So this year I completely forgot about Easter, maybe because it was so cold for so long that I somehow imagined that Easter would be in July, when the snow is finally gone. But no, it was in April, and I realized that a few days before the holiday, so I was completely unprepared.
For years my Easter bread has been a disaster so I really wanted to improve the recipe this year. But since it was too late to test, improve and post the recipe on time for Easter, so I decided to just go for Italian brioches.
For those of you who don’t know, brioches are sweet pastry treats which in Italy are as widely spread as the croissants in France. They are made of sweet dough, which is also used to make Easter bread in eastern Europe and Greece. In Italy, brioches are enjoyed all year around and they are sold in cafes and pastry shops. Italians have them with their morning espresso and the brioche filling can be anything from almond paste to vanilla cream and jam. I thought, since I am doing it the Italian way, why not give the Italians the whole tribute and make my brioches with Nutella, the very Italian chocolaty spread, mixed with crushed roasted hazelnuts.
For those of you that know how to make sweet dough or Easter bread, I have used egg yolks only in this recipe. I have found that the higher fat content of the egg yolks keeps the dough from drying out, resulting in softer brioches for several days.
Making the sweet dough can be a half day process since the dough needs to rise twice. I have shortened the process by making the dough in the evening, letting it rise once, leaving it overnight in the refrigerator to rise the second time, and baking in the morning. Easy peasy and less stressful!
Makes 16 brioches
• 3 tablespoons of lukewarm water
• 1 3/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (or one 1/4-oz. packet)
• 3/4 cup powdered sugar
• 3 egg yolks (at room temperature)
• 1 egg white (for egg wash) (at room temperature)
• 2 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 lemon, zested
• 1 orange, zested
• 1 Vanilla bean (or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)
• 2/3 cup whole milk
• 1/4 cup oil (vegetable, canola or sunflower)
• 1/2 cup Nutella
• 1/3 cup whole hazelnuts, skins removed, roasted and coarsely chopped
1. Place the lukewarm water in a medium bowl and sprinkle the yeast and 1 teaspoon of powdered sugar over it. Let sit until yeast is foamy, about 10 minutes.
2. Combine the flour, salt and sugar in a large mixing bowl and mix with a whisk. Run a sharp knife over the vanilla bean, split it like butterfly and scrape out the seeds with the back of the knife. Add the vanilla beans to a small sauce pan and pour the milk. Heat the milk and vanilla mixture over low heat, mix regularly until the milk is lukewarm or a little bit warmer, about 1 minute.
3. Make a well in the center on the flour mixture and add the milk, yeast, egg yolks, lemon and orange zest. Mix with your hand starting from the center of the well and working your way out by adding flour from the sides of the bowl. While mixing, slowly incorporate the oil by adding a small amount each time. Form a soft bowl and transfer it to a lightly floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes by adding small amounts of flour if necessary. The dough should be soft and it should bounce back when pressed with your finger.
Stand mixer method:
3. Place the flour mixture, milk mixture, yeast, egg yolks, lemon and orange zest in the bowl of the mixer. Slowly add the oil, one teaspoon at the time, incorporating well between additions. Mix on medium speed for 1 minute and then knead on medium-high speed for 5 minutes. The dough should be soft and it should bounce back when pressed with your finger.
4. Transfer the formed ball into a large lightly oiled mixing bowl. Brush some oil on the top of the dough, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it rise in a warm draft-free place until it doubles its original volume, about 1-2 hours depending on the temperature at your home.
5. While the dough is rising, mix the Nutella with the crushed roasted hazelnuts. Leave at a room temperature until ready to use.
6. Punch the risen dough with your hand to remove some of the air, transfer it to a flat lightly floured surface, cut in half and form a ball with each half. Take one of the balls, sprinkle some more flour onto the surface and over the ball, and roll it with a rolling pin until the circle becomes 13” in diameter. Using a sharp knife cut the dough into 8 equal triangles, using sharp strokes without dragging the knife through the dough.
7. Take one of the triangles, stretch it a bit more, about 5x7.5”, place a teaspoon of the Nutella mixture in the center of the wide end of the triangle. Roll the triangle to form a brioche, starting from the wide end of the triangle and moving to the thin end. Do not squeeze or tighten the roll too much while rolling. Repeat the process with the rest of the triangles and the second ball of dough.
8. Divide the brioches between two 14x16” baking trays lined with parchment paper. Cover well with plastic wrap. The wrap should not be too loose or too tight (the brioches will rise and they need some room but also they shouldn’t form a skin). If baking the same day, let the brioches rise until they double its size, about 1 hour. If baking the next day, place the trays in the refrigerator and take them out 30-40 minutes prior to baking.
9. Preheat the oven to 350˚F.
10. Make an egg wash by mixing the preserved egg white with 1 tablespoon of water. Brush each brioche with the egg white sprinkle it with raw crushed hazelnuts if desired.
11. Place one of the trays in the oven and bake for about 20-25 minutes (depending on your oven) while rotating the tray halfway through the baking. Repeat with the other tray (if you have a fancy schmancy oven you can bake them at once).
Let the brioches cool for at least 20 minutes before enjoying.