I am all about traditions. I love to continue traditions that were started generations ago in my family, and I get immense joy from creating new traditions with my little girls. So as I set about planning for the upcoming Easter holiday, I make notes for my menu. Yes, the menu is pretty much the same from year-to-year that is why it is called a tradition. But, making a list helps me keep organized and serves as a template for my grocery list and general to-do list. First I start out with breakfast. It has to be Easter Sweet Bread. My maternal grandmother, Felicia, used to live with us, and she would make this every Easter Saturday when I was a child. I would watch her knead the dough, roll it out, kneed again. The dough would rise overnight, and on Easter morning the house would be filled with the aromas of orange and lemon zests. How I loved the sweet, dense bread fresh out of the oven, just waiting to be slathered with butter.
The first year I made it for my kids, there was so much anticipation. They could not wait to try it, and I could not wait to share it with them. The time came to take the bread out of the oven and I poised the knife over the loaf and began to slice. I quickly buttered it, and we all dove in. Hmmm, somehow, it just was not as good as I remembered. Quite honestly, it was heavier and a bit dry. I called my sister and asked her what I had done wrong. She chuckled and said, “that’s the way it is supposed to be, you didn’t do anything wrong.”
I started to think about exactly what it was I loved about that bread, and I realized it was not the bread itself; it was the tradition of standing by my grandmother’s side baking with her. It was how I would laugh when she would punch the dough down and say “Give it a good punch! Pretend it is someone you don’t like!” I realized that so much of my memories are tied to food, to meals, to laughter shared with those I love around the table. And I also realized that those are the kind of memories I want to make with my children. I set about changing the recipe for Easter bread after that. It is now light and delicious. My daughters look forward to it as much as I do, and just as I did all those years ago, they laugh when I tell them to give the dough a good punch.
PS: Don’t worry about getting the bread to look perfect. If you don’t want to braid the bread, you can just form it into a loaf. It will not look as pretty, but it will taste just as good.
- 2/3 Cup whole milk
- 6 Tablespoons sugar
- 1 ¾ Teaspoons active dry yeast
- 2 Extra large eggs
- 2 ½ Cups flour
- 3/4 Teaspoon salt
- 1 Stick unsalted butter cut into pieces plus one tablespoon melted for later
- 2 Tablespoons grated orange zest
- 2 Tablespoons grated lemon zest
- 1 Tablespoon vanilla
Heat milk in a small saucepan over medium heat until an instant read thermometer registers between 110 and 115 degrees. Transfer milk to a measuring cup, and stir in one tablespoon of the sugar. Sprinkle the yeast over the milk and whisk to blend. Let the mixture sit until the it develops a bit of a foam…about five minutes. Whisk until smooth.
In the bowl of an electric mixer combine the remaining five tablespoons of sugar, flour, salt, vanilla, and zests and mix with a dough hook. Slowly, add in the butter on piece at a time. Be sure to blend each piece of butter in completely before adding another piece. Once all the butter is incorporated mix on high speed until the dough is silky. This process takes about five to six minutes.
Melt one tablespoon of butter and brush some on the inside of a large bowl. Transfer the dough from the mixer into the buttered bowl and brush the top of the dough with remaining melted butter. Cover with plastic wrap and let the dough rise for two hours.
Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Punch down the dough, and then divide into three equal pieces and form a ball out of each piece. With lightly floured hands, roll and stretch each ball into a rope about 14 inches long. Arrange the ropes side by side lengthwise on the cookie sheet. Braid the dough and pinch the ends together. Loosely cover the entire cookie sheet with a damp kitchen towel and let the bread rise for a minimum of two hours or overnight (I let it rise overnight, so that my family can wake up to the smell of this bread on Easter morning).
When ready to bake the break, whisk an egg with one tablespoon of water in a small bowl. Brush the egg wash all over the break. Bake at 375 degrees until the bread is golden brown (about 25-30 minutes). Transfer the bread to a rack. If you are going to frost the bread as pictured above, let the bread cool for 10 minutes, and then brush the glaze over the entire loaf. This bread is wonderful served warm with butter!
For the Glaze:
- 3 Tablespoons confectionary sugar
- 1 ½ Teaspoons whole milk
- ½ Teaspoon grated orange zest
- ½ Teaspoon grated lemon zest
Whisk together and brush on the warm bread.
The Elegant Occasion Note: If you do not want to braid the dough, you can shape the dough into two equal size balls (instead of three) and let rise as directed. You will then have two round loaves of bread to bake.