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Thursday, April 12, 2012

April, already?

    Holy cow, somebody stop the clock! It's already the first week of April. I am going to sound like a broken record, but, when did time start moving so fast? Jeepers!
   Easter is upon us this weekend and I have a lot of cooking to do. I am making Shrimp Scampi with homemade noodles for dinner tomorrow night. I guess I'll make bread, too. But I am going to make an Italian Easter Bread, also, for Sunday. It is a sweet bread (not sweetbreads), that is braided into a wreath and has colored eggs woven into the dough. My little old Italian grandmother made it every Easter. Of course she passed without sharing her recipe, but with this new newfangled invention called the internet, I have located a recipe that looks and sounds so much like it would be the recipe she used, or a close second, I am going to attempt it on Saturday. Yeah, you know me, forever the mad scientist!
     I found the recipe online at a club called Just a Pinch Recipe Club, which is a members only site, however, it doesn't cost anything, you just have to sign up. Me connecting with other avid cooks sharing recipes and secrets? Oh yeah, I'm in!
   Anyway, I followed the recipe nearly exactly (yes, yes, you know me!), but I did not have any fresh lemon, therefore no lemon peel to grate. Hmmm. what to do? After researching the internet for appropriate substitutions I decided to go with 1 tsp of orange juice to replace the lemon peel. The chemistry of lemon juice is too acidic to properly attain the same results as the peel- orange juice--being sweeter than lemon juice, I decided would be a better alternative. I was not disappointed. the bread had a little brightness that the lemon peel was meant to introduce, and the milk didn't sour as it would have had I used lemon juice. Mental note: you can substitute 1 teaspoon orange juice for 1 teaspoon grated lemon peel in bread recipes.

Italian Easter Bread

2-1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (that's one packet)
1/4 Cup warm water 110 to 115 degrees F.
1/2 Cup butter (softened)
1/2 Cup sugar
6 egg yolks
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 Cup warm milk
1 tsp orange juice
2 tsp vanilla
4 1/4 Cups flour
1 tsp melted butter
1 egg white, scrambled
6 colored eggs (raw)

Dissolve the yeast in 1/4 Cup warm water.Cream the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy.Add the salt and then the 6 egg yolks, one at a time until completely incorporated. Stir in the warm milk, the OJ and then the vanilla. Mix well. Add 2 cups of the flour and beat for 5 minutes. Gradually stir in the rest of the flour (switch to the dough hook on your stand mixer, if using). Knead for about 5 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic.This dough is on the stiffer side. Place dough in a greased bowl, drizzle a little melted butter over the top. Cover and let rise 1-1/2 to 2 hours. Punch down and knead for a few minutes again. Let rest 10 minutes. Separate dough into three equal portions and roll out into ropes. Braid the ropes into a wreath, placing colored eggs within the braid spaced equally all around (see photo). Brush the dough with beaten egg white and place into preheated 325 degree oven, 45 to 55 minutes. Let cool on wire rack. I did end up glazing the bread (as it is a sweet bread) with 1 cup of powdered sugar, 1/2 tsp of vanilla and 1 tablespoon of milk, mixed well, and drizzled over the top.
   I have made this bread before and never had a problem with the raw eggs. Not so lucky this trip. One egg did crack and ooze out a bit, and was still liquid when the bread was otherwise done. I just shut off the heat to the oven, and left the bread in the oven for another hour. It did not harm the bread, but the eggs were cooked through, which is what I was looking for. I tend to think there was something wrong with that particular egg, as I have made this several times before, as did my grandmother, and many other people from  the club, who did not have problems with their eggs exploding. Just one of those things you cannot predict, I guess.
   Here's a photo before the glaze. I will post a post-glaze photo as soon as I get it off my phone.
   What special treats do you prepare for your family's holiday? I love to hear from you!

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