Italian Braided Easter Bread Ring

Happy first day of spring!  Today is the spring equinox, better known as Ostara to me.  It’s hard to think about starting a garden with a blanket of new snow on the ground, but that’s exactly what’s on my mind.  For weeks, we’ve been discussing the herbs we’re going to start and the raised bed garden we’ll put outside the kitchen window.  I’m beyond excited about this, and the other yard projects we have planned.  We’re building a new shed (the blizzard was the undoing of the old one), and we need to fix the lawn from where the gas line was installed (as I try to figure out how to kill the electric stove and make it look like an accident).  Ostara’s a great day to think about and work on these projects, as it’s a day celebrating fertility and new growth.  You’ll notice that a lot of Ostara traditions are a lot like Easter traditions, and I’ll reserve my thoughts on who “owned” them first because I’d like to be part of a world where we tolerate (or in some cases, celebrate) each other’s differences.  If I remember right (and my apologies if I have this wrong), to some who celebrate Easter the colored Easter eggs represent the empty tomb of Christ and coloring eggs was also a good way to use up the eggs in the house before the beginning of Lent.  To those who celebrate Ostara, eggs are a symbol of rebirth.  What all of this egg talk boils down to is that no matter what religious beliefs you hold, there’s room for interpretation.  I think we can all agree that it’s been a rough winter and rejoice that spring is finally here.

As with most holidays, I like to celebrate with food.  This sweet Italian bread wreath is a great treat no matter what your beliefs are and it was a great breakfast for the first day of spring.  The orange hints in the bread and the glaze are a great reminder that spring is really here, but this is a great bread for any occasion.  It’s usually reserved for spring or Easter celebrations because most often, it’s seen with colored eggs baked into it.  I skipped the colored eggs because our schedule this past week didn’t leave time to color eggs, and because I feared they would go to waste since I was only serving this to the four of us.  The bread doesn’t need the colored eggs but they do make the bread look much more festive.  If you choose to include the colored eggs, dye the raw eggs (with a dye that is safe to consume or preferably with a natural dye), and place the dried colored eggs on top of the wreath before baking.  The eggs will cook while the bread bakes, and the hard-“boiled” eggs are nice alongside a slice of this bread (warmed with a little butter is my recommendation) for breakfast.  As far as the braiding, it’s up to you how decorative you want to be.  I did braid the dough for the one below but after rising, the braid lost most of its definition and that’s fine- the flavor is way more important than the braiding.  You can also divide the dough into two strands and twist them together, then pinch the ends together to form the wreath.  I find that doing it that way makes for very pretty presentation and is easier than juggling three strands of dough.  It’s important to note that the dough for this is incredibly sticky, and I don’t advise adding any more flour to it.  The braiding happens on a greased work space and should happen quickly to keep the dough from becoming too stuck to the work  space.  This starts with an easy starter that you make a day ahead of time (at least eight hours ahead of when you want to start), and does need to rise twice for about two hours per rise so be sure to plan ahead if you want to serve this for any celebration you’re having this spring.

braided easter ostara bread

Braided (Or Not) Spring Bread Wreath

Ingredients:

for the starter:

  • 1 C. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 C. cool water
  • 1/8 tsp. instant yeast

for the dough:

  • 2 1/4 C. all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. instant yeast
  • 1/3 C. sugar
  • 4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. orange extract
  • 1/4 tsp. anise extract
  • grated peel of 1 large orange

for the glaze:

  • 1 C. confectioner’s sugar, sifted
  • 2-3 Tbsp. orange juice or milk
  • sprinkles, for decorating

Directions:

Mix together the starter ingredients in a bowl, cover, and let rest at room temperature overnight (up to 15 hours).

The next day, combine the starter with all of the remaining dough ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or bread machine- hand mixing is not recommended, the dough is incredibly sticky).

Mix until the dough is elastic and smooth.

Grease a large bowl, put the dough into the bowl, and let the dough rise for 1-2 hours until noticeably puffy.

Spread out a sheet of parchment paper onto a work surface, and lightly grease it or spray it with non-stick cooking spray.

Turn the dough out onto the piece of parchment paper and divide it into 3 equal pieces.

Shape each piece into an 18 inch long rope, then braid the ropes together.

Connect the two ends to form a wreath.

Carefully lift the parchment paper and wreath onto a large baking sheet.

Cover the wreath and let it rise for 1-2 hours until puffy.  If you’re adding colored eggs, do so after this rise by carefully placing them as desired onto the bread wreath.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Bake for 15 minutes, then tent the wreath with aluminum foil and bake for 10-20 more minutes (check after 10 minutes), until golden brown and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center reads 190 degrees.

Remove the wreath from the oven and allow it to cool.

To make the glaze, whisk together the confectioner’s sugar and 2 Tbsp. of the milk or orange juice.  Add additional liquid 1/4 tsp. at a time until the glaze is thin and pours easily.

Place waxed paper or parchment paper under the wire cooling rack and pour the glaze evenly over the top of the bread wreath.  Top with sprinkles as desired.

To serve, wait for the glaze to dry completely.  Serve warm, with or without butter.

If you have included the colored eggs, refrigerate the bread within 2 hours, or remove the eggs and refrigerate them separately.  If you do not include the eggs, this can be stored tightly covered with plastic wrap at room temperature.

Makes one 10″ round loaf.

Source: adapted from King Arthur Flour

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