This bread was always a tradition in my house growing up. The Italian Braided Easter Bread. What made it particularly Italian, I do not know. I think the my step-father’s family liked to attribute everything that they did as being uniquely an Italian tradition.
And so even though I can no no longer eat bread, I carry on the tradition.
I do not, however, dye the eggs.
This is what happened the last time we dyed easter eggs. The child in the photo has just turned 11. I have yet to recover from the experience.
You will need:
6 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 packages active dry yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups milk
6 tablespoons butter
4 eggs* for putting in the braids of the bread
Mix in a small cup:
2 tablespoons cold water
Brush this over the bread before putting in the oven to give the bread a nice sheen. This is optional and purely aesthetic.
Put the milk and butter into a sauce pan and heat on low just until the butter melts. Do not boil it. If it gets too hot it will kill the yeast when you add this to the dry ingredients.
In your mixing bowl combine half the flour and the rest of the dry ingredients. Mix well.
(Not shown, my son turning the measuring cup upside down and pour most of the flour NOT in the bowl.)
Pour the milk/melted butter mixture into the mixing bowl. Mix well.
Add the three eggs to the mixing bowl. Mix until it is smooth.
Slowly add remaining flour until the dough forms a smooth ball that pulls away from the sides of the bowl. You may need less than the full six cups of flour, or you may need slightly more.
Dump the dough out of the mixing bowl and knead it on a lightly floured surface.
Don’t afraid to really work the dough.
Dancing on a chair while you do it is optional, but seems to add something to the experience.
Make the dough into a nice round ball, and place it into an oiled bowl.
Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and put somewhere warm to rise.
You will know it is done rising when it doubles in size.
Once that happens you are going to beat the dough back down.
Again, chair dancing while kneading is optional, but you only live once, so why the heck not. This is the fun that money can’t buy. Which is good, because who has extra money in this economy.
Break the dough into three equal pieces.
Form each of those pieces into a long (24″ maybe?) snake.
Loosely braid the three pieces together and form them into a circle. Pinch the ends together. Then tuck the eggs** into the spaces of the braid.
Now set it aside and wait while it rises again.
And wait some more. To quote Tom Petty, “The wai-ai-aiting is the hardest part.”
After it has finished rising, feel free to shout, “It has risen! It has risen, indeed!” Just to get into the Easter spirit.
You are then going to brush the top of the bread with the egg/water mixture. Unless after all that waiting you forget, like I did.
Put your bread into a 375 degree oven and bake for about 30 min. You will know your bread is done when it has turned a golden color and when to tap on it you hear a hollow sound.
Perfect for eating with your Easter ham.
*The eggs that you put in the braids of the bread can be dyed and hardboiled. Or you can just use raw eggs and they cook inside while the bread is baking. I have never had a problem doing it that way.
**I discourage eating the eggs that are in the bread anyway because the bread sits out of refrigeration for so long. Yes, my step father’s family always used to eat the eggs and they all lived to tell the tale, but they also gave all of us kids coffee to drink with shots of Zambuca in it and called it an Italian tradition. So, you know, use your own, probably superior, judgement.