For years Michael has been telling me about the Easter bread his mother made, and for years I’ve been trying to obtain the recipe. I finally succeeded in getting two recipes: one from his mother, a scan of a page taken from an unknown cook book over 50 years ago; and the other from his brother Chip which originally came from Uncle Tom. His mother began making braided bread for Christmas and Easter during the first year they were married, a departure from her family’s Easter babka. She didn’t have her mother’s babka recipe, so she started her own family tradition. For several months there were email discussions back and forth on which recipe was better than the other and why, and I wanted to make sure I honored this family favorite.
I thought about using dried cherries instead of raisins, and Michael was fine with that. Then I had to figure out the glaze recipe, which was not on the original scanned page, and after racking Michael’s brain on ingredients and thickness, we called his mom again. Her glaze is actually more like a buttercream frosting, and I just made a simple milk and sugar glaze, but thick enough to hold the colorful jelly beans. I must admit I felt a little intimidated about taking on this family tradition, but thankfully Michael liked the bread I made and the boys love the jelly beans on top.
So a new tradition is born for our family.
The dough is flavored with mace and lemon zest and studded with almonds and cherries or raisins, and at Christmas you can flavor it with orange zest and nutmeg and add dried cranberries. It’s a versatile sweet dough that you can use for many different shapes. You can decorate with the glaze and some jelly beans or mini malted Easter eggs, or you can skip them if you prefer.
Braided Easter Bread
- stand mixer with paddle attachment and dough hook
- large mixing bowl, lightly greased
- 2 baking sheets lined with parchment
- 7 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 4 teaspoons instant yeast
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter (softened)
- 2 large eggs
- 1½ cups warm milk
- ½ cup warm water
- 1 lemon (zested)
- ¼ teaspoon mace
- 1 cup dried raisins (or cherries)
- 1 cup chopped almonds
- 1 egg (plus 2 tablespoons cold water)
- 2½ cups confectioners sugar (sifted)
- 5 tablespoons lowfat milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- jelly beans
- mini malted eggs
- In the bowl of the stand mixer, mix 4 cups of the flour, sugar, yeast, and salt, then add the softened butter and the eggs and mix until the butter is evenly distributed. Add the warm milk and water and continue mixing until it resembles a slurry. Switch to the dough hook and add the lemon zest, mace, cherries, almonds, and another cup of flour, mixing until the flour is fully incorporated. Continue adding flour ½ cup at a time until the dough starts to clean the sides of the bowl. Knead with the dough hook until it is smooth and elastic, about 3 to 5 minutes.
- Transfer the dough to the greased mixing bowl and cover with a damp tea towel. Let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 90 minutes. Punch down the dough and let it rise again until almost doubled, about 30 minutes.
- Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and divide into 2 equal pieces. Set one piece aside, then divide the other into 4 equal pieces. Roll 3 of the pieces into 14-inch strands. Place them side-by-side on one of the parchment-lined baking sheets, then gently braid them, tucking the ends under. Divide the remaining piece into 3 equal pieces and braid them, then place the braid on top of the larger braid. Make another double braid with the remaining dough.
- Cover both braids with tea towels and allow to rise until doubled, about 45 to 60 minutes.
- Place the racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven, allow plenty of room for the breads to rise. Preheat the oven to 350° F/175° C.
- Brush the braids with the egg and water mixture, then place in the preheated oven. After 20 minutes, move the bottom baking sheet to the top and the top baking sheet to the bottom. Continue baking until golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes more. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely on wire racks.
- In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the confectioners sugar, milk, and vanilla extract. The glaze should be slightly thickened, not runny. Drizzle it over the cooled bread, then place a few jelly beans (optional) in the crevices of the bread, tucking them into the glaze to hold in place.