Cardamom Easter Bread
1 uncooked egg in shell, tinted red
1 package dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water (105 to 115 degrees F)
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter (room temperature)
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup hot milk
2 teaspoons ground cardamom
About 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 egg (room temperature)
1/4 cup milk
Sprinkle of sugar
One baking sheet, greased or Teflon.
Color the egg with regular Easter egg dye (don’t use ordinary food coloring that may run off the egg and discolor the loaf).
In a small bowl or cup, dissolve yeast in water. Whip with a metal whisk or fork to hasten the action.
In a large mixing bowl, put sugar, butter and salt. Pour milk over it. Stir until butter is soft and milk has cooled to lukewarm. Add cardamom. Blend in 1 cup flour with 25 strong strokes with a wooden spoon. Stir in the egg (not the colored one) and yeast. Add remaining flour, a half cup at a time, first with the spoon and then by hand, until a rough ball is formed and the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
Turn the ball of dough onto a floured work surface, a countertop or bread board, and knead with a rhythmic push-turn-fold motion. (If dough hook on the mixer is used, knead for 6 minutes.) The dough will be well kneaded when it is smooth, elastic and no longer sticky.
Place the ball of dough in a greased bowl cover tightly with plastic wrap and put in a warm draft-free place (80 to 85 degrees F) until it has doubled in bulk, about 1 1/4 hours.
Turn back the plastic wrap, punch down the dough and replace the cover let rise until almost doubled again (about 1 hour).
Turn the dough out on a lightly floured work surface, knead for 60 seconds or until the bubbles have been forced out of the risen dough. Divide the dough into three equal parts. Cover them with a towel or wax paper and let them rest for about 10 minutes.
Roll each part under the heel of the hands to form a strand about 16-inches long, with slightly tapered ends. Line them up parallel on the greased baking sheet and braid them loosely without stretching. Begin in the middle and work toward either end. Pinch the strands together at the ends. Carefully fashion a nest for the tinted egg under the strands in the middle of the loaf. (It is important that the egg be tucked deep under the braids so it will not be pushed out when the dough rises.)
Cover the braid with wax paper and return to the warm place until it has almost doubled in size (about 45 minutes).
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Brush the loaf with milk and sprinkle with sugar. Place in the oven for about 40 minutes. When the loaf is golden brown and tapping the bottom crust yields a hard, hollow sound, the bread is baked. If not, return to the oven for an additional 10 minutes. Midway in the bake period, shift the loaf turn it halfway around so it is exposed equally to temperature variations in the oven.
Remove bread from the oven. A braided bread while hot from the oven is fragile, so handle it carefully when removing to a metal cooling rack. It can be sliced while still warm or served cold or toasted. Remove the egg before that part of the bread is sliced.