My mom, sister-in-law and I debate how if at all we should change the recipe (should we add in some whole grain flour, let it rise overnight, add extra lemon etc...) Ultimately we decide not to mess too much with a good thing. We've had these same conversations each year, and I relish them!
Since I've had a few requests, I've decided to share our family recipe. Hope you find as much joy as I do in the messiness, the waiting, the hoping and the rising ... just like Jesus' followers did when he rose again!
Italian Easter Bread
- 2 packets of yeast
- 5 cups of Unbleached bread flour
- 1 1/2 cups of sugar
- 2 sticks of butter (unsalted)
- 2 tsp of fresh lemon juice
- the rind of 3 lemons
- 1 tsp of pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 3 eggs
- sprinkles for the top and colored eggs for decorating
Dissolve two packets of yeast into 1 cup of warm water. Add 1 1/2 cups of bread flour. Let it rise 1 1/2 hours or more covered in a warm place.
Meanwhile, cream butter, sugar and 1/2 tsp. of salt. Separately, beat 2 eggs and 1 egg white. Save the yolk. To this egg mixture slowly add in lemon juice, lemon rind and vanilla. Add all of this to the risen dough. Mix in about 4 to 5 cups of flour as needed to form a nice dough. Knead the dough on a floured surface for about 8 minutes. Let it rise covered again for at least 2 hours. Cut the dough in half as this recipe makes two loves. Each half can be braided into a rope, a cross or whatever shape you like. Brush with egg yolk then top with colored sprinkles. Press in colored and boiled eggs for decorations.
Let it rise once more over night covered with a clean cloth in the oven. This step can be skipped ... The bread can go straight in the oven once it is decorated but I think it makes the bread much more light and fluffy to give that third rising. I also love having the fresh bread hot out of the oven on Easter morning.
Bake at 325 degrees for 25-35 minutes.