Hot cross buns are not the only classic Easter bake. In England it’s been traditional since medieval times to eat simnel cakes topped with 11 balls of marzipan representing the Apostles—minus Judas. In Greece, puffy Orthodox Easter bread is semi-sweet and decorated with red-dyed boiled eggs. In Germany, many families make or buy an Osterkranz—a sweet, braided bread formed into the shape of a wreath.
Lesley Russell’s beautifully buttery Easter wreath is made in the traditional German shape but gets a textural and flavour boost from crunchy walnuts and the scent of cinnamon. Lesley says it is best eaten on the day it is made (if you make it ahead of time and freeze it you will need to refresh it in the oven), so allow yourself plenty of time for the dough to rise and rest. The resting is especially important—chilled dough is much easier to work with when it comes to the process of “plaiting”.
- Place the yeast, sugar and buttermilk into the mixing bowl and combine 5 minutes/37 degrees/speed soft. Clean down the bowl and allow the mixture to stand with the lid on for 15 minutes or until the mix is bubbled and frothy.
- Add the egg yolks, melted butter, water, flour and salt. Mix together 2 minutes/Knead to create a smooth, buttery yellow dough. The dough will be quite soft and sticky.
- Turn the dough into a lightly oiled bowl and allow it to rise undisturbed for an hour or so, or until doubled in size.
- Ease the dough out on a lightly floured work surface; handle it very gently without kneading it. Roll it out to a rectangle roughly 40 centimetres long x 25 centimetres wide, then fold in half and transfer to a piece of baking paper. Slide the paper on to a baking tray and refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes or so; this makes it much easier to handle for the next step.
- Meanwhile, chop the walnuts 5 seconds/speed 4. Set aside. Place the additional butter into the mixing bowl with the cinnamon and additional sugar, and mix together 30 seconds/speed 3; it should be spreadable.
- Take the dough out of the fridge, unfold it and reshape if necessary. Spread it all over with the sugar-cinnamon butter, being sure to go all the way to the edge on the short side. Scatter the walnuts over evenly.
- Moisten one long edge of the dough with water. Starting from the other long edge, firmly roll the dough into a sausage shape, Swiss-roll style.
- Cut the roll in half lengthways with a sharp knife. Pinch two ends together then twist the two sections together, one over the other, to form a “plait”—the more crossovers you have the better it will be. Pinch the two remaining ends together.
- Form the “plait” into a circle, moisten the ends and pinch them together firmly. Slide the circle onto baking paper, then to a baking tray.
- Heat oven to 200C. Bake for 10 minutes in the centre of the oven, then reduce heat to 180C and bake for a further 20 minutes or until golden brown. The butter will leak out a little in the oven.
- Slide the ring off the paper onto a wire rack and allow to cool. Dust lightly with icing sugar.