Cut and dyed: A tempting Easter brioche
Lilly Higgins: Coloured eggs shine out from this sweet, festive plaited bread
Italian Easter bread
In Switzerland last year I noticed beautiful boxes of multicoloured eggs in every supermarket. The Swiss love picnicking and eating outdoors, and have managed to make nutritious, portable eggs a most attractive option. My kids couldn’t wait to try them.
It’s great fun to dye eggs. Simply boil your egg until it’s cooked to your liking, then while it’s still warm put it in a bowl with water, a splash of white vinegar and a drop of food colouring. (You could, of course, experiment with natural dyes like turmeric, red cabbage, beetroot, matcha powder and onion skins.) Leave for a few minutes, until each egg is coloured enough.
This year I’m making Italian Easter bread, a light brioche wreath complete with multicoloured eggs, as a centrepiece for Easter morning. Individual nests with a single egg in the centre would work, too. (A generous dusting of hundreds and thousands is optional. If the thought of crunchy sprinkles on bread rings alarm bells, then take some solace in the fact that in Australia no children’s party is complete without fairy bread: white sliced pan buttered and then scattered liberally with sprinkles and cut into triangles.)
Some recipes cook the eggs first; others place them on the dough raw. I cook mine as part of the dying process – and like the creamy texture of a twice-cooked egg. It also ensures the eggs don’t crack in a preheated oven. If you’re lucky enough to have Araucana hens in the back garden that lay beautiful pale-blue eggs, or bantams that lay small white eggs, then use those for an incredibly elegant, natural bread.
It’s lovely to bake bread when you have a little time over Easter. There are only a few moments of hands-on time; the rest consists of patiently waiting for the dough to rest and rise. It’s an incredibly rewarding hobby, and your house will smell delicious.
To eat simply tear the bread apart, making sure everyone gets some of the sweet, milk-rich brioche and an egg. With a little butter on the side, this is a memorable breakfast and a lovely tradition to start in your own family.
Italian Easter bread
425g plain flour
70g caster sugar
2tsp dried yeast
Hundreds and thousands or other sprinkles
6 eggs, dyed as described above
Put the flour, salt, sugar and dried yeast in a large mixing bowl and whisk gently to combine.
Gently heat the milk and butter in a saucepan until the butter has just melted. Leave to cool a little, until it’s at blood temperature. Create a well in the centre of the bowl and pour in the milk. Whisk the eggs and add to the liquid. Use a round-bladed knife to mix the wet with the dry until a rough dough forms. Tip on to a floured surface and knead until it comes together into a smooth dough. Cover with an upturned bowl and leave for an hour or so, until doubled in size.
Preheat the oven to 200 Celsius. Divide the dough in half and roll into two 60cm-long ropes. Plait the lengths together loosely and then join the ends together to form a circle. Place on a greased tray. Tuck the eggs into the twists. Brush with egg wash – avoiding the coloured eggs, as the dye may bleed. Dust with sprinkles and leave to rest for 30 minutes before baking for 30-35 minutes.