Easter bread dolls is a lovely little twist on the traditional, eggy, sweet and butter loaves baked up for the Easter feast.
Baking Easter bread was something my mom always did when we were kids. Sometimes it was an elaborate braided bread and at other times it was bread maker bread - especially when we first got a bread machine and the novelty was infectious. In any case, there was always bread for Easter. That bread was special for two reasons. One, my mom didn’t make bread often so the thought of freshly baked bread always sent my heart racing. Being a carb-aholic, I could hardly wait for my fix of straight-out-of-the-oven bread. Secondly, this loaf was extra special because it was the bread we brought in our baskets to be blessed at the Easter Vigil mass on Holy Saturday.
The Easter Vigil mass is and always will be my favourite mass of the year. It is a celebration so full of ancient symbols and traditions. From the twinkling of little candles that illuminate the vast darkness within the church, to the blessing of the Easter food. Taking the basket of food was always my favourite part. In it, we would include 6 eggs, one for each member of our family – peeled of course, because as my dad was always so quick to remind us, anything that is blessed cannot be thrown out! A piece of ham that was prepared earlier that day would also be included, and of course the Easter bread. Everything all wrapped beautifully in crisp linens and arranged in a wicker basket.
When it came for the blessing, everyone in the church would gingerly unwrap their baskets, revealing what they brought and filling the air with rich smells of homemade cured sausages, spring onions, hardboiled eggs and fresh bread. I would look around, eyeing everyone’s parcels, taking in all of the beautiful food. Some people would bring gigantic baskets, loaded to the gills with the aforementioned selections, plus chocolates sweets and cookies. Others came more modestly with a simple egg and piece of bread. Whatever the case may be, there is always something so humbling about the notion behind this tradition, one that will always remain dear to me.
The next morning, unlike the rest of the Canadian kids, there was no Easter egg hunt in the backyard. We came down the stairs, wished Mama and Tata Sretan Uskrs (Sré-ton Uus-kers) and sat down to our breakfast of the very food that was blessed the night before. Careful to eat every crumb, we didn’t let any of the special food go to waste. If it was a particularly fatty piece of ham, or our fourth piece of bread that we thought we could handle, but ended up with eyes bigger than our stomachs, we’d just pass it over to our dad, the human garbage receptacle who ate anything, especially our leftovers.
After breakfast, we all dressed up in our Easter outfits that usually consisted of flowered dresses with lots of pink, bows and ruffles for my sisters and I, and a little suit and bow tie for my brother. Dressed up in our Easter Sunday best, we would pose on the front lawn for pictures then pile into the mini-van for mass. Finally - the highlight of the day -an 18 course meal – ok, not that big, but you get the picture - at my grandparents’ house.
It’s been quite a while since I spent Easter at home and I have to say I am really looking forward to it this weekend. So to everyone who celebrates Easter, I wish you and your family a very blessed and joyous one. Sretan Uskrs!
Be sure to check out my post, “Naturally Dyed Eggs” to see how I dyed the eggs for the dolls!
Easter Bread Dolls (Primorski Uskrsne Bebe)
As I mentioned above, this type of bread is traditionally baked in Istria and Primorje (along the Adriatic). Historically, this region was heavily influenced by Italian culture, since at one time it was under Venetian rule. So if you think it looks like traditional Italian Easter bread, you’re right!
In this recipe I used all egg yolks instead of whole eggs. I had some egg yolks that I wanted to use up. The volume of 2 eggs is 6 tablespoons, so I used 6 tablespoons of egg yolks, which works out to be 6 egg yolks. You can use this method for a richer dough, or you can use whole eggs – either way is fine.
For the eggs, you can use hard-boiled dyed eggs or uncooked eggs; it doesn’t matter. I used uncooked eggs, since they will cook as the bread bakes; but do dye them first.
If you decide to just make a loaf, you’re best bet is to make two loaves, rather than one very large loaf. As the bread bakes, it rises again, so if you only make one, you will end up with one very, very big loaf of Easter bread.
Recipe adapted from Croatian Easter Bread Dolls
Makes 2 loaves, 12 bread dolls or 1 loaf and 6 bread dolls
2 cups milk, scalded and then cooled to room temperature
2 packages active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
6 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 eggs or 6 egg yolks, beaten
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
Over medium heat, heat milk until small bubbles appear on the surface. Remove from burner and allow to cool - the milk should still be warm but not hot. Sprinkle the yeast and sugar in the milk, stir gently to combine and set aside to proof until doubled in size.
Meanwhile, in a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, combine eggs, butter, sugar and salt at a medium speed for about 3 minutes. Begin adding the flour one cup at a time, alternating with roughly half a cup of the milk and yeast mixture. Repeat this until you have added 4 cups of flour and all of the liquid. After this point, begin adding 1/4 to 1/2 cup of flour at a time, waiting until all of the flour is fully incorporated into the dough before adding more. Stop adding flour when the dough is smooth and no longer sticks to the bowl (you may or may not use all 6 cups of flour). Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead 4 or 5 times into a smooth, round ball. Place the dough into a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a clean tea towel and set in a draft-free area of your kitchen until it has doubled in volume, about 3 hours.
When the dough has risen, punch the centre and turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 2 minutes. Separate dough into the required pieces, depending if you are making loaves or dolls, or both (each loaf and doll requires 3 balls of dough to braid). Allow to rest for 15 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees farenheit. Braid the dough, following the pictures above (for the dolls, wrap the eggs in the dough as tightly as possible so that the eggs don’t fall out when finished baking) and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush with egg wash (1 egg, 2 tablespoons of water) and allow the dough to rest for 20 minutes before baking. Bake until the tops are golden and the bottom is light brown, around 20 minutes. Allow to cool completely before serving.