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
- 1/4 cup (60g) warm water
- 1/2 cup (100g) sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla paste or extract
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 eggs, room tº
- 4 1/2 to 5 cups (630 to 700g) all purpose flour
- 1/2 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
- 1/4 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 1/3 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) 1/2 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