Dyed Easter Eggs and Pane di Pasqua
Happy spring! I have not one but two recipes for you today. The first is really more of an endorsement for dyeing Easter eggs using ingredients from your kitchen. Here’s the method: For 6 eggs, simmer 2 cups of water and 2 cups of chopped vegetables (purple cabbage for blue eggs; beets for pink-red eggs; yellow onion skins plus turmeric for golden eggs) in a saucepan for about 30 minutes. Let cool, then strain the liquid into a glass or stainless-steel bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of white vinegar and the eggs. Cover and refrigerate overnight. In the morning, the eggshells will be beautifully dyed. You can keep them in the dye for a couple of days if you’d like the color to be darker.
Wondering what to do with the eggs? Make Pane di Pasqua, Italian Easter bread. It has a texture somewhere between challah and brioche, and the most magical part of the recipe might be the egg. You nestle an uncooked, dyed egg in the center of the dough and then while the bread bakes, the egg cooks.
Pane di Pasqua
Rather than make four individual breads, you could of course braid the dough into one large loaf and tuck the dyed eggs here and there among the folds. Pane di Pasqua tastes best when it’s still warm from the oven. If you do happen to have leftovers, store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator (because of the eggs).
Makes 4 small breads
1 cup/240ml milk
1 package (2¼ teaspoons) active dry yeast
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
4 to 4½ cups/500 to 560g all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
3 large eggs
¼ cup/55g (½ stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
Oil, for greasing the bowl
1 teaspoon water
4 dyed but uncooked Easter eggs
Warm the milk to body temperature, then pour it into the bowl of a stand mixer or a large bowl. Sprinkle the yeast and 1 tablespoon of the sugar over the milk and stir until dissolved. Set aside for about 5 minutes, until bubbly and lightly foamy. (If the yeast mixture never gets bubbly, it’s no good—toss it out and start over with new yeast.)
Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar, 4 cups/500g of the flour, the salt, and 2 of the eggs. Using the dough hook of the stand mixer or a large spoon, mix until a stiff dough forms. While mixing, add little pieces of the butter, a few at a time, until all the butter has been incorporated. Mix on low speed or knead on an un-floured surface for about 10 minutes. If the dough is very sticky, add up to ½ cup additional flour, 1 tablespoon at a time. (The dough should be just sticky enough to stick to the bottom but not the sides of the bowl of the stand mixer.) Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with a clean kitchen towel, and let rise in a warm spot for 90 minutes.
Divide the risen dough into 8 equal pieces. Using your palms, roll each piece into a 16-inch-long snake. Working with two pieces at a time, pinch the ends together and twist the dough snakes around themselves. Shape the twist into a circle and pinch the ends together to close the loop. Repeat with the other snakes to make 4 dough circles. Set the circles on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Cover with the kitchen towel and let rise in a warm spot for 60 minutes.
About 15 minutes before the end of the rise, preheat the oven to 375°F.
Beat together the remaining egg and the water. Place 1 dyed egg in the center of each circle, pressing gently so that it’s snug. Brush the egg wash over the dough rounds—no need to brush the dyed eggs. Bake for 15 minutes, brush on a little more of the egg wash, and then bake until the breads are shiny and deep golden brown, 5 to 10 minutes more. Let cool slightly before serving.