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ITALIAN EASTER BREAD

We continue our baking streak for Easter. Not only does the long weekend give us more time to try something new, the Autumn weather makes a mellow kitchen the place to be. Try our Italian Easter Bread – it is a feast for the senses and a beautiful addition to your Easter table. Remember to enjoy with a glass of Leopard's Leap Chardonnay Pinot Noir!

Italian Easter Bread  Recipe

Ingredients for the bread

½ cup warm milk

¼ cup sugar

1 packet dry yeast

4 – 5 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 orange, zested and juiced (roughly ½ cup juice)

2 eggs, lightly beaten

¼ cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled

½ teaspoon ground anise

For the braid

6 raw eggs, dyed if desired

1 egg, beaten with 1 teaspoon water

Method

Making the dough

In a small bowl, mix the warm milk with the sugar until dissolved. Add the yeast and set the mixture aside until it begins to foam slightly (5 – 10 minutes).

While the yeast is hydrating, in a large bowl, mix together 3 cups all-purpose flour and the salt. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the orange juice and zest, the beaten eggs, melted butter and the anise. Set aside.

Add the yeast mixture and orange juice mixture to the flour, stirring until moistened.

Add the remaining flour to the dough, a little at a time, mixing until the dough comes together. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 5 – 10 minutes, until soft and smooth.

Place the dough into a clean, oiled bowl, and turn to coat the dough with oil. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and set in a warm, draft-free place to rise for 1 hour.

Shaping the ring

Once the dough has doubled, turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide the dough into 3 equal pieces and gently roll each into a 60-cm rope. (If the dough springs back at you, cover the ropes with a damp towel and let rest for 5 – 10 minutes to relax the gluten. Then try rolling them out again.)

Pinch one end of all three ropes together and braid the strands loosely. Shape the braid into a ring on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Gently tuck the dyed, raw eggs into the braid. (Be sure to place them on top, or slightly closer to the centre of the ring, as opposed to near the outer edge, as the eggs tend to roll to the outer edge of the ring during the final rising time.)

Gently brush the ring with the beaten egg-and-water wash, being careful around the dyed eggs.

Let the ring rise until puffy and nearly doubled (45 minutes – 1 hour).

Baking the bread

Near the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 180 °C.

Bake the bread for 40 minutes (depending on oven), until the ring is golden and sounds hollow when tapped gently. Let the bread cool on the baking sheet for at least 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

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