Easter bread

All rise: Easter breads can be braided into wreaths or baked into a towering dome -- either way -- these breads are loaded with tradition, symbolism and great flavor. (Bill Hogan/Chicago Tribune)

3/4 cup lukewarm milk (about 95 degrees)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
4 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 1/3 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt

Egg wash:
egg beaten with
1 tablespoon water

1. Whisk the yeast into the milk in a bowl until dissolved. Set aside. Cream the butter and sugar in a large bowl with a mixer until smooth, about 2 minutes. Place egg yolks in a small bowl; add the vanilla. Whisk lightly to break up the yolks. Add the yolks