Easter is next weekend! The week leading up to Easter, I make a large loaf of traditional Easter sweetbread with colored eggs. My mom used to make this with my sisters and me when we were kids, and now my older two children enjoy helping me create this beautiful loaf. I've seen Portuguese and Italian versions of this ring...not sure where it originates from, but we make it because it's tasty and because it's beautiful. Today I'm sharing with you my sourdough version of this traditional Easter bread.
I made a loaf this week so I could get some nice photos, but...alas--I've mentioned my pregnancy brain here before, haven't I?--I totally forgot the loaf was rising in my oven until I was laying in bed that night ready to go to sleep! To say it was over-risen, weeeell...THIS is what it looked like! I just had to laugh. I baked it right then and overbaked it slightly too. Nice.
So, for a good-looking "real" loaf, you'll have to enjoy this less-than-stellar photo from our loaf last year. I hope to make another loaf this week with my kids. If we do, maybe I'll come back and update with a better photo!
Braided Easter Sweetbread with Colored Eggs
1 T sourdough starter
250 g water
250 g white whole wheat flour
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup (or 1 stick) butter
650 g white whole wheat flour (or you can substitute some white flour if you prefer)
1.5 cups sucanat
1.5 tsp salt
2 T cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla or almond extract
6-8 dyed UNCOOKED eggs (you may want to use naturally dyed eggs since some of the dye will come off onto the bread around the eggs)
1 egg yolk
1 tsp water
To make the bread:
The evening before, in a large glass bowl measure: the sourdough starter and the 250 g of water
250 g of white whole wheat flour. Mix together with a wooden spoon. Cover with a damp towel or plastic wrap. Leave overnight, or roughly 8-12 hours.
In the morning the starter mixture should be bubbly. In a saucepan warm the milk and butter until the butter is melted. Set aside until cooled. Once the milk-butter mixture is cooled (lukewarm temp or cooler), add the eggs to it and whisk until well-combined. To the starter mixture, add the 650 g of white whole wheat flour, sucanat, salt, cinnamon, vanilla extract, and the milk-butter-egg mixture.
Using a wooden spoon, stir everything together until a dough forms. This takes a bit of effort as this is a sizeable batch of dough, but it should come together in about 2-3 minutes. Cover with a damp cloth or plastic wrap and let rest for 20 minutes.
Scoop the dough out onto a floured surface and dust the dough lightly with more flour. Knead the dough for 5 minutes. Sprinkle on additional flour as needed. The dough should be be tacky to touch but should not stick to your hands or be messy to work with. Be careful to not dry out your dough. Only add flour as needed (if the dough is sticking). After the 5 minutes of kneading, cover your dough once again and let rest for 20 minutes.
Knead the dough again for 5 minutes. Cover and let the dough rest for another 20 minutes.
Do a windowpane test. If your dough still tears, knead for 5 more minutes or until your dough stretches without tearing. Lightly grease a large cookie sheet with butter.
Once your dough is ready, cut your dough into 3 equal pieces. Roll out each piece into a long rope, about 1 inch in diameter and about 2.5-3 feet long. Yes, you need some counter space! :) Begin to braid your three ropes together--this is a bit tricky in the beginning as the ropes are soft and long, but you will get the hang of it. (I prefer to braid it on the cookie sheet, so I don't have to transfer a huge braid, but if it's easier to braid straight on the counter, then do so.) When you get to the end of your braid, bring the end around in a circle to the beginning. Gently smush the dough ends together to attach the beginning of the braid to the end. I just move the ends around a bit, tuck here and there, fudging it a bit to make it sort of look like a continual braid.
Now get your dyed eggs and tuck them into the braid at intervals. Just loosen the braid a little by the stretching the dough slightly and tuck an egg right in. The egg just needs to be tucked in enough to remain stationary. The bread will rise up around the eggs. You will likely use 6-8 eggs depending on the length of your braid.
Cover your braided ring with a damp towel (or 2) or plastic wrap and set in a warm place to rise. The dough should double in size over the next 6 hours or so.
When the ring has doubled in size, preheat the oven to 350. While the oven is pre-heating, mix together 1 egg yolk with 1 tsp water. Brush over the braided ring of dough. This will give the ring a glossy shine once it's baked. Once the oven is preheated, place the ring of dough in the oven and bake for about 45 minutes until golden brown.
Let the bread cool for an hour. To serve, slice in wedges with an egg centered in the wedge, or slice in 1/2-inch slices, removing the eggs as you come to them.