April 28, 2011

Bunny Heads and Buttery Braids


Aren't these bunny heads friendly and cute? Don't you just want to eat their ears off? 

Sorry for the blogging hiatus. I was at home for a week for Easter break, busy learning my Grandma's Easter baking tricks and traditions. These bunnies and braided loaves are what my Grandma is famous for when the holiday rolls around. Everyone waits to receive their own special bunny face. They're best toasted and slathered in butter....

I am eating one right now. I need a smiling, cute face made out of sweet raisins. Today was my last day at my internship, where I counseled high school students, and since I am feeling a bit down about it ending (will miss the students immensely) I needed a little pick-me-up. More on that later, but this bread is the perfect pick me up for everyone, even those who don't need one.!

My grandma makes at least a bunny, if not a loaf, for everyone she knows. Her recipe uses 6 pounds of flour. She made this recipe twice, two days in a row. If loaves are love, my grandma has a lot.  

Though she's been making these long before 1974, she finalized the recipe by writing it down that year. On the dark yellow, tattered recipe card she wrote, "1974-- Good." Yes, these are good. 

Also, there were no directions, only ingredients. She makes this by memory, so following along with her was crucial to learning how she does it. Have I mentioned that she is 90 years old? I could barely keep up.

We mixed the dough in the giant bucket and let it rise. We had lunch. We drank tea and played Scrabble. For the first time in my life, I won. Only because Grandma whispered helpful hints to me, but whatever. 

Once the dough has risen once, we tore off groups of three hunks at a time to make braided loaves, or single hunks for bunnies. 

Then the hunks get rolled into long pieces and either braided or twisted like this. My grandma was patient with me when my bunny-head making skills were lacking. I was too anxious about getting them right, so they were coming out all sorts of funny looking. She reminded me to relax and just have fun with it. Reason No. 9,317,328 I love her.

Then they get their three little raisin eyes and nose pressed into their faces.
They are covered with a towel and left to rise again. 
Once ready for baking, they are covered with an egg wash.

And when they are out of the oven and cooling, you'll want to sneak one hot off the rack. Like I mentioned above, toast them up, slather them in butter, and enjoy every bite of this flaky, rich treat.

Grandma LaRusso's Easter Loaves
1974 -- Good

1 cup water, warm
2 packages yeast, frothed in the water
3 cups milk, frothed over medium heat
3 1/2 sticks salted butter
2 cups plus a little bit sugar
1 T. salt
1 dozen eggs
one box golden raisins
6 lbs flour

1 egg + 1 t. water for egg wash

Add the yeast to the cup of warm water and allow it to froth and rise. Meanwhile, warm the milk over the stove and when it just froths, turn off the heat and stir the butter in until melted, then the sugar, salt, and raisins. Beat the eggs in a large bowl and pour into the warm milk mixture, stirring as you pour.

Add the 6 cups of flour to a large basin and make a well in the center. Once the egg and milk mixture is barely warm, pour into the well and knead the dough until smooth and comes away from the sides of the basin. Add more flour if necessary. Cover with a towel and let rise for a few hours, until puffy and soft. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and gently use a serrated knife to cut off palm sized pieces of dough. Roll each piece of dough into a long tube between your palms, about 8-10 inches long. Loop each ends of the dough over each other to form two little bunny "ears" and a round bunny face. Press three raisins into the face to make eyes and a mouth. Place them on parchment on a baking sheet and cover with towels and allow to rise again for a couple of hours. You can also use three tubes to create a braided loaf.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Brush the bunnies or loaves with the egg wash. Bake 25-30 minutes or until deep golden brown. Cool on baking sheet 5 minutes then remove to a cooling rack. Eat toasted with generous amounts of butter.

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