This is an Italian Easter bread, and if you know anything about Italians, they go all out for Easter. This bread is a little more involved than my previous posts, but the results are beautiful. It will actually look like a bird or dove, with wings, a tail, and beak. The children will love the idea of bread that looks like a bird. Speaking of animal shapes, with any bread dough or this one, one could make bunnies, bears, chicks or any other part of the menagerie you would like to make. I have simplified it a little, and have omitted an almond paste “crust” that sometimes goes on top. It makes it less sugary, and less calorific. It doesn’t cut down on its eye appeal, however. If you are hankering for that almond taste, I would increase the almond extract ½ tsp. into the dough. It still won’t be overpowering though.
This is another bread that’s been around for a while: let’s face it; the holidays bring out baking traditions from all over the world. The Italians like to create in bread what we all see as symbols: doves represent peace, or Christ. You can look with amusement at the pre-packaged “dove” breads available in the supermarket (I know I do), but I fail to see the bird shape much, as to my eye they more resemble mass produced “blobs.” They taste OK for an industrial breadstuff, and I’ve been known to eat a few, but as everyone readily knows, it doesn’t compare to home baked. These commercial breads could also last forever, and seemingly do.
1/2 tbl. active dry yeast
6 tbl. unsalted butter, softened
¼ cup sugar
1 tbl. grated lemon peel
1 tsp. vanilla extract
¼ to ½ tsp. almond extract
¼ tsp. salt
3 cups flour, plus more for dusting the board
2 egg yolks
1/3 cup warm milk
10 whole almonds
1 egg white, beaten
Dissolve the yeast in the warm milk, about 120 Fahrenheit. The milk can be warmed carefully in the microwave. In a large bowl, mix the butter, lemon peel, vanilla, almond extract and salt. Add your flour, eggs and egg yolks. Mix well. Add the milk and yeast. Mix until a soft dough forms. Knead lightly for 8-10 minutes, if that, until dough comes together and is smooth. Put in a greased bowl, turning to coat the ball. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for about 45 minutes or so.
Punch the dough down, knead lightly to get the carbon dioxide out, divide in half with a bench knife if you have one, or any sharp chef’s knife. With one half, roll or pat out an oval roughly 4-by-7 inches, which will be your wings. Place midway on greased cookie sheet. Take the other half and form a triangle, 12 inches high and 6 inches wide at the base. Put the triangle over the wings. Twist and form the pointy end into the head and beak. Twist the triangle once for the body near the bottom for the tail. With a sharp knife, make 1-inch slits across bottom for tail feathers, fanning them out. Press 5 almonds in a circular pattern around each edge of the wings. You may want to add a chocolate chip for the eye. Let rise for about 20 minutes, no more.
Preheat your oven to 325 F. Brush your dove with the beaten egg white, and sprinkle with the pearl sugar. Bake about ½ hour, more if needed. Watch that it doesn’t brown too fast.
Cool on rack.