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.