Celebrate with Sweet Easter Bread
In many cultures, bread is symbolic for life and sustenance. If there is bread in the house, no one will go hungry. Bread has symbolic meanings in different religions as well. Throughout Europe, Easter bread symbolizes new life and served at breakfast on Easter morning. The history of Easter bread goes back hundreds of years and is enjoyed during a meal at the end of Lent.
During its life cycle the grain of wheat dies and is reborn months later in the form of a spike capable of providing sustenance to human beings. Wheat is the quintessential nutritional plant. It was believed to contain the mystery of life and death and thus it became a sacred plant. One of the essential features of the Neolithic era was plant cultivation. This led to a way of life that had previously been unimaginable and gave birth to new beliefs that completely altered the spiritual universe of humankind.
There are many recipes for Easter bread with a variety of ingredients and shapes. Traditionally, Italians and other Europeans develop their family recipe with the usual ingredients of flour, milk, eggs, butter, sugar, and yeast. Additional ingredients, like oranges and anise are added to the dough. These special ingredients personalize the bread and show what Easter means to the family or town. Every loaf of Easter bread tells a story. The bread means life. The three braids symbolize the elements of the Holy Trinity, and the eggs mean new birth. (Jovina Cooks). The baker becomes the storyteller of their family history and Easter significance.
This Easter bread recipe is slightly adapted from Bon Appetit, April 2012. It is less involved than other traditional recipes because a “starter” is not required. Yet, I kept the shape simple as one long braided loaf decorated with eggs and poppy seeds. Another benefit I learned, is there’s no need to hard boil the eggs before you color them. They cook in the oven with the bread. It is always great to have one less thing to do around any holiday.
Before I researched the history of Easter bread, I believed challah and Easter bread are the same, with the exception of the decorated eggs. There are similarities, but ultimately they are different breads. Easter bread is made from a sticky dough, has fewer eggs, and is sweeter than challah. Additional ingredients in Easter bread are oranges, anise, and dried fruits or nuts. I also learned Easter bread is similar to Panettone, but has a different shape.
Without question, Easter bread is delicious and fun to make. It is an airy, pleasantly sweet, and fresh tasting bread. I made the bread once with orange zest and fennel pollen, and once without. Both versions produced bread with delicate subtle butter flavor perfect for a delicious breakfast treat. Also, don’t be afraid to eat the eggs as long as the Easter bread has not been sitting unrefrigerated for over 12 hours. As always concerning any egg product, use your common sense.
You should make this bread just to fill your home with its seductive scent. For 24 hours, my house filled with a warm buttery scent causing everyone to perk up and take a break from their work. Joy was in the air. Don’t we all need a break from work, and have a chance to look around? This time of year, there are so many wonderful surprises to discover. New plants and flowers are popping up every day and the sun feels warmer and warmer. I love Spring and the activity of life that comes with it.
Make creamy ricotta to spread on your sweet Easter Bread. A heavenly breakfast of homemade ricotta smeared on homemade bread.
I don’t know about you, but whenever I make bread I am happy. Baking bread brings me joy and a great sense of accomplishment. Maybe it is because the touch of dough is so smooth and soft. I love feeling my hands wrap around the supple dough. I tell myself to stop and resist temptation to play with my food. If you find yourself succumbing to this seduction, please stop yourself or you will have tough overworked bread.
At last, Spring is here along with every reason to celebrate new life after a dormant winter. At any time, a loaf of homemade bread brings the promise of life and sustenance for all to enjoy. Without hesitation, the promise of your specially prepared loaf is revealed in the joyful expressions of friends and family. Join the fun and start your Easter celebration at breakfast with sweet Easter bread.
