Easter is a very special holiday in an Italian house.
When I was growing up in New York my family would visit our Italian bakery at this time of year and we would see something for sale called Easter Egg Bread. In my house, Mom would always make it herself using a recipe that she found in a Culinary Arts cookbook. When I moved out to L.A., I continued this tradition and I have made this bread every year since.
As my son says, it would not be Easter without it.
Easter Egg Bread
(Adapted for a 2 cup or larger Bread Machine)
2 tsp. yeast
1/2 cup plus
1 Tbs. warm water (Let sit in machine a few minutes to proof. If the yeast is good, add)
2 1/2 cups flour (I usually add the final ½ cup a little at a time, as the machine mixes the dough)
1/3 cup shortening or oil
3/4 Tbs. lemon juice
1/2 Tbs. lemon peel
1/3 cup sugar
Place all ingredients in bread machine and cycle for dough. It takes 2 batches to make the 5 Easter egg ring. (If you do not have a bread machine, you need to double the recipe and knead the dough. Start kneading when you have a soft dough and add flour as you knead it, for approximately 5 to 8 minutes).
Place the first batch into a large bowl and put it in a warm location to rise, while it waits for the second batch.
Make the 2nd batch and when done, add it into the bowl that the first batch is in. Let it rise another 2 hours.
Color 5 raw eggs (they will cook when the bread bakes)
When the dough has doubled in size, punch it down and split the dough in half. Make each half of the dough into a long rope, about 26 inches long. Braid them together, placing one of the eggs into the middle of each hole. (See photo). Then connect the beginning and end together, to make a complete ring. Let rise an hour or so, until doubled and bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes. Brush it with 1 egg yolk and a tablespoon of milk. As you are brushing it, sprinkle multicolored candies onto the section of bread you are working on, until the entire ring is brushed and sprinkled with the candies.
Bake 30 to 35 minutes until the bread is golden brown. The eggs will be hard cooked.
We also make single egg baskets, especially for the children of the family and this is how they end up looking (see above photo). Use a small amount of dough and shape it into a ball. Flatten it a bit and place an egg in the center. You make the handle of the basket by rolling a small extra piece of dough into a rope and connect it to the dough on either side of the egg. Decorate as you do the main bread and bake until golden brown. Watch the bottom of the baskets, since it will probably take slightly less time.
Serve for Easter Morning Breakfast, with butter, cream cheese or just plain. In my family we serve it with a meat pie called Pizza Rustica.
Cathy Bower is a Broadcast Operations Coordinator at KCET