By Denise Albert
Easter is my favorite holiday. I love spring when finally the world is in bloom! I enjoy unboxing spring decor with my daughter and watching her place happy little nicknacks around to brighten our living space. What I love most about the Easter holiday, though, are special family traditions many of which center around the table. I always serve a beautiful roasted rack of lamb and steamed asparagus drizzled with hollandaise sauce. And this year I decided to make a new tradition of serving an Italian-style Easter Bread with a sweet orange glaze and multicolored sprinkles. It looks stunning and very festive but what I love most about this bread is the holiday symbolism. The three elongated pieces of dough represent the Trinity, braided together to become one. This is a great recipe to make with your children and maybe spark a conversation about the story of Easter and your family's Easter traditions. I hope this Easter you and your family can enjoy some new and old traditions together!
Italian Style Easter Bread
INGREDIENTS FOR THE DOUGH
8 cups all-purpose flour
1½ cups whole milk or milk alternative (almond works well)
½ cup granulated sugar
2 oranges (zested & juiced)
4½ teaspoons (2 envelopes) active dry yeast
1 cup margarine, melted
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon anise oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter (melted, for brushing)
FOR THE GLAZE
2 cups powdered sugar
¼ cup juiced fresh orange
1 tsp orange zest
colorful sprinkles, if desired!
Many Easter recipes for bread like this call for using a hard boiled or plastic egg in the center of the bread "wreath" but that is optional.
Make the Dough: Place the flour in a large mixing bowl; set aside.
Heat the milk in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring occasionally, until it is warm to the touch, but not hot. If you have an instant-read thermometer, the temperature of the milk should be between 110 and 115 degrees F.
While the milk is warming, place the sugar in a small bowl and add the orange zest. With your fingertips, rub the zest into the sugar until it is completely incorporated and the sugar is moistened.
Once the milk reaches the correct temperature, add in the sugar and zest mixture stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the yeast, stir, and let sit for 10 minutes.
Add the milk and yeast mixture to the flour and begin to mix it into a dough (it will be shaggy at this point).
Next, add the melted margarine and continue to mix. Then, add the orange juice to the dough and mix to combine.
In a small bowl, use a fork to lightly beat together the eggs, salt, and anise oil. Add to the dough and continue mixing. At this point, you may need to add more flour to the dough, depending on how much juice you get out of your oranges (I added quite a bit more to get the dough to come together).
Once you have a sticky ball of dough formed, turn it out onto a floured surface and knead for about 5 minutes, adding a small amount of flour at a time as needed, or until the dough is soft and elastic. It will remain slightly tacky. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, turning to coat, and cover the bowl loosely with plastic wrap.
Allow to rise until doubled in volume, about 1 hour. Shape the Bread: Remove the plastic wrap and set it aside. Divide the dough into 3 equal pieces (about 12 ounces each).
Roll the pieces into 1 1/4 inch by 16-1/2 inch ropes. Pinch all 3 pieces together on one end to secure, then braid the ropes. Pinch the other end of the ropes together to secure the braid.
Wrap the braid into a wreath-like shape, securing the ends together. Once cooled, you can nest eggs or other decor inside the center of your bread braid.
Set the braided dough on the prepared baking sheet, cover with the buttered plastic wrap (butter side down), and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Meanwhile, heat the oven to 350°F and arrange a rack in the middle. Bake for approximately 20 minutes.
Glaze the Bread: Once the breads are cooled to room temperature, you can glaze them (if you desire). In a small bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar and fresh squeezed orange juice and orange zest until smooth.
Use a pastry brush to brush the glaze onto the top and sides of the bread, and decorate with sprinkles. The bread is best served at room temperature. If you have leftovers, wrap well in plastic wrap and store at room temperature for up to three days.