Italian Easter Bread
Easter was a very special time when I was growing up. I remember it as my foray in to fashion as my mother would take me shopping every year to buy a new Easter outfit for Easter Sunday. It would not be complete without a spring coat in a pretty shade of pastel, a matching hat, white gloves and patent leather shoes. (My husband can thank my mother for my clothing and shoes obsession.)
While I am not certain if this is still de rigeur in 2012, it was certainly the thing to do as a young girl in the early 1960’s. Easter was not Easter without your Easter outfit. The baskets, colored eggs and chocolate rabbits took a back seat to the fashion statement.
When my children were young (in the 1980‘s) my son truly believed he caught a glimpse of the giant Easter bunny rabbit hopping across our lawn in the middle of the night bearing gifts for Easter morning. (I should have known then of things to come.) It was all the rage among our friends back then to give gifts to our children on Easter morning. Barbie dolls, Thunder Megazords…oh, nothing would do other than a Thunder Megazord. And yes, that was in addition to the fancy woven baskets, Cadbury Creme Eggs, chocolate rabbits, jelly beans and various other basket stuffers. There were also rather festive parties which included massive Easter egg hunts. Oh, and don’t forget the Easter trees.
Easter trees were an invention of the 80’s and found new and innovative ways to clutter up the attic and wreck havoc on storage closets for all of the Easter egg ornaments and the several foot high tree itself. This holiday had now become almost as commercialized and as anticipated by children as Christmas.
Meanwhile, the one constant in all of this dressing up and gift giving over the years was family gathering on Easter, usually following church. Baked ham with the trimmings and a dessert that included coconut was standard fare. Later in life, there was perhaps a leg of lamb or two prepared in place of the ham. The Easter dinner menu was pretty much set. That was just how it was. It was family tradition.
I felt a little bit of that old Easter spirit when I decided to bake this festive Italian Easter Egg Bread last weekend. Mr. B is of Italian descent, so what could be more fitting? While I was dying eggs and making the bread, I fondly remembered those days when I colored Easter eggs as a child with my mother and then sat down to continue the tradition with my own children. I laughed to myself as I remembered my son talking so vividly about that giant rabbit he thought he saw in the middle of the night as he visited our home to drop off the Easter presents. Who knows, maybe he did. 😉
We now find ourselves empty nesters. No egg hunts are planned and the Easter baskets are empty. Some of those baskets are now props for photos. The children have their own lives and commitments. So, while our Easter may be a quiet one this year, there are wonderful memories from the past to fill our spirit The years go by quickly, so enjoy every holiday that you have with your children to the fullest.
There is still some time before Easter. Maybe I’ll just go buy another Easter tree, color some eggs and see what happens in the middle of the night before Easter morning. 🙂
This traditional Easter bread was prepared from a recipe in April 2012’s Bon Appétit. We found the flavor and texture to be a cross between Challah bread and Brioche. The leftovers would be perfect to use in this Bourbon Bread Pudding recipe.
Friends often think alike. My friend Lora at Cake Duchess prepared a similar Italian Easter Bread.
This festive holiday bread bakes up beautifully and would be a perfect addition to your holiday table. We thought the taste resembled a cross between Challah bread and Brioche.
2/3 cup whole milk
5 tablespoons sugar, divided
1 3/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (from one 1/4-ounce envelope)
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces, room temperature, plus 1/2 tablespoon, melted
For decorative eggs and egg wash:
6-7 large eggs
Food coloring or Easter egg dye, if desired
Stand Mixer Method:
1. Heat milk in a small saucepan over medium heat or in a microwave until an instant-read thermometer registers 110°–115°. Transfer milk to a 2-cup measuring cup; stir in 1 Tbsp. sugar. Sprinkle yeast over milk and whisk to blend. Let sit until yeast is foamy, about 5 minutes. Add eggs; whisk until smooth.
2. Combine remaining 4 Tbsp. sugar, flour, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add milk mixture. With mixer running, add 1/2 cup room-temperature butter, 1 piece at a time, blending well between additions. Mix on medium speed for 1 minute. Knead on medium-high speed until dough is soft and silky, about 5 minutes.
3. Brush a medium bowl with some melted butter; place dough in bowl. Brush top of dough with remaining melted butter; cover with plastic wrap. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover with plastic; chill.
4. Let dough rise in a warm, draft-free area until doubled in size, 1–1 1/2 hours (or 2–2 1/2 hours if dough has been refrigerated).
5. Place 5 or 6 eggs in a medium pot. Pour in cold water to cover by 1 inch and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Remove from heat, cover pot, and let stand for 10 minutes. Transfer eggs to a medium bowl of ice water; let cool completely. If desired, color eggs according to food-coloring package directions, or check out our recipes for dying your eggs naturally. Transfer eggs to paper towels to dry. DO AHEAD: Eggs can be dyed up to 1 week ahead. Cover and chill.
6. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Punch down dough. Divide into 3 equal pieces. With lightly floured hands, roll each piece on a lightly floured surface into a 16-inch-long rope with tapered ends. (If dough begins to bounce back, cover with a kitchen towel and let rest for 10 minutes to allow dough to relax.)
7. Arrange ropes side by side lengthwise on prepared sheet. Pinch top ends together. Braid dough. Pinch bottom ends together to secure (braided loaf will be about 12 inches long). Tuck dyed eggs between braids, spacing evenly. Loosely cover with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel. Let rise in a warm, draft-free area until puffed but not doubled in size, 45–50 minutes.
8. Arrange a rack in middle of oven; preheat to 375°. Whisk remaining egg with 2 tsp. warm water in a small bowl. Avoiding dyed eggs, brush dough all over with egg wash. Bake until bread is golden and an instant-read thermometer inserted into center of loaf registers 190°, 20–25 minutes. (*My bread temperature was slightly over 190 degrees at 20 minutes, so I suggest checking it at 17-18 minutes for doneness.) Let cool on a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature. DO AHEAD: Can be made 8 hours ahead. Let cool completely and store airtight at room temperature.
Recipe courtesy of Melissa Roberts
Bon Appétit Magazine