My grandmother usually made her Easter bread a day or two before Easter. Her bread was a little dry and not as sweet, because, I think, it was meant to dip in coffee. She used white eggs instead of dyed eggs, because she didn’t like the bleeding of the color on the bread. She saved some of the dough to make egg-boys for the small boys and purses for the girls. Sometimes, she made egg-girls. Each of us grand kids got one or the other and slowly picked away at it throughout the day.
This recipe is similar to my grandmother’s except that I increased the sugar from 1/2 cup to 2/3 and sometimes 1 cup, depending on whether or not I use the orange zest and sprinkles (less if I use the sprinkles). I like to use clear vanilla, too (something I picked up in Mexico long ago and it just stuck with me).
My grandmother also added citron to most of her desserts, especially rice pies and ricotta cheesecake. My dad likes to add a small box of vanilla pudding mix to his egg bread, he says, to keep it moist. Some of my friends add anise or a combination of lemon and orange zest to the dough, or they replace the candy sprinkles with thinly shaved toasted almonds. I prefer the candy sprinkles and orange to lemon zest any time. I like to use 00 flour when I have it, but if not, then all-purpose flour will do just fine.
Every now and then I don’t add eggs to the braid. When I do, I always plant 6 colored eggs between the braids and then become disgusted when the color bleeds on the beautifully browned bread. Once the bread has cooled, I remove the eggs before slicing the bread. I usually arrange the sliced bread on a tray in a large circle and place the colored eggs at the very center.
Italian Easter Sweet Bread Recipe
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter
- 2 teaspoons yeast
- 1/3 cup warm water
- 3 large Eggland's Best eggs plus 1 egg yolk
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon clear vanilla
- 2 tablespoons grated orange zest see Notes
- 4 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons butter softened
- 6 colored Eggland's Best eggs
- 1 tablespoon water
- candy sprinkles
Heat milk in small saucepan until it is hot enough to melt butter (do not boil). Remove from heat and add butter. Let cool to room temperature.
Add yeast to warm water and let stand until it slightly foams, about 15 minutes.
In a large bowl, beat 3 eggs until frothy. Add sugar, cooled milk, yeast, clear vanilla, and zest and mix until blended. Add salt and about half the flour and mix, then add the remaining half and mix until a soft dough forms. Knead dough on lightly floured surface five or six times. Shape dough into a ball, then divide in two smaller balls.
Grease two large bowls with 1 tablespoon soft butter each. Add dough balls to each, and cover tightly with plastic wrap or towel. Let dough rise in a draft-free warm place until doubled in size, about 2 hours.
Punch down dough, one ball at a time. Cut dough in half. Form a long rope with each half by rolling it back and forth in your hands until it's about 20-inches long (make sure each piece is roughly the same length), or 24 inches long if making a bread ring.
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or coat with baking spray. Lay the two ropes of dough side by side and braid. Pinch the ends, and fold under to form a loaf or curve and pinch together the ends to form a bread ring. Place 3 of the colored eggs in the braid folds. Repeat with second ball of dough. Cover with plastic wrap or a towel and let rise in a draft-free warm place until double in size, about 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Beat egg yolk with water. Brush on each loaf then top with candy sprinkles. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until bread is golden brown. Cool completely before serving.
Recipe NotesDo not hard boil the eggs before coloring. Color uncooked eggs, then add to braid in dough. Eggs will cook while baking.
Disclaimer: I was lucky enough to receive an Eggland’s Best Brunch gift pack. As part of the package, I received Eggland’s Best eggs. I used some of the eggs to make Easter Sweet Bread.