There are many variations to this Italian Easter Bread. I hope you like mine. I always remember going to my grandmother's house at Easter and this wonderful bread would be waiting my visit. The colored eggs tucked between the ropes of the dough were magical to me. Enjoy!
1 envelope (2 1/2 tsp.) active dry yeast
1/2 c. warm water (100 to 110 degrees F)
3 lg. eggs, room temp
2/3 c. granulated sugar
8 T. unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/2 c. warm milk (100 to 110 degrees F)
1 T. vanilla extract
1 T. grated orange zest
5 to 5 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
6 whole uncooked eggs, colored if desired
1 egg yolk beaten with 1 T. water, for egg wash
Colored sprinkles, optional
To make the dough: In a small cup, combine the yeast with the warm water. Stir to dissolve. Let stand until creamy, about 5 minutes.
In a large bowl, beat the eggs until blended. Beat in the sugar. Stir in the butter, milk, vanilla, and orange zest. Stir in the yeast mixture. Add 5 cups of the flour and salt. Stir until a soft dough forms. Gradually add just enough of the remaining flour to make a smooth, slightly sticky dough.
Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead for a minute or two until very smooth. Shape the dough into a ball. Place in a buttered bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 ½ hours.
Butter 2 baking sheets. Punch down the dough and cut into 4 pieces. Roll out one piece under your palms into a rope about 20 inches long. Repeat with another piece of dough. Lay the ropes side by side and loosely braid them together. Lift the braid onto the prepared baking sheet and bring the ends together to form a ring. Pinch the ends to seal. Place 3 eggs at intervals around the wreath, tucking them in between the ropes of the dough. Repeat with the remaining dough and eggs. Cover the wreaths with plastic wrap and let rise for about 45 minutes, or until doubled in size.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Brush the egg wash over the wreaths. Scatter the candy sprinkles on top if using. Bake the loaves for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown, reversing the position of the pans in the oven halfway through the baking time. Transfer the bread to racks to cool completely.
Note: The dye on the eggs may bleed a little onto your bread. This recipe calls for uncooked whole colored eggs to be placed on the dough. You can use hard-boiled if you prefer, they will just be cooked a little more, but will be fine.