Traditional Italian Easter Bread

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Easter bread has been a tradition in my Italian family since before I was even born. When I was a child, my Dad would always make the breads right before the holiday and on Easter we’d enjoy it for breakfast slathered in sweet butter. It was my most favorite thing about Easter since it was the only time this bread was made in my family.

There are many variations of Easter bread out there and the one that I make today for my own family is slightly different from the one that I grew up with. The one I had as a child had a drier more crumbly texture that is very similar to a scone. This recipe, which is all that I have used for years, has a very soft and fluffy texture similar to a brioche or Challah bread. Both are delicious, it’s really just a matter of textural preference.

This is a very easy, non-fussy recipe to make. Just make sure to allow your dough to rise in a warm area that is free of drafts. I really love the “PROOF” function on my oven, if your oven has it as well I highly recommend that you take advantage of it. Also, when you warm the milk and butter be sure it doesn’t get too hot, you want to avoid scalding the milk. In addition, if you add piping hot liquid to yeast you will kill it thus resulting in bread that doesn’t rise properly, if at all. Keep your liquid mixture between 100-115ºF which will ensure enough warmth for the yeast to activate without killing it.

Please note, while the colored eggs are safe to eat once the bread comes out of the oven they will not be edible if you store the bread out on the counter. Discard the eggs if you leave your bread out or alternatively, remove the eggs after baking and refrigerate. I always store my Easter bread on the counter to keep it soft and fresh, as we eat each loaf I discard the eggs. The eggs are fine to leave in the bread on the counter, just don’t eat them if left out.

Ingredients

  • 1 package Rapid Rise yeast (2 1/4 tsp)
  • 1 1/4 cups milk
  • pinch of Kosher salt
  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
  • 1 egg beaten with 1 tsp water
  • 6 colored eggs
  • nonpariel sprinkles

Instructions

In a small saucepan, warm the milk and butter together until the butter melts and the mixture is between 110-115ºF.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the yeast, salt, eggs, vanilla and sugar. Add the warm (not hot) milk/butter mixture. Add about half of the flour and using the dough hool attachment, beat until smooth. Slowly add the remaining flour to form a stiff dough. If the dough is still sticky, add a little extra flour and it becomes stiff.

Knead the dough smooth either using the dough hook or by hand on a floured board. Place in a lightly greased glass bowl, cover and let rise in a warm place until it is doubled in size, about an hour.

Punch the dough down and divide into 12 equal pieces. Roll each piece to form a 1″ thick rope that is about 14″ long. Taking the two pieces, twist to make a braid, pinch the ends together and form into a circle. Place the formed dough on a baking sheet lined with a silicone mat or parchment paper. Cover and place in a warm place until doubled in size, about an hour.

Brush each bread with the beaten egg wash (egg/water mixture). Lightly sprinkle the bread with the nonpariel sprinkles. In the middle of each bread ring gently place a colored egg.

Bake at 350ºF until golden in color, about 20 minutes. Cool on a rack.

**Tip – You don’t have to hard boil the eggs prior to coloring them however, I find they don’t cook all the way through during the baking process if they are raw. I prefer to hard boil them for a few minutes before coloring so that they are thoroughly cooked after baking.**

 

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