Easter Bread

I’ve been busy baking and I have a celebration bread to share.  It includes all the ingredients for a rich, special-occasion treat.  There is an abundance of dried fruit, nuts, citrus zest, warm spices, eggs, and butter.  It’s simple to make and only requires your patience as it proofs (all that added goodness makes for a slightly slower rise).  You can shape the bread in a simple braid, place it in a standard loaf tin, or make it into a free-form round.  Sprinkle it with pearl sugar for a little gloss if you like, or drizzle a glaze over top for an alternate embellishment.  This bread would be a beautiful addition to an Easter table, which is exactly where mine are bound this weekend. 

Easter Bread
(makes 2 loaves)
For the Sponge:
1 cup milk, at room temperature
1 package dry active yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
1 cup all-purpose flour (125 grams)
For the Dough:
1/4 cup currants (30 grams)
3/4 cup golden raisins (100 grams)
1 cup dried cranberries or dried cherries (125 grams)
1/4 cup diced dried apricots or dried mango (30 grams)
1 tablespoon rum
2 eggs, plus 3 egg yolks
12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), melted, at room temperature
1 tablespoon almond extract
4 cups all-purpose flour (500 grams), plus extra for dusting
1 teaspoon fine salt
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons anise seeds
1 teaspoon cardamom
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
3/4 cup slivered almonds (70 grams)
1 tablespoon milk
Sugar or pearl sugar for topping, optional
Make the sponge:  Put 1 cup milk in a medium bowl, add yeast and let dissolve.  Whisk in 1 cup (125 grams) all-purpose flour.  Cover the bowl and leave in a warm place until doubled in size and very frothy, about 30 minutes.  Put currants, raisins, cherries, and apricots in a small bowl and cover with hot water.  Leave 10 minutes, then drain.  Return to the bowl and stir in the rum.  Beat 2 eggs and 2 of the yolks.  Add the beaten eggs, melted butter and almond extract to the sponge and stir together.  Stir in the dried fruit (with the rum).  In a large bowl mix together 4 cups (500 grams) all-purpose flour, salt, anise seeds, cardamom, orange zest, lemons zest, and almonds.  Pour the sponge mixture over the flour mixture and combine, stirring with a spoon or your hands until it forms a shaggy, slightly sticky mass.  Dust lightly with flour and tun the dough out onto a clean work surface.  Knead for a few minutes until smooth, dusting with a minimal amount of flour if necessary, to make a soft dough.  (If desired, the dough may be refrigerated overnight in a large zippered storage bag.  Bring to room temperature and proceed with the recipe).  Put the dough in a large, greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour (or up to 2 hours, depending on the temperature of your kitchen).  Punch down the dough and knead lightly.  Divide the dough in half with a knife or bench cutter and form two loaves; they can be round, braided, or free form.  Place side by side on a large parchment-lined baking sheet, leaving a 4-inch space between them (or use 2 smaller baking sheets).  Cover lightly with plastic wrap or a damp tea towel and let rise until doubled, about 30 to 40 minutes.  Meanwhile, place a rack in the middle of the oven, and heat the oven to 350F.  Make the egg wash by blending together the remaining egg yolk with the 1 tablespoon milk.  Uncover the loaves and brush generously with egg wash.  Sprinkle each loaf with 2 tablespoons sugar (or 1 tablespoon pearl sugar) if desired.  Bake on the middle rack for about 45 minutes or until loaves are a dark, glossy brown.  Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool completely.
(from David Tanis’s City Kitchen column in the New York Times) 


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