Sweet Easter Bread
For the Dough
- 2/3 cup / 150ml whole milk
- 5 Tbs / 70g granulated sugar- divided
- 1 3/4 tsp / 1/8oz / 6g active dry yeast
- 2 large eggs room temperature
- 2 3/4 cups / 405 g all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp / 3 g Kosher salt
- 1/2 cup 10 stick / 113g unsalted butter, melted
- 1 Tb / 23 g melted butter
- Finely grated zest of 1 orange optional
- 1/2 tsp of ground anise or fennel pollen optional
- Poppy Seeds for decorating optional
- 1 egg plus 2 teaspoons of water mixed (for egg wash)
For the decorative eggs
- 5-6 large eggs
- Food coloring of your choosing
Make the Dough
Heat the milk in a 2-cup microwave safe glass measure in the microwave until the milk reaches 110-115F (43-46C). (Can also heat the milk on the stove in a small sauce pan). Start at 30 seconds and check the temperature of the milk and add 10 seconds until you reach the desired temperature. You do not want it hotter than 115C because the higher temperature will kill the yeast.
Gently stir in 1 tablespoon (13g) of the sugar, and the yeast into the milk. Let it sit for 5 minutes. The milk should get foamy from the yeast. (If the milk does not get foamy your yeast is not active).
Melt the butter and let cool.
Whisk the eggs into the milk and add the cooled melted butter.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the remaining 4 Tb (58g) sugar, all-purpose flour, and Kosher salt, orange zest (optional), and ground anise or fennel pollen (optional). Mix together with a whisk or fork to get the ingredients evenly combined. Attach the bowl to the stand mixer fitted with a dough hook.
On low speed, add the milk mixture to the flour mixture and mix to get the ingredients combined. Stop and scrape the bowl when necessary. About one minute. Turn the speed up to medium high and mix for 5 minutes until the dough gets soft and silky.
Brush the insides of a medium mixing bowl with the remaining half tablespoon of melted butter. Add the bread dough into the bowl and butter the tops and sides of the dough with the remaining butter. Turn the dough around in the bowl to get a good coating of butter all over it. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit on the counter in a warm spot until it doubles in size, for 1 1/2 hours up to 2 hours.
The dough can be made ahead up to the point of the first rising. Refrigerate the dough, then when ready, rest the dough at a warm spot on the counter and let it rise for 2 1/2 hours.
Color your eggs according to the directions of your food coloring. You do not need to hard boil the eggs first, just be careful not to crack any eggs while you are coloring them. The eggs will cook in the oven while the bread is baking. Refrigerate your decorated eggs until you are ready to use them.
Assemble the bread
Line a large sheet pan with parchment paper and set aside.
After the dough has doubled in size, punch it down and divide the dough into three equal pieces.
Lightly sprinkle flour over your work surface and dust your hands with flour.
Roll each piece of dough into long tapered ropes about 16 inches (41cm) long. If your dough is springing back and not lengthening, cover the strands with a clean kitchen towel and let it rest for 10 minutes.
Arrange the strands lengthwise across the sheet pan and pinch the top of the strands together. Loosely braid the dough. Drape the outer left strand over the middle strand, then drape the outer right strand over the (new) middle strand. Repeat alternating the left and right outer strands until you are at the bottom. Pinch the bottom strands together and secure. Tuck the eggs between the braided strands down the middle of the bread. The eggs will slide out if they are too close to the sides of the bread. Loosely cover the bread with plastic wrap or clean kitchen towel and let the bread rise for 45 min - 1 hr. The bread will puff up but not double in size.
Meanwhile, arrange the oven rack to the middle position, and if you have a baking stone place it on the middle rack. Pre-heat the oven to 350F/ 175C/ Gas Mark 4. When baking bread, I like to preheat my oven for an hour. I believe the temperature is more even and accurate.
After the final rise, whisk together one egg with 2 tsp water and brush the bread with the egg wash. Avoid getting the egg wash on the eggs. Sprinkle with poppy seeds, if using, and place the sheet pan with the bread on the middle rack in your oven. Bake for 20 - 25 minutes or until the internal temperature is 190F (88C).
Take the bread out of the oven and slide it with the parchment paper onto a cooling rack. After 5 minutes remove the parchment paper. Can be served warm or room temperature.
The bread can be made the night before serving for breakfast, 8 hours in advance. After 8 hours, the eggs might start to turn bad. The bread will be fine for a couple of days, but not the eggs.
© 2017 – 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.