I consider myself a bread connoisseur. Outside of really good cioppino or bouillabaisse, fresh bread is my favorite thing to eat. When I think about the fact that people have made this one food for centuries, I realize that I cannot possibly be the only one that feels this way.
One of my most beloved varieties is one that only pops up in the spring. It’s lightly sweet and a little bit rich, and for one reason or another only gets made at Easter (oh cruel fate). But you should totally rage against the machine and make it all year.
For most of my life, I’ve almost always seen this bread made with either vegetable shortening or oil, so when Bon Appetit featured an all-butter recipe in one of their recent issues I was very keen to try it. While it was an excellent recipe, I thought that their methodology lacked some important details, and that there were a few ingredients I’d tweak. When I baked up a loaf for our Easter Sunday picnic with the future in-laws, I took some pictures and thought I’d share the experience.
Adapted from grandma, dad, mom, Bon Appetit…etc.
- 2/3 cup whole milk
- 5 tbsp. sugar, divided
- ¼ oz. envelope of dry active yeast
- 2 large eggs, room temperature
- 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour (plus extra for handling dough)
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1-2 tsp. grated orange zest
- 4 oz. unsalted butter
- Egg wash: One whole egg mixed with 1 tbsp. water
First of all, get out the eggs and butter and let them get to room temperature. It’s really important for your butter to be soft, so don’t skip this step.
Heat the milk until it reaches about 110 degrees F and then put it in a small bowl and whisk in 1 tbsp. of sugar and the yeast. Let the mixture sit for 5-10 minutes or until foamy. Add the eggs and orange zest, and whisk thoroughly.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the flour, salt, and remaining sugar. With the mixer running on low speed, add the milk mixture. Once it has been thoroughly integrated into the flour, begin adding the butter about 1 tbsp. at a time, blending well between each addition. Slow and steady wins the race here. It’s kind of like making buttercream.
Once all of the butter has been incorporated, fit the mixer with a dough hook and mix on medium-high speed until the dough is very smooth and elastic.
Now, here’s the part where people seem to panic. This dough is sticky, and I mean “I can’t get my hand out of this blob of dough” sticky:
But you have to get the dough out of the mixing bowl and into a clean bowl brushed with melted butter somehow, and the best tool for the job is a bowl scraper. If you don’t have one, a rigid silicone spatula or greased spoon works well. Once you’ve transferred it to a clean, greased bowl, gently brush the top of the dough with melted butter, cover the bowl loosely in plastic wrap, and stash it in the refrigerator.
Letting this dough do an overnight “rise” in the refrigerator makes it infinitely easier to handle, so I highly recommend that. I have the word rise in quotation marks because honestly, the dough doesn’t rise very much at all. In fact the first time I made it I thought something had gone horribly wrong.
The next step is to lightly flour a surface and cut the dough into three equal pieces. Use as little excess flour as possible. You want just enough to keep it from sticking to the surface.
Roll each piece into a long (15-16in) rope and taper at the edges. Place the dough ropes on a piece of parchment paper, pinch them together at one end, and then braid. (Many Easter Bread bakers tuck dyed, boiled eggs in between the braids, but I didn’t make any this year.)
At the end of the braid, pinch the ends together and tuck them under slightly to secure. Let the loaf rest in a warm place for one hour. It will puff a little bit, but not too much.
Preheat an oven to 375 degrees F.
Brush the loaf of bread with the egg wash and bake it for 23-25 minutes, until the top is a deep golden brown. The internal temperature will measure about 190 degrees.
Eat every day until it’s gone. Future mom-in-law said she used a few slices for grilled cheese the next day and it was really good. I’m a big fan of Easter bread toast and runny fried eggs. Or you could try using it in this supremely tasty recipe for French toast.
Hope you are all having a beautiful spring. Who else is getting really impatient for summer fruit? Come on berries, get growing already!
Ciao for now,