Happy Easter everyone!
This year I wanted to do something a little different from the rather ubiquitous brunch muffins and fritattas (though I did those, too) and make a real show-stopper. I rather think that I did an excellent job with it, too. But let me stop patting myself on the back long enough to tell you how I did it.
The idea for this bread started when I saw Paul Hollywood do a similar braid with colored eggs in it. I believe that it had some sort of flavoring in the rich dough, though, and I wanted to go for something sweet, something like challah. Instead of falling back to my usual challah recipe, I did a quick search and came upon this recipe for a braided Easter bread at Allrecipes.com. By combining the shape of Paul’s bread with the basic recipe from the other bread, I think I reached an excellent balance – not to mention a gorgeous-looking loaf.
The dough was very easy to handle, though it did take quite some time to rise, as many rich doughs do. While the dough was rising the first time, I dyed a few eggs. I used raw eggs, as they will cook in the oven, and food coloring as a dye. The recipe for dye is simple: 1 tbsp white vinegar, 1/2 cup water and as much food coloring as you want. I tried to go for bright colors and used loads of coloring. After the eggs had been in the dye for about 5 minutes, I took them out and patted them dry. The eggs were inserted gently into the dough after it had been shaped and had risen a second time. I brushed the dough with an egg wash and popped it into the oven.
The bread tastes like a sweet challah, a eggy and a little buttery, with a very soft and light texture. It is not a traditional Challah, as it uses milk and butter (and most challah recipes are nondairy), but it is absolutely delicious. It is also perfect with butter and jam or with a large brunch. The leftovers (minus the decorated eggs on top, of course) make great toast or french toast. If you have any leftovers, that is.
Braided Easter Egg Challah
3 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
2 1/2 tsp (1 package) active dry yeast
2/3 cup milk, warm, 110F (low fat is fine)
2 eggs, room temperature
2 tbsp butter, very soft
3 raw eggs, dyed (as above) if desired
1 egg, lightly beaten with 1 tbsp water (for egg wash)
In an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook or in a large bowl, combine 2 cups flour, sugar, salt, yeast and milk and mix to combine. Beat in eggs, one at a time, making sure that the first one is well incorporated before you add the second. Add butter, but into small pieces, and beat until completely absorbed. Add remaining flour 1 tbsp at a time, until the dough pulls easily away from the side of the bowl.
Knead dough lightly for about 3 minutes on a lightly floured surface until it is very elastic, then place in a lightly greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise for about 2 hours, until doubled in size.
Gently deflate dough into a rectangle and divide it, lengthwise, into three equal pieces. Roll out until pieces are about 16-inches long. Braid together, tucking the ends underneath the loaf. Place on a greased baking sheet (I used a silpat) and cover with a clean dishtowel. Let rise for 60 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350F.
Place three raw, dyed eggs gently into dough and brush the loaf with the egg wash.
Bake for 36-40 minutes, until rich golden brown.
Cool completely on a wire rack before serving.
Makes 1 loaf.
Note: All my eggs were at room temperature when I started. The cooked eggs are safe to eat, so go for it if hard-eggs are your thing!