like the ones below. Try experimenting with different shapes and sprinkles.
Happy Spring !