Long time, no see! Or as my Grandmom Julie would have said... "Where you been all your life?"
I was thinking about my great-grandmother a lot today while I was baking this Easter bread. She never made it. She was too busy making cheese bread and hard boil eggs died shades of pastel I could never replicate. But it was one of the few things I remember my mom baking, and she got the recipe from Grandmom Julie's neighbor, Frances.
Frances scared the bejeebies out of me when I was a kid. She lived in the little row house next door to Grandmom Julie, and the only time I really remember seeing her was when she stood on the back balcony and shouted over it to talk to my grandmother in Italian while she hung her laundry on the line. I never understood why she didn't just come over, but she always sounded angry so I didn't say anything. Grandmom Julie and Frances were both immigrants, they both lived alone (for most of my memory), and they were the only people I knew who still hung their laundry out to dry. When I called my mom for the recipe and she told me she got it from Frances, I pictured the little old Italian lady shouting the recipe across the balconies to my mom.
I called this sweet bread when I was growing up, but after baking it myself I now realize it isn't actually that sweet. At least not on it's own. But then my mom and I remembered that it was supposed to have a powdered sugar glaze. And sprinkles. The little round rainbow colored ones to be exact. Unforunately I remembered the sprinkles too late, and so they didn't make an appearance on this year's bread. Next year though, I will be prepared with the sprinkles.
O, and a long time ago I mentioned that my mom made Easter bread shaped like bunnies. That was this bread, but apparently I did not inherit the dough sculpting gifts. After a failed attempt that looked more like a fat hamster, I went with braids. Which makes this look like challah.
Frances's Easter Bread
Makes 2 braided loaves, or apparently four bunnies.
2 cakes yeast (or two packets active dry yeast, 4 1/2 tsp.)
1/4 cup lukewarm water (105-115 degrees)
1 cup milk
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. salt
2 large eggs. beaten
5 cups all-purpose flour
2 egg yolks, beaten to brush on before baking
-Dissolve the yeast in the warm water with a pinch of sugar and set aside. It should froth up in 5 to 10 minutes. If it doesn't, either the water was the wrong temperature or the yeast is dead (expired).
-Scald the milk in a saucepan or in the microwave for 2 minutes.
-Pour the hot milk into a bowl (you can use the bowl of a stand mixer if you have one) and add the butter, sugar, and salt and mix. Cool to lukewarm.
-Add the flour a little at a time, enough to make a thick batter. Save the rest of the flour for later use.
-Add the yeast and two beaten eggs. Beat well.
-Add the rest of the flour a little at a time until the dough comes together into a loose ball.
-Transfer the dough to a floured surface and knead, adding flour as needed. (This can also be done with the dough hook attachment on a stand mixer, it takes about three minutes on medium speed.)
-Shape the dough into a ball. Spray a large bowl with cooking spray, put the dough into the bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel, and let rise on hour and a half or until doubled in size.
-Punch down the dough. Let it rest in the bowl 15 minutes, covered.
-Shape into a bunny or another animal or just a braid and place on an ungreased baking sheet. (You can also put a hard boiled egg--colored or not--into the dough and lattice the dough in an X over the egg to hold it on).
-Cover the loaves with clean kitchen towels and let rise about an hour and a half.
-Brush with egg yolk before baking.
-Bake at 350 for 25 to 30 minutes.
-Make a glaze by adding a few tablespoons of milk slowly to about a cup of powdered sugar. Add milk until you reach the desired consistency (about the thickness of yogurt). When the bread is cool, brush it with the glaze and sprinkle on the sprinkles while the glaze is still wet.