My favorite Easter bread is a holiday or celebration one that is braided and has simple flavors, perfect with a cup of coffee. This is not only a gorgeous sweet dough but easy to make and great to work with. And versatile enough to add flavorings and fillings if you want to.
Originally posted in April 2019, the text and images have been updated and video clips added to serve you better. The recipe remains the same.
Easter bread is a huge deal here. I live in Buenos Aires where we have a very strong Italian heritage.
The forever traditional one is made into a rounded braid and pastry cream is added on top along with whole raw eggs. Not my favorite since the cream ends up overcooked and the eggs a plain ugly tone of yellowish-grey.
So I found my way of making an Italian worthy Easter bread. Which, in this recipe, are really two different shaped breads made from one dough recipe. One has pastry cream, of course. And you get two in one. Win-win.
About Easter bread
If you search the web you will find traditional Easter bread recipes from around the world. The most traditional ones are Italian and Greek, and they are quite similar. These loaves of bread are yeasted, lightly sweet and usually braided with eggs on top.
Italy also has the famous Colomba Pasquale (Easter dove), a sweet bread with a crunchy top that is the counterpart to their other traditional bread, the famous Christmas Panettone, which is a huge deal in this country. You don't celebrate Christmas without panettone. Period.
But let's get back to our bread here.
They are pantry and refrigerator staples as you can see in the image below.
The dough I use is the Finnish Pulla. Ironic, I know, using a Scandinavian dough to make an Italian Easter bread. Well, as I told you before, I didn't follow the typical path. I usually never do.
This pulla bread dough is so amazing I never looked back after making it only once and decided it would be my go-to recipe for Easter bread or similar. Truly a fabulous recipe that you must try because I know you'll feel as I do about it.
Types of yeast
A very short answer is that yeast is a living microorganism that, when properly 'fed', metabolizes sugar and produces carbon dioxide and alcohol. It's what makes the bread rise or leaven and gives it that particular flavor.
- Dry yeast: you can buy instant or active dry, which look the same (image below) but are activated differently. The former goes directly into the dry ingredients (flour mostly) and the latter needs a wet environment (water in most cases) to foam and be ready. You can buy active dry yeast and instant yeast online.
- Fresh yeast: it comes in cubes usually and is crumbly and humid. This type has a much shorter refrigerator life than the dry versions, so it's not as popular. You can buy fresh yeast online.
Don't be afraid to work with yeast. It takes a little practice (what doesn't), but the results are amazing! Making your own bread is a one-way journey for many people. Including me.
Most bread recipes can be made either in a stand mixer (Kitchen Aid or similar) or by hand.
Of course the former is easier, but sometimes we don't have access to one, so knowing how to bake the old-fashioned way (hands!) comes in handy.
I put together a step-by-step video to guide you 👇🏻
- Proof the yeast, that is, check if it's good to use, directly in the mixer bowl. It should foam when mixed with a little liquid, flour, and sugar.
- Start adding the rest of the ingredients in the order given.
- Knead using the dough hook until you have a sticky dough. The dough will stick heavily to the sides of the bowl but eventually will start to gather into a mass around the hook. A small amount of dough will still cling to the sides and bottom. Don't be tempted to add too much extra flour! This dough is sticky, especially before the first rise.
- Transfer to an oiled bowl and let double in volume.
- The first two steps are the same as above, but you mix everything in a large bowl.
- There comes a moment when the dough is still wet but it's hard to mix in more flour. It looks like a very thick, lumpy pancake batter. At this point, you transfer it to a heavily floured board and get your hands into action.
- At first, the dough will be very sticky. This is a wet dough enriched with eggs and butter so the way to 'knead' it is by lifting it up and letting it fall down, trying to fold it onto itself when you do that. It will get less sticky as you continue to do that. Add bits of flour only when completely necessary.
Transfer the slightly sticky dough to an oiled bowl, cover and let rise until doubled. This might take 1 to 2 hours.
If the dough is not rising during the first half-hour it's probably because the room is too cold. So wrap the bowl with a blanket, towel or even a sweater. You need to create a warmer place for the yeast to work.Vintage Kitchen Tip
The stickiness will have decreased after the first rise (image below). Punch the dough down with your closed fist (image below) and turn out onto a clean counter.
You will see that it's much more supple and easier to work with.
We're making a simple 3-rope braid, so it's super easy! You can make other more intricate patterns like the ones for challah. There are thousands of tutorials about them everywhere.
For this one, you have to make 3 ropes of roughly the same size and length. The best way is to weigh the whole dough and divide it into three equal pieces. Or eyeball it, as I do. There will be small differences probably.
Then simply braid as you would your hair.
This bread dough has eggs and melted butter added.
So it's very rich in flavor and texture, but not difficult to work with. If you're familiar with brioche, think of this pulla bread as the poor cousin, fewer eggs and less butter but lots of attitude.
- Make sure the yeast is active. Old or moldy yeast is no good, similar to baking powder. If not kept in the right conditions they will not work properly. In short, your bread will not rise. All your effort will be wasted. So buy yeast according to the amount of bread you bake.
- Always label it so you know how old it is. Don't mix yeast with salt at the beginning of the recipe. They should be added separately and mixed after the yeast is working, that is, after it is mixed with some liquid and flour. They are not friends, as salt 'kills' some of the yeast power. You certainly don't want that for your bread. You want the yeast to be powerful and make it rise as much as it can.
- Don't mix yeast with salt at the beginning of the recipe. They should be added separately and mixed after the yeast is working, that is, after it is mixed with some liquid and flour. They are not friends, as salt 'kills' some of the yeast power. You certainly don't want that for your bread. You want the yeast to be powerful and make it rise as much as it can.
- Braiding: Easter bread is traditionally made as a single braid with the ends overlapping, thus creating a round braid. You can do that, or do the braid and leave it like that, as the photos in this post. Alternatively, you can go the challah way and do a more sophisticated braiding job. There are many challah braiding tutorials on YouTube.
- Flavorings: it might not be very Easter-like, but you can add ground spices and citrus to the dough - cinnamon, cardamom, even saffron, almond extract, citrus zest (orange, lime, lemon, tangerine) - or make a morning bread similar to this cinnamon sugar challah.
- Glazes: since I made this dough for Easter, I only added vanilla extract. You can play with the glaze too, make it orange-flavored, or use a liquor, or coffee. Let your imagination and palate go in any direction you want.
- Individual buns: alternatively you can make individual little loaves of bread, similar to the fantastic Hot Cross Buns.
What out Easter table looked like:
Other recipes you might like:
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A beautiful sweet dough to make for Easter bread or any time you want a sweet yeasted bread.
*Time in the recipe includes rising periods.
For the dough:
- 1 cup (250g) whole milk, warm
- 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
- ¼ cup (60g) warm water
- ½ cup (100g) sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla paste or extract
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 eggs, room tº
- 4 ½ to 5 cups (630 to 700g) all purpose flour
- ½ cup (115g) melted butter
- Milk to brush before baking
- Light brown sugar to sprinkle
For the glaze:
- 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
- 1-2 tablespoons lemon juice
- ¼ cup sliced almonds, toasted
In the bowl of a stand mixer or a large bowl (I do it by hand) put warm water.
Add yeast and mix with a wooden spoon or similar. It will be lumpy and weird. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let stand 3-5 minutes until frothy.
Add warm milk, sugar, and eggs. Mix a few times until eggs are combined.
Add ⅓ of the flour amount and salt. Mix with the spoon. It will be lumpy and rough.
With the stand mixer: attach the dough hook.
At low/medium speed add the melted butter, the vanilla, and rest of the flour (the smaller amount) ½ cup at a time. Stop the mixer, cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel and let rest for 15 minutes.
By hand: Add melted butter and half of the remaining flour (the smaller amount) and mix well with a spoon. Add the rest of the flour and mix. It will be dry and lumpy.
Cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel and let rest for 15 minutes.
Now on to the kneading.
If using the stand mixer use the dough hook at medium speed for 6 to 8 minutes, until you have a shiny, satiny but slightly sticky dough. You might use the extra flour stated above but don’t be tempted to add more unless the dough is very wet and sticky.
If kneading by hand, do it on a clean surface, ideally marble counter or similar.
Knead while adding the rest of the flour by tablespoons until the dough is shiny, slightly sticky but it’s easy to separate it from the counter. It takes a few minutes to start coming together. You should knead for 8-10 minutes.
Put the dough in an oiled or buttered large bowl and turn it onto itself so the whole surface is greased.
Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a draft-free warm place until doubled, 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the temperature of the place. Alternatively, you can now refrigerate it for 8 hours. Once you're ready to shape, take it out of the fridge and wait 15 minutes or so, it depends on how warm your space is. Don't wait too much since the cold dough is much easier to shape.
Have ready a buttered or parchment-lined baking sheet.
When ready to braid, gently punch the dough down and turn it onto the counter or similar surface cut the dough in 3 parts and make them into ropes.
Put three ends together pinching them down and braid them. Transfer the braid to the pan. cover with a clean kitchen towel and let rise 30 minutes or so, until slightly puffed.
Or braid it some other way, see notes above.
Preheat the oven to 350ºF /180ºC.
Brush the surface with milk and sprinkle with light brown sugar.
Bake for about 30-40 minutes, until puffed, golden.
Yeast: old or moldy yeast is no good, similar to baking powder. If not kept in the right conditions they will not work properly. In short, your bread will not rise. All your effort will be wasted. So buy yeast according to the amount of bread you bake. Always label it so you know how old it is.
Don't mix yeast with salt at the beginning of the recipe: they should be added separately and mixed after the yeast is working, that is, after it is mixed with some liquid and flour. They are not friends, as salt 'kills' some of the yeast power.
Take the time to knead the dough properly: kneading develops gluten and creates a 'woven fabric' that forms the structure for the bread to rise well. Too little kneading and the bread won't rise well. But don't overdo it either. Too much kneading and the structure will end up breaking and the result will also be bad.
Braiding: you can make a single braid like this one or a thinner, longer braid and make ends meet resulting in a circle. Or go the challah way, see ideas here.
Flavorings: it might not be very Easter-like, but you can add ground spices and citrus to the dough - cinnamon, cardamom, even saffron, almond extract, citrus zest (orange, lime, lemon, tangerine) - or make a morning bread similar to this cinnamon sugar challah.
Keywords: easter bread, sweet braid