Braided Easter Bread

Braided Easter Bread

3 cups flour, preferably bread flour

1 cup semolina flour (it’s yellow and very fine)

2 teaspoons dry yeast

1 t. sugar

1 tsp. salt

2 cups water, more or less

1 cup green olives

1 cup sharp provolone cheese

1 cup soppressata or salami

4 eggs, plus another beaten egg for the wash

sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, poppy seeds

In a large bowl, mix the flours, yeast, sugar and salt. Start adding the water, withholding some of the two cups of water to see how much it will absorb. It may take more or less than two cups of water, depending on the flour and the humidity of the day. When the dough pulls away from the side of the bowl, it’s time to remove it and start kneading it, using extra flour as needed. Knead for about five minutes until it feels smooth. Coat the bottom of a bowl with olive oil and place the bread inside, smearing the top and bottom with the oil. Put a dishtowel or some plastic wrap over the bowl and let it rise in a warm place for a couple of hours. It may take longer, depending on how warm your house is.

After the dough has risen properly, divide it into three equal sections, but leave a little bit aside for covering the eggs with little strips. Roll out each portion into a flat “log” shape. Spread the filling over the dough and pinch the edges together. Repeat with the other two strips. Brush each strip with beaten egg, then sprinkle on the sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds and poppy seeds on separate loaves. Pinch the ends of the three loaves together and start to braid them. When you’re finished braiding, pinch the other three ends together. Then twist it to form a circle.  Nestle the four eggs into the bread and cover with the little strips of dough you set aside, forming a cross. Transfer the whole thing to a baking sheet. I find it easier to do the whole process on a piece of parchment paper since it makes it easy to transfer to a baking sheet when you have formed the braided circle.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Bake it on the lowest oven rack for 10 minutes at 450, then lower the heat to 350 for another 40 minutes. Let it cool slightly before cutting.