It is very traditional for many countries to have a sweet bread on Easter. It represents the end of the long Lenten fast and celebrates the resurrection!
While this style of bread is very traditional for Italy and Greece, I have to say it is not a treat that we grew up with, and I did not have an authentic recipe to work with. I have made this a few times before but wasn’t very impressed with how the bread turned out. So I did some research and improvised my own recipe!
I am not a huge fan of orange flavored things, and can’t stand anise… so those traditional flavors for me were out. But lemons are very common and Italy and I did find some recipes that favored lemons.
This bread is sweet and light, and bright with lemon flavor. The dough is soft and needs to rise twice so be prepared. I also show my method for baking the eggs in so you can remove them. In the past, my colored eggs bled and stuck into the bread after baking… not very appetizing and it left me with the dilemma of leaving eggs on the counter overnight. So if you are an egg refrigerator, this will work perfectly for you as you can add the eggs right before serving!
Italian Easter Bread Dough
1 cup warm milk
2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
1/4 c. honey
1 tsp salt
4 Tbsp melted butter
3 1/2- 4 1/2 c. all purpose flour
zest of one lemon
4 + raw eggs in shells, room temp.
1 egg beaten for egg wash (optional)
Combine the milk, yeast, and honey and allow the yeast to bloom for 5-8 minutes. Beat the eggs slightly and add to the milk along with the butter, salt and lemon zest. Mix together briefly and add 1 cup of flour. Mix at a medium speed for about 2 minutes or until smooth, scraping the sides of the bowl. Add another cup of flour and mix until just blended. Add enough flour mixing at a low speed to form a soft, but workable dough. Place onto a lightly floured surface and knead until the dough is smooth. Place into a lightly greased bowl and allow to rise for about an hour or until doubled.
While the dough is rising prepare your raw eggs. The number of eggs you use will depend on how big your ring is or how many baskets you make. 4-6 eggs is a pretty good estimate for a standard large ring. Take a small piece of aluminum foil and form it to the bottom of one egg. Smooth out as many wrinkles and creases as you can so the dough is not able to rise into the foil. Coat the outside of the foil with oil and flour to prevent the dough from sticking.
To make a large ring, divide the dough into 2 sections and roll into long ropes, about 2 1/2 inches in diameter. For small “baskets” divide dough into fist size pieces and roll into ropes that are about 1/2- 3/4 inches in diameter. Carefully overlap the ropes in a braid like twist, then bring the ends together to form a circle. Tuck the ends in neatly to keep the ring neat and together. Place your prepared raw eggs into the dough, keeping them close to the inside of the ring. As the dough expands during rising and baking they will move outward. After placing the eggs, I lift them out just to make sure they are not sticking and then place them back in their indentation.
Allow the dough to rise again for about 30 minutes or until puffy. To achieve a nice rich brown brush the dough with egg wash just before baking. Bake in a preheated 350’F oven for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.
Allow the bread to cool for a couple minutes and remove the foiled eggs. These are now perfectly hard cooked and can be dyed if desired once they are cooled. Finish cooling the bread completely and then coat with Lemon Glaze, sprinkles (if desired) and replace the eggs. All that is left is to present your masterpiece and enjoy!
1 1/2 c. powdered sugar
juice from 1 lemon (use the zested lemon!)
1-3 Tbsp water
small dash salt
Whisk together the powdered sugar, lemon juice, and salt. VERY SLOWLY whisk in small amounts of water until you reach a paint-like consistency. You want this glaze to be a little thick or it will disappear. I found it easiest to paint it on with a pastry brush vs. pouring it on. Add sprinkles while the glaze is wet if desired.