This braided bread, traditionally made at Easter, holds significant cultural and religious symbolism. The dough, a luscious combination of heavy cream, all-purpose flour, and sugar, achieves the perfect balance of softness and elasticity. While the addition of dyed eggs holds special symbolic significance during Easter for Christians it is not a mandatory ingredient for the bread's preparation, and the bread itself pre-dates any symbolism of eggs and Easter. The true artistry lies in the braiding technique, an age-old method that symbolizes unity and togetherness in many cultures. As you weave the ropes of dough together, you'll be connecting with bakers from diverse backgrounds who have cherished this time-honored tradition for generations. The bread is a delightful treat even without the eggs, and it can be enjoyed as a versatile accompaniment to various meals or simply savored on its own.
1 cup heavy cream (reserve 2 Tbsp for brushing)
2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp Madagascar "Bourbon Islands" Vanilla Extract
1/2 teaspoon lemon or orange extract
3 large eggs (2 whole eggs and one separated with yolk reserved)
Heat up 1 cup of heavy cream (remove 2 tablespoons for later) until lukewarm which is about 1 minute in the microwave. Be careful, if the cream is too hot the yeast won't rise. Check with thermometer- cream should be between 110°F – 115°F
Pour warmed cream into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook attachment. Sprinkle yeast and 1 tsp sugar on top of the milk. Lightly stir with a spoon and allow to rest for 5 minutes. The mixture should be frothy after 5 minutes. If is doesn't get frothy your yeast either wasn't good anymore or the cream was too hot or too cold and you'll need to start over.
With the stand mixer running on low speed, add flour, sugar, vanilla extract, lemon or orange extract, 2 eggs and 1 egg white. Save the egg yolk for brushing the bread before baking.
Knead for 5 minutes until a soft and only slightly sticky dough forms that pulls away from the sides of the bowl. If the dough is too sticky to handle, add a little bit more flour, 1 tablespoon at a time.
Form the dough into a ball and place it in a greased bowl. Turn the dough to coat all sides and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Place the bowl in a warm environment to rise until doubled, about 1-2 hours.
Once the dough has doubled in size, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Shortly knead the dough to release the air bubbles.
Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces and shape each of them into a 12-14 inch long rope.
Grease a baking pan or line it with parchment paper or Silpat liner and place the ropes side by side.
Pinch the upper ends of the ropes together. This is where it gets a little tricky....
You have rope 1,2,3 and 4. We start with rope 4 and place it over rope 3, under rope 2 and over rope 1. Now you repeat this with rope 3: Over rope 2, under rope 1 and over rope 4. Repeat this process until all the ropes are braided together. Punch the ends of the bread together.
Cover the bread with plastic wrap and let it rise in a warm environment and let rise while oven heats, about 25 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350°F
Combine the remaining egg yolk and 2 tbsp. heavy cream and brush the bread with it.
Sprinkle with sliced almonds. Bake it for 25 minutes or until golden brown.
Transfer the bread to a cooling rack.