There is something about Easter that makes me think of bread. My maternal grandmother always used to serve what she called Easter breads. And while this recipe is not anything she would have envisioned I do think if you are searching for that perfect Easter Brunch dessert then this recipe could be one you tuck away for safe keeping. The recipe is nearly identical to the one I previously published in honor of Mardi Gras — Friendship King Cake.
Easter was a time we spent together in the iconic Palm Springs located east of Los Angeles in the California desert. It is a time that I remember all too well. We ate like royalty as my Nonie was always certain to pack one suitcase of clothes and another filled to the brim with Italian foods. At the time there were hardly any specialty markets in Palm Springs, so it all made perfect sense. The contents of her suitcase wafted fragrances of prosciutto, mortadella, sourdough french bread, fontina cheese, Parmesan cheese, and focaccia. It was also loaded with all of the spices she liked to use to make her ‘sugo’; which she would immediately start cooking within hours of arriving. She usually didn’t travel with her prized Easter breads, but I recall sitting at her kitchen table the week before Easter as she would enjoy these treats made by her cousins. Occasionally she would make them herself, but she wasn’t much of a baker. She was a phenomenal cook. I would have liked to have made this bread for her with its hints of citrus and layers of chocolate as I am certain she would have enjoyed it as much as I do.
Note: This recipe yields 2 Chocolate Twist Easter Breads.
Chocolate Twist Easter Bread
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
2/3 cup evaporated milk
3/4 plus 1 tsp granulated sugar
1 tsp salt
2 envelopes active dry yeast, regular or rapid rise
grated zest of 1 lemon
grated zest of 1 orange
6 cups all-purpose flour
4 TBS (1/2 stick) butter, melted
1 egg white, for glazing
1 cup Nutella or other Hazelnut Chocolate Spread, divided into two portions
apricot, raspberry or strawberry (seedless variety), of choice (optional)
Note: Since this recipe makes two loaves of bread, if you want to play around and make the second loaf a little different you can add 1 cup confectioners’ (powdered) sugar, 8 oz cream cheese, 2 TBS flour, and 1 tsp cinnamon, 2 TBS lemon juice, and 1 tsp vanilla extract, in a bowl and mix until filling is smooth.
2 cups confectioners’(powdered) sugar
2 TBS whole milk
3/4 cups granulated sugar
In a large bowl, melt 1/2 cup butter in the microwave. Add the evaporated milk, 3/4 cup of the sugar, and the salt. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Allow to cool.
In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in 1/4 cup lukewarm water and stir in the remaining teaspoon sugar. Allow to stand for 10 minutes, until foamy. If the yeast does not foam up, start over with new yeast and sugar.
Add the yeast mixture to the butter and milk mixture. Add the eggs, lemon and orange zest and whisk together vigorously, until well blended.
Whisk in the flour, 1 cup at a time, until you have a thick paste- about 3 cups flour. Then switch to a wooden spoon and continue adding flour and mixing well. Once all of the flour is added, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured wooden board and knead it by hand, hands should be dusted with flour, until the dough is smooth and elastic. (Note: After adding 5 cups of flour I found the dough to be too difficult to stir and had to begin kneading the dough by hand.) Dough will be extremely dry. It may not completely hold together until after it has risen.
Place the dough into a large clean bowl, if it is slightly damp, coat bowl with vegetable oil cooking spray. Turn the dough to coat all sides with spray. If it is dry, there is no need to oil the bowl. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and allow the dough to rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.
Prepare the cream cheese alternative if using. Apricot or raspberry jam would also be a nice addition to the Nutella if you don’t feel like preparing the cream cheese mixture.
Melt 4 TBS of butter in microwave. Punch the dough down and divide the dough in two. With the first half, which will become your first bread loaf. On a floured surface roll out into a large rectangle. Brush each rectangle with half of the melted butter and then spread Nutella on each rectangle; if using jam and/or cream cheese filling then add in now. Roll up along the long end like a jelly roll. Pinch the roll together at the seam, close securely with water if necessary, to seal in the filling. About one inch down from the top of the roll make three length-wise slices of equal size width. Braid the three pieces together, forming one thick braid. In a greased loaf pan, fold the ends of the bread under and allow to rest for 5 minutes.
Repeat process for the second loaf.
Cover the bread with a tea towel and allow to rise in a warm place for approximately 1 hour. It should almost double in size. (see images below)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Whisk the egg white with 1 TBS water. Brush the top of the cake with the egg white. Bake the cake for 20 minutes, until it is lightly browned and sounds hollow when tapped.
Make the white icing: Combine the sugar and milk in a small dish and whisk until smooth. If the mixture seems too thin, add a little more sugar. If it won’t drizzle, and a little more milk, 1/2 teaspoon at a time.
Allow the bread to cool for a few minutes on a wire rack. Remove bread from loaf pan and drizzle with icing. Slice across the width of the bread into think slices to serve.