Italian Easter Bread, revisited

Italian Easter Bread |In Jennie's Kitchen

I first developed this recipe seven years ago. Life has changed a lot since then, and so it’s time for this recipe to change with the times, too. Every holiday still feels like a work in progress, as I try to find my stride. If someone had told me I’d still be feeling all this seven years later, I’m not sure how I would’ve found the energy to get through that first year.

Lately, my complicated feelings with this loss are related to the idea of family, and feeling like I belong. I used to host all the holidays but we tend to bounce around now, leaving me feeling a little like an orphan. It’s too complicated to explain why I don’t host anymore, except that sometimes the family you choose, or that chooses you, is the best one.

My original recipe made a rather large ring of Easter bread. I recently paired it down to make a smaller one, better suited for the three of us. It still yields enough to keep us happily munching on it a day or two later. I hope to bake a few more of these this week to share with neighbors, and friends we’ll be seeing on Easter Sunday.

Isabella and Virginia were so excited when they saw me making this bread yesterday. They also showed an extraordinary amount of patience because it wasn’t ready to eat until breakfast this morning. Definitely a great way to greet Monday morning, along with mama dancing on their bed to Manic Monday when I woke them up. Okay, maybe I had more fun with the dancing on the bed bit than they did, but I don’t think they’d have me any other way.

Italian Easter Bread |In Jennie's Kitchen

Related Recipe: Pizza di Ricotta Dolce {Sweet Ricotta Cheese Pie}

Italian Easter Bread, revisited

Serves: Makes one 8-inch ring
The dough needs to rise twice, so making this Easter bread requires some planning. The first rise is for about 1½ hours, and a second one is about 35 minutes. Of course, this is a variable time, depending on how warm or cool it is in your own kitchen. Wrapped in parchment paper, the bread will stay soft for 2 to 3 days. (If you added a whole egg for decoration, remove it and refrigerate; re-seat it before serving). Stale leftovers make a nice base for bread pudding; just scrape off any remaining nonpareils. You'll have more simple syrup than you need, but it's great to have on hand for cocktails, or sweetening homemade lemonade and iced tea. Store it in a jar in the fridge, and use within 2 weeks.

Ingredients

  • 8 tablespoons (112 grams) unsalted butter, at a cool room temperature, plus more for greasing the bowl
  • 2 teaspoons (8 grams) active dry yeast
  • ½ cup scalded regular or low-fat milk, cooled to 110 degrees
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 2 large egg yolks, plus 1 large egg white beaten with a splash of cold water
  • ½ teaspoon lemon extract
  • 3 cups (450 grams) flour
  • ½ teaspoon (2 grams) kosher salt
  • 1 colorful egg, for decoration (optional, see headnote)
  • 2 tablespoons (30 ml) simple syrup, for glazing (see NOTE)
  • Multi-colored nonpareils, for garnish

Instructions

  1. Use a little butter to grease a deep glass mixing bowl.Combine the yeast and milk in a medium bowl. Let the mixture sit for a few minutes until it has dissolved.
  2. Combine the 8 tablespoons of butter, the sugar, egg yolks and lemon extract in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment; beat on medium speed for 1 to 2 minutes, until creamy. Stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  3. Add 2 ½ cups (375 grams) of the flour, the salt and the milk-yeast mixture. Starting on the lowest speed, beat just long enough to form a soft dough that pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
  4. Switch to the dough hook; beat on medium speed for 3 minutes. The dough will be soft. Sprinkle a clean work surface with a ¼ cup (37 grams) of the remaining flour. Transfer the dough to the surface; knead the dough to form a smooth, elastic ball. Place in the buttered bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm, draft-free area for about 1 ½ hours, or until it has doubled in volume. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
  5. Turn the dough out onto a clean surface. Sprinkle with the remaining ¼ cup (37 grams) of flour, and knead for 1 to 2 minutes so that flour is absorbed. Divide the dough into 3 equal balls; form each piece into a 14-inch long rope. Braid the ropes and shape into a circle. Tuck in the uncooked egg (in the shell) into the center of the ring, if using. Transfer the ring of dough to the prepared baking sheet; cover loosely with a barely damp towel or plastic wrap. Let rise for about 35 minutes or until the ring has doubled in size.
  6. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375ºF (190ºC) degrees. Uncover the ring of dough. Brush the top of bread with the egg wash (being careful to avoid the eggs if you’ve added them to the braid), and bake for 30 to 33 minutes, until the bread is a deep golden brown. The internal temperature should read 185 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Transfer the bread to wire rack to cool completely.
  7. If desired, liberally brush the top of the bread with simple syrup, then immediately sprinkle with the nonpareils. The top will be sticky at first, but will set after a few hours.
  8. NOTE: To make simple syrup, combine ¼ cup of sugar and ¼ cup of water in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Bring to a slow rolling boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 5 minutes. Transfer to a heatproof container and let cool to room temperature.

3 Comments

  • Genny

    What a beautiful holiday bread! I appreciate the fact that you scaled down the recipe as we are pretty much empty nesters and this size is more suited for us too. I understand your sentiment regarding the holidays. While, my situation is not exactly like yours, we have no family in the area and holidays are rather lonely. Easter is not the holiday our children come home for. We have one still in college and colleges do not really recognize the Easter season. Meaning — no time off! Holidays are always just us — our very immediate family of 5. I will be thinking of you and your daughters this Easter and will keep you all in my prayers that things get easier for you and that something/someone wonderful is out there waiting for you.

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