Easter bread is a lightly sweet with a hint of anise flavoring. I use fennel in this recipe but you could substitute liquid anise for the fennel. My mother used to make this every Easter, and I started making it in the store in the early days to celebrate the holiday. It quickly became a seasonal tradition. It takes time, but it is worth the effort.
- 71/2 cups bread flour
- 4 tsp instant active yeast
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 3 eggs , room temperature (for the dough)
- 2 - 6 eggs for the decor (hard boiled and colored)
- 2 eggs for egg wash
- 3/4 cup milk
- 3/4 cup Crisco
- 1/4 cup fennel seed
- 1/2 -3/4 cups warm water
- 3/4 cup confectioners sugar (for the icing)
- 1 tbsp cornmeal
- Non stick cooking spray
- Optional: 1 1/2 cups golden raisins
Total time: 4 hours
Before we get started let's talk yeast. The three main types of yeast require different processes for bread.
Active dry yeast - this is the yeast you will add to warm water (110 degrees) and wait for the mixture to foam a bit.
Instant active yeast (also called rapid rise) - you can add this yeast to the flour and other dry ingredients without adding water to the yeast alone.
Fresh yeast - This is least common but is still accessible in most grocery stores. It comes in blocks ranging from 1 oz to 2 lb in size. It has a much shorter shelf life and needs to be refrigerated. It is my preference for bread but I often use the other yeasts for recipes so better mimic the home process. This yeast is added directly to the flour.
Mix the flour, yeast, sugar, salt, fennel seed in a stand mixer until combined.
Next add the Crisco and mix.
Once that is combined, add the eggs and milk and mix for about a minute.
Start adding the warm water until the dough reaches a smooth consistency and is dry, but soft to the touch.
Place dough in a bowl, cover with a towel and place in a warm place.
Let rise for about 1 1/2 hour, or until doubles in size.
You are now ready to roll. The recipe will make either three 1 1/2 lb loaves or as we have shown in the photographs 2 loaves and six mini rolls.
Cut the dough into sizes for your bread choice ( 1 1/2 lb for each loaf and about 1/3 lb for each roll).
For each loaf, separate the dough again into 1/2 lb pieces and roll into logs about 24 inches in length.
Connect the three pieces at one end separate the pieces so there is about a 3 inch gap between each log. Take the far log and cross it over the top of the middle log. Next take the piece that is closest to you and cross it over the top of the new middle log. Repeat. Try to keep the braids tight.
When you get to the end leave the end pieces open. Now wrap dough into a circle and combine the end pieces to make it continuous. Give them a good squeeze so they stay together. For the mini rolls just hold one end and wrap the remaining length of the log around it into a spiral.
Carefully place the rounds on a cookie sheet that had been sprayed with non stick spray and sprinkled with cornmeal.
Place a colored egg in the middle or within the braids as seen in the pictures below.
Let rise in a warm space for another hour or until they have doubled in size.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and when ready, mix the last two eggs with a tbsp of water, and brush the loaves and rolls thoroughly.
Bake for 20 minutes or until the bread looks lightly golden.
Mix the confectioners sugar with a tsp of water to make a thick paste.
Drizzle on cooled bread and serve.