German Easter Bread (aka Osterbrot)

Easterbread

Happy Easter! 15 years ago, way back in 1999, I had the pleasure of spending my first Easter (and the entire lent period between Karnival and Easter) in Heinsberg, Germany, a small down outside of Cologne.  Every year after Karnival elaborate bread decorations start popping up in every village bakery throughout the Rhine region.  The breads, often long braided strands, appear lavishly decorated with eggs and colors in windows and storefronts, sometimes taking the shapes of wreaths and animals.  They appear alongside baskets, toys, and spring motifs beckoning spring to start.  They are made from a rather simple recipe, but are also sweetened and modified in various ways with nuts, icings, dried fruits, etc. Since my first Easter season in Germany, I have often tried to recreate these breads (sometimes on other holidays such as Thanksgiving too). They  can be great fun to create with imagination.  I’ve tried out various versions of Osterbrot recipes over they years. The proportions vary depending on the type of flour used. I almost always end up using more flour than the recipe states, but the consistency and taste is almost always about the same–dense, wonderful, sweet, white bread that is wonderful for breakfast, or alongside afternoon tea.  Leftovers make great French Toast as well.

Osterbrot Recipe

For bread:

  • 3 tsp active dry yeast
  • 3 tbsp sugar, divided
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 3 ½ Cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 tbsp butter, softened
  • 1 tsp grated orange zest

For icing

  •  1 cup powdered sugar
  • Juice of 1/4 an orange
  • water as needed
  • ¼ cup sliced almonds

In a small bowl mix together water and yeast and let it dissolve for about 5 minutes until frothy.

Place sugar in a large bowl. Then blend in the water and yeast.  Fold in the flour adding about 1 cup at at time so that the mixture blends evenly. Continue by adding in the butter and one egg at a time.  At this point I like to use my hands to make sure the mixture maintains it’s consistency. I always have to add more flour to prevent the mixture from becoming to sticky.

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Knead the dough for about 5 minutes until it is well-formed and soft to touch with no flour residue left.  Shape it into a ball and place it in a well-oiled bowl. Cover with a piece of plastic wrap and a cotton towel. Let the dough sit until it has doubled in size (usually about 1 hour).

Next remove the dough.  This is where you can let your imagination come into play to make various bread shapes, even rolling out the dough if you desire.  The classic Osterbrot is a braided loaf (as seen here).

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To achieve this divide the mixture into three pieces and make into long sausage-like shapes.  Combine all 3 together at one end and proceed to braid the dough. Place on a baking sheet and let rise until again doubled in size.

Before baking I like to brush egg white lightly over the dough so that it takes on a glistening golden color. This is, of course, optional.

Preheat the oven to 350 degree and bake for 35-40 minutes

 

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