Food is more than just sustenance. It’s appreciation. It’s an exercise for your senses. It’s family. It’s tradition.
Every Easter (and most Christmases), my Mother and prior to her, my Grandmother, made a golden sweet braided bread, similar to challah, baked in a large bowl to be shared during our celebratory feast. As a child, I didn’t really understand the meaning of the bread, only that I loved it and that it was a tradition of our family to share this wonderful creation. As my own family has grown and I’ve gotten older, I long to continue as well as create traditions for us — ones that Emma and Katie will hopefully hold on to as they grow up.
While this recipe isn’t exactly the same as my family recipe, it has helped resurrect the tradition. This version has multiple variations – plain and cinnamon, as well as with or without dairy. Whichever you choose, it will fill your home with warmth, the smell of fresh bread and the feeling that you’ve created a work of art with your own two hands. Or more hands, depending on the little helpers you include in your kitchen. It’s definitely not a weeknight recipe but intended for a day at home as there is a lot of waiting and resting time in between steps.
Bread is to be broken with family and friends. Whether it’s Easter, Christmas or any other occasion, bake the bread and start your own tradition.
Braided Easter Bread, 2×2 ways
inspired by My Family
(makes 2 12″ wreaths)
* ingredients listed in [ ] are for the dairy-free version
3 tbsp + 1 tsp skim milk [or rice milk]
3 tsp active dry yeast
1 1/2 tsp + 3 tbsp sugar
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
rind from 1/2 lemon
3 tbsp vanilla sugar
1/2 tsp ground kosher salt
1 cup skim milk [or rice milk]
1 egg yolk (from a large egg) + 1 large egg (for egg wash), beaten
In a small bowl, proof the yeast by whisking it together with the sugar and milk. Set aside until it starts foaming.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour and lemon rind. Set aside.
Add the salt and sugar to the remaining milk and gently warm it until the sugar is dissolved. Whisk 2/3rds of the milk mixture, along with the yeast and egg yolk into the flour. Knead either by hand or with a stand mixer using a dough hook and slowly add the remaining milk and butter or oil. Continue kneading for 5 minutes. Turn the dough out of the bowl and knead by hand for another minute until the dough has come together into a smooth ball. Place back into the bowl and cover loosely with a tea towel. Let rise in a warm, draft-free place for approximately 45 minutes. The dough will have doubled in size.
Gently press the air out of the risen dough and divide it in half. Let the dough rest again for 15-20 minutes.
Divide each half of the rested dough evenly into 3 pieces. Roll into ropes approximately 20″ in length. Take 3 ropes and carefully braid them together. If using the cinnamon sugar mixture, brush it over top of the 3 ropes prior to braiding. Once the braid is complete, bring the ends together to form a ring. Carefully place the ring on to the parchment-lined baking sheet and repeat with the other 3 remaining ropes.
While the braided rings rest for another 10 minutes, line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 375F.
Brush the braided rings with the egg wash and bake for 20-30 minutes until the tops are golden brown and the bread sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Let cool on rack and serve warm or at room temperature.
Tips and Suggestions:
Using quick rise yeast? Skip the proofing step and just whisk 1 tbsp of quick rise yeast into the flour. Continue with the rest of the recipe as stated.
Have leftovers? This bread is perfect for french toast!