Italian Easter Bread
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- ½ cup white sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 .25-ounce package active dry yeast
- ⅔ cup milk
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 5 small or 6 large raw eggs, washed, and dyed if preferred – eggs cook while baking
- 4 tablespoons butter, room temperature
- 2 tablespoons butter, melted
- ½ cup granulated light brown sugar with ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon stirred into it
Hint: You can also make individual size braided breads with the colored egg in the center, or only two eggs tucked in the small bread, and that way each person may decorate their own for a fun experience.
Combine one (1) cup only of the flour, the sugar, salt, and yeast in a large bowl and stir well.
Put milk and butter in a small saucepan and heat over medium heat until milk is warm and butter is softened but not melted (watch it carefully). Slowly add warm milk mixture to the flour mixture, stirring constantly. Add ½ cup flour and beaten eggs and beat well.
Add remaining flour, ½ cup at a time, blending well after each addition. When the dough has pulled together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead, folding dough over repeatedly, until smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes.
Place dough in a lightly oiled 3-4 quart bowl and turn dough to coat with oil. Cover bowl with a damp cloth and allow dough to rise in a warm place until dough is doubled in volume, about 1 hour.
Punch down the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide the dough into two equal size rounds, cover and let rest for 10 minutes. Roll each round into a long strip about 36 inches long and 1/2 inches thick. Spread butter lightly on top of dough strips leaving the edges without butter or sugar.
Sprinkle sugar/cinnamon mixture evenly over butter then roll up log fashion encasing the cinnamon sugar mixture. Use the two long rolls of dough to form a loose braid in a ring on a greased or parchment paper lined cookie sheet. Leave spaces for the five eggs. Seal the ends of the ring together and use your fingers to slide the eggs between the braids of dough evenly spacing eggs around the circle as much as possible. Do not cover eggs with dough, they should be nestled about ½ way down inside of dough. See picture.
Cover dough on cookie sheet loosely with a damp towel. Place in a warm place and let rise until doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes. Brush risen loaf with melted butter and sprinkle dough (not eggs) lightly with cinnamon sugar (1 tablespoon white granulated sugar with ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon stirred in).
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. for at least 10 minutes. Bake for 50 to 55 minutes, or until golden. Remove from oven and cool completely. When thoroughly cooled drizzle or spread confectioners icing over top of dough (icing can be colored if you like) and sprinkle cookie sprinkles over icing. Other decoration ideas are in narrative and also follow.
To make eggs look like they are in a nest, do not add sprinkles. Instead, put a nice swatch of icing around egg, then sprinkle green tinted* coconut around eggs, to look like a nest of grass, pressing coconut down slightly to be anchored by icing.
*To tint coconut put it in a zip lock bag and add a few drops of food color. Seal bag and squoosh coconut around with fingers until it is evenly colored.