Italian Easter Bread is Easy, Delicious and Beautiful

 

Easter Egg BreadOh yum, major indulgence time is close. Jesus’ followers celebrate that the time of penance and fasting is over for He has risen. It is time to celebrate to the max. There are so many lovely things you can add to your Easter meal to make it special, to celebrate the joy of the day, and remind all of the blessing of new life that is given to us. Even non-Christians can enjoy these goodies simply because they are as beautiful and as fun as they are delicious. Two of my favorites are Easter bread and colored deviled eggs, recipe to follow soon.

Have you ever experienced a traditional Italian Easter Bread, especially one with a sweet contemporary twist? If not, its time you indulged yourself. This is a treat you can do with your children, or friends, or family, or by yourself as a gift for someone special. It is as delicious as it is appealing.

Italian Easter egg bread is a circular braided bread studded with dyed raw eggs in the shell, tucked into the braids of the unbaked bread. Traditionally, the eggs can be natural or dyed in festive Easter colors. Use brown eggs for a earthier version or color the eggs just like regular easter eggs but carefully so as not to break the shell. The yeast bread base comes out rich, fluffy, and is easily pulled apart plus the eggs are baked within their shells.

Easter Egg Bread, which is Greek in origin, has been made by Italian families for centuries for Easter celebrations and St. Joseph Altars celebrating the Feast of St. Joseph. Often families that bake their own bread simply use some of the bread dough, rather than a special recipe, to make the bread ring. For those of you who don’t want to make your bread from scratch you can purchase yeast bread dough in the cooler section of your local grocer and go from there. Follow directions on the package until time for braiding.

For those who do not want to make their own Easter Bread many bakeries prepare the breads for purchase. It just seems to taste better homemade. With a little creativity it can also be made for other holidays. My recipe is a cinnamony version of the soft tradiitonal yeast bread and is quite appropriate for breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner. But watch out, it can be addictive. Maybe it will become a new Easter tradition in your family or circle of friends.

Italian Americans often use eggs that are natural colored or that are dyed in pastel colors, because the colors are closely associated with Easter especially in the United States. The bread may be left plain or decorated with festive icing after baking. I prefer mine with colored eggs and icing…the more self-indulgent the better. If you want to be extravagant you can even go so far as to make it like an Easter basket, adding jelly beans and candy Easter eggs on the icing. Or make the center hole large enough to put Easter grass in the center after baking and cooling and fill the grass with Easter goodies like in an Easter basket. Get as fancy as you like, it is beautiful and fun either way, simple or extravagant.

Italian Easter Bread

SERVES 10

 

  • 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.

Preparation

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.

Decoration:

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.

Ya’ll get ready for a down home delicious Easter and plenty of fun, fun, fun.
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.

Peggy Sholly
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