This pretty Easter bread just looks complicated; it’s actually a cinch to make!
Step 1: Prepare yeast Dissolve the yeast in the warm water.
Step 2: Combine milk, butter, sugar Heat the milk on low until almost simmering, and then stir in one-quarter stick of butter until melted. Turn off the heat. Pour the sugar and salt into a mixing bowl, and then pour in the milk and melted butter mixture, stirring until the sugar is dissolved.
Step 3: Add flour, yeast, eggs When the mixture has cooled to lukewarm, stir in a cup of flour and beat with the electric mixer or by hand until smooth. Add the dissolved yeast and two raw eggs, and beat until smooth. Then, add the flour, a half-cup at a time, until you have a soft dough.
Step 4: Knead the dough Flour your hands. Turn the dough onto a floured surface, and knead it for about 15 minutes, until it's satiny.
Step 5: Let dough rise Butter a large bowl. Shape the dough into a ball, put it in the bowl, and brush the dough with melted butter. Cover the bowl with a non-terry cloth kitchen towel and place it in a warm area that is free of drafts. Let it rise until it doubles, about two to three hours.
Step 6: Shape the loaf Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Punch the dough down in the bowl; then let it rest for 10 minutes. Remove it from the bowl, and divide it into three pieces. Roll them into strips about 12 inches long, and form a loose braid. Transfer the loaf to the baking sheet, and press the ends together to form a circle.
Step 7: Add eggs Nestle four whole, unshelled eggs into the braid at evenly-spaced intervals. You can use plain white eggs or ones dyed with food coloring, and they can be raw or hard-boiled.
TIP: The eggs are safe to eat after baking only if you keep the bread in the refrigerator after baking.
Step 8: Finish and bake Sprinkle the top of the loaf with almonds, if using. Beat one egg with a tablespoon of water. Brush the top of the bread with the egg wash. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool the bread before eating.
FACT: Easter bread is traditionally baked three days before the holiday, on Holy Thursday.