This unusual and fun-to-make yeast bread looks more like a rustic cake with its baked meringue topping and covering of colored sprinkles.
It is part of an ancient Umbrian tradition that involves a young woman about to be married, presenting this cake to her fiancé on Easter Sunday.
Alkermes liqueur, said to have its origins in the Renaissance, is the ingredient that turns the crumb a soft pink hue; it’s made from cinnamon, cloves, sugar, and cochineal.
Alkermes is available in Italian specialty shops.
Use cranberry liqueur as a substitute.
MAKES TWO LOAVES
- 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
- 1 1/4 cups buttermilk, heated to 110°F.
- 1 teaspoon plus 1/4 cup sugar
- 3 large eggs at room temperature
- Grated zest of one large orange
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
- 1/2 cup Alkermes or cranberry liqueur
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 5 to 5 1/4 cups Unbleached, All-Purpose Flour
- 4 large egg whites at room temperature
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup sugar
- Colored sprinkles
I make this dough in a stand mixer, but you can also do it by hand in a large bowl.
Dissolve the yeast in the buttermilk and stir in 1 teaspoon of the sugar.
Allow the mixture to sit for about 5 minutes.
On low speed with the paddle attachment, beat in the eggs one at a time until well blended; then beat in the zest, butter, Alkermes, salt, and remaining sugar until a smooth mixture is obtained.
Slowly beat in the flour, 1 cup at a time, until a ball of dough is formed and leaves the sides of the bowl.
The dough should feel soft and just slightly tacky on your hands.
Remove the dough from the bowl to a work surface lightly sprinkled with flour.
Knead the dough with your hands into a smooth, soft ball.
Put the dough in a bowl and cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap.
Let the dough rise about 2 hours, or until it has doubled in size.
When the dough looks risen, punch it down and knead it under the palm of your hands for about 3 or 4 minutes.
It should feel soft and not stick to your hands or the board. If you need more flour, add it 1 tablespoon at a time until the dough is the right consistency.
Just be careful not to add too much flour or the bread will have too tight a crumb and be dry.
Preheat the oven to 375°F.
Position the oven rack on the middle shelf.
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
Divide the dough in half and work with one half at a time.
Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface into a 26-inch-long rope.
Cut 4 inches off the rope and set aside.
Bring the two ends of the rope together to form a ring shape and place the dough on one of the baking sheets.
Cut the 4-inch piece in half and roll each piece into a 7-inch rope; make a cross with the two pieces of dough over the top of the circle.
Ironically, you will never see the cross on the bread once it is covered in meringue, but this is part of the symbolism of Easter.
Cover the dough and allow it to rise for 30 minutes.
Bake the loaves for 30 minutes or until it is almost done; use a cake skewer inserted in the dough to see if it is baked through.
Meanwhile, beat the egg whites on medium speed until they are foamy; add the salt, raise the speed to high and add the sugar in a steady stream and beat until the egg whites are fluffy and hold their peaks.
Remove the baking sheet from the oven and, working quickly with a rubber spatula, spread half of the meringue over the top and sides of the bread.
Sprinkle the colored candies over the meringue and return the bread to the oven.
Repeat the process with the remaining dough.
You may need to rewhip the remaining meringue just before spreading it on the second loaf. Bake 10 minutes more or until the meringue is nicely browned.
Remove the bread from the oven and allow to cool completely.
Cut into thick slices for serving.
This bread is best eaten the day it is made, but will keep a day or two in the refrigerator, although the meringue may soften and settle.
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