In Lombardy there is the Colomba Pasquale (literally "Easter dove"), which has become popular throughout Italy. In Sardinia, the celebration breads get even more intricate, with scissor work on the dough adding amazing details in Easter egg baskets. The eggs can be brightly colored or natural. In the Greek tradition, the same sort of bread is made with eggs dyed red by using onion skins. The eggs represent birth, or rather, at Easter the re-birth.
Boiling and Dying the eggs:
For perfect eggs:
- Place 4-6 eggs into a saucepan and pour in cold water to cover. Slowly, bring the water to a boil. When the water just the boil, turn off heat, cover pan with a lid, and let stand for 12 minutes.
- Place the pan under a faucet and run cold water over the eggs--slowly replacing all the hot water with cold. Let the eggs sit in the cold water until cool, 20 minutes. Peel eggs under running water.
You can dye 4-6 eggs, only after hard-boiling them. In the past, I've tried to use raw eggs placed directly in the dough, but they often are a bit under-cooked--not soft boiled, but a bit under. If you want to make real looking like partridge eggs, dye them a pale blue and then use a tooth brush with brown dye to put blotches and spots all over each egg.
Proofing the Yeast:
1 tablespoon instant or active dry yeast.
1/3 cup milk (at 115 F)
1 tablespoon sugar
- Proof the yeast first by placing the warm milk, sugar and yeast into a 2 cup measuring cup or small bowl and mixing well. Wait 5 to 10 minutes until you see bubbly foam rising about 1 inch or more above the liquid.
For the dough:
2 1/2 - 3 cups all-purpose flour (depends on humidity... don't put in all the flour if it doesn't need it, but if it's a rainy day or you're using jumbo eggs, you might need 4 cups).
1/2 cup warm milk (115 F)
1/4 cup orange juice (room temperature)
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons butter (softened & cut into small pieces)
3 eggs well beaten (You can substitute Egg Beaters if you like).
1 teaspoon vanilla (or almond flavoring for a more Italian flavor)
For egg wash and topping:
2 eggs beaten (egg wash for brushing)
2 tablespoons sliced almonds
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar
colored sprinkles (optional)
- Warm the milk in a small saucepan until 115 F.
- In a large bowl of your electric mixer (using a dough hook), combine 1 cup of flour, sugar, teaspoon of salt.
- Add the pieces of butter, little by little as you mix on low speed to disperse the butter. Scrape down the bowl as needed.
- Next, add the yeast mixture, the 1/2 cup warm milk, orange juice and vanilla into your mixing bowl and mix on low speed into a slurry.
- Add the three beaten eggs and 1/2 cup flour; keep mixing on low speed...
- Add the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed.
- Continue to add flour until a soft, sticky mix starts to form and clear the sides of the mixer. It should be soft, a bit sticky but be able to hold together in a mound when taken out of the bowl.
- Turn out the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead for a minute or two until smooth, adding a dusting of flour if it gets too sticky, then shape into a ball.
- Place the dough ball into a large bowl coated with extra virgin olive oil to rise. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.
- After your dough has risen, preheat your oven to 350 F, preferably with a large pizza stone on the center rack.
- I suggest lining a large baking tray with parchment paper rather than a greased sheet to place your formed bread on for baking. You may also form it on a pizza peel on a parchment sheet, which can slide onto a pizza stone for baking.
- Gently punch down your dough, turn it out onto a floured work surface and roll out into a long rope, about 20-24 inches long. Put the two ends together and twist into a rope braid. An easy way to do this is to hold up your rope from the middle, then spin one rope around the other.
- Lay the rope braid onto your parchment paper and baking sheet (or parchment/pizza peel). Pull the ends around to form a ring, then pinch and fold under to seal. Place the dyed eggs (careful, remember, they are raw) in between the ropes at evenly spaced positions along the ring. An easy way to make it even is position one egg on one side, then another on the opposite side. Then divide the space between each egg in half and put another egg there, and so forth. Make sure the eggs are tucked well into the ropes with about 1/3 of their tops showing through.
- Next, cover and let rise until doubled in size before baking.
- Before placing the bread into the oven, brush egg wash over the dough. If you want, you can put colored sprinkles or turbinado sugar (Sugar in the Raw) over the top (they will stick to the egg wash). I used the turbinado sugar and sliced almonds on top of the egg wash. Some people like to do a drizzle of a sugar glaze (after the bread is baked and cooled). I'll leave this up to you. (You can make a simple sugar glaze with 1 cup powdered sugar, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla or other flavoring, and 1-2 tablespoons of milk.)
- Bake the risen and decorated bread for 30 - 45 minutes until golden brown. You can use a cake tester to make sure the center is cooked. Stick a tester wire or piece of straw from a broom into the bread... it should pull out cleanly. Transfer the bread to wire racks to cool completely. Keep in the fridge until serving.
A variation on this bread would be to add a mix of regular and golden raisins that have been soaked in water (or an orange liquor) to the dough before forming the ropes. About 1-1/2 cups would work well. You might also incorporate the zest from 2 large lemons and replace the orange juice with either lemon juice or Limoncello to give it a southern Italian flavor.
Do the Italian thing and bring your finished bread to Easter Mass and have the priest bless it for you.... You and your family will have good blessings all year!
Another thing to do for the kids... Put a coin or two in the bread dough. The person finding the coin will have buona fortuna all year!