This is a very basic version of Italian Easter Bread. The dough can be endlessly varied with your choice of dried fruit and citrus zests. Some common toppings are pearl sugar, nonpareils and sweet milk glaze (see note). I sprinkled one loaf with fleur de sel and was quite content to call it lunch.
It's a good idea to plan ahead - have the eggs dyed, thoroughly dried and ready to go in the loaves!
Combine the milk and butter in a small saucepan and place over medium-low heat. Warm just until the butter is completely melted and remove from the heat. Let cool until just warm.
Combine the yeast, salt, eggs and sugar in the bowl of a standing mixer. Add the warm milk and half of the flour. Knead with the dough hook until combined. Add more flour gradually until the dough starts to pull away from the sides of the mixer. You may not have to use all of the flour (but I did!). Knead the dough about 3-5 minutes longer, or until completely smooth and elastic.
Place the dough in a greased bowl and turn it over once to coat the top. Cover with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise in a warm place, about 1 hour (my dough took longer, about 1 hour 30 minutes to raise).
Gently deflate the dough with a fist. Turn it out onto a floured work surface and pat it down slightly so that the dough has an even thickness. Cut the dough into 12 even pieces. Roll each piece to form a 1-inch thick rope about 14 inches in length. Take two lengths and twist them together; loop the twist into a circle and pinch the ends together. Place the circle onto parchment lined baking sheets. Cover the loaves with plastic wrap and let rise again for 1 hour, or until doubled.
Preheat the oven to 350F.
Combine the egg and 1 teaspoon water in a small condiment cup. Using a pastry brush, lightly coat the loaves with the mixture. Sprinkle on the nonpareils and gently place a dyed egg in the middle of each loaf. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the bread is golden and fragrant. Let cool until warm, if patience allows. The burned fingers were worth it to me!
For a simple milk glaze, mix 1 cup of confectioners' sugar with 1-2 tablespoons of milk. Whisk together until smooth. A little vanilla extract couldn't hurt, either.
After the dough is raised and turned out onto a work surface, 1/2 cup mixed candied fruit and 1/4 cup blanched almonds can be mixed in. 2 tablespoons of citrus zest may be added to the dough also.
Keyword active dry yeast, bread flour, rainbow nonpareils