Easter Bread as we fondly referred to it growing up, has as many variations as there are borgos in Italy. In our family it was always Aunt Betty, despite having a full time career and raising two sons, who made certain that everyone had their special bread at Easter time. Her golden wreaths always featured colored eggs braided into each lovingly shaped bread.
Our early experiences have a profound influence on everyday life, and years later as Challah became a part of my weekly ritual, I couldn’t help remember the Easter Bread of my beloved Aunt & Godmother. The culinary traditions and practices of one religion often are reflected in any number of ways through another. Challah and Easter Bread are rich with golden eggs, fragrant, slightly sweetened and always anticipated with excitement by all.
Easter Bread generally incorporates milk and butter into the dough, while Challah is a dairy free product in order to comply with kosher dietary laws allowing the festive bread to be consumed with meat dishes each Friday evening. Honey or sugar are used to sweeten both, however a flavorful honey always adds something special to the both of these.
Colored uncooked eggs are easily woven into the Easter wreaths, however unless you are planning to distribute to family and friends immediately they should not be used.
Dotted with black anise seeds from Calabria and scented with orange rind, Easter Bread – or Challah for that matter, could not be anymore delectable.
A confectioner’s sugar glaze and colorful sprinkles are the standard topping for these springtime holiday treats.
Every Italian family has their own special recipe for Easter Bread, but consider changing things up a bit this year. Buona Pasqua to all of my readers who celebrate and for those that are always searching for a variation on their own challah recipe, give this a try.
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- 1 Tbs. dry yeast
- 1¾ cups of liquid combining the juice of 2 fresh oranges along with fresh water
- ½ cup local honey
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- 4 large eggs at room temperature
- 7 cups of all purpose flour
- 1 cup of whole wheat flour
- 1 tsp. sea salt
- 1 Tbs. black anise seeds - optional
- Zest from 2 large oranges
- Semolina flour to sprinkle on the baking sheets - AP flour may be substituted
- 2 cups confectioner’s sugar
- ¼ cup of fresh water
- Colored sprinkles
- Oil a large bowl in which to place the finished dough to rise.
- Place the orange juice / water, honey, eggs, & oil in the work bowl of a standing mixer and combine; add the yeast and give a good stir followed by the orange zest & anise seeds.
- Begin to incorporate the flour into the mixing bowl,starting with the cup of whole wheat flour and two cups of the all purpose flour. Using a wooden spoon, mix into the wet ingredients. Affix the paddle attachment to the mixer and turn to medium until a smooth batter develops. Stop the mixer, add the salt and two more cups of the all-purpose flour, stir and turn the mixer to medium to form a dough. Change the paddle attachment to the dough hook attachment as per the instructions for your mixer, mine generally requires changing at about the 7 cups of flour point. Continue to add flour until the dough comes away from the side of the bowl and is smooth & soft. You may not use the entire 7 cups of all-purpose flour.
- Lightly flour the work surface and turn the dough onto it, kneading for about 5 minutes. Form a smooth round ball and place into the oiled bowl, cover the bowl with plastic wrap followed by a clean dish towel. Allow to rise for 3 hours.
- Line two baking sheets with parchment paper sprinkled with a bit of semolina flour or regular all-purpose flour.
- Remove the risen dough to a lightly floured surface, it should have doubled in size. Punch it down, briefly knead for a few moments and allow to rest for 5 minutes.
- If you are making Easter Bread divide into 4 equal balls of dough, for challah divide into two equal parts.
- Easter Bread - each of the 4 balls of dough will be divided into three pieces, equal in weight. Working one at a time, roll each of the three pieces into long strands or snakes between 15 and 18 inches of equal length. Loosely braid the three strands an form into a wreath, connecting the both ends by squeezing the dough together and turning the unfinished ends under. Place on the prepared cookie sheet and continue with the remaining three balls of dough.
- Challah - divide each of the two larger balls of dough into three or four, depending upon your preference, roll each of the three pieces into long strands or snakes of equal length, and braid in the typical fashion; place each on a prepared baking sheet.
- Allow the breads to rise an additional hour at room temperature. At the 30 minute mark, adjust the shelves in your oven to the ⅓ and ⅔ position and preheat the oven to 375º.
- After the prepared breads have risen for 1 hour, carefully place them into the hot oven, closing the oven door immediately. Allow to bake for 10 minutes and then reduce the oven temperature to 350º continuing to bake for an additional 20 minutes, alternating the position of the racks from top to bottom - front to back at the 10 minute mark.
- Have a cooling rack prepared on the counter.
- Remove the deep golden breads from the oven and slide from the baking trays to the cooling rack. Allow to cool completely. The Challot are now ready to either use immediately or freeze.
- Once the wreaths are cool begin to prepare the icing.
- Sift the confectioners sugar into a bowl to insure that there are no lumps. Slowly begin to whisk in the ¼ cup of water until a smooth paste like icing has formed. Spoon over the top of each wreath, immediately topping with the colored sprinkles. Allow the icing to completely dry before wrapping each bread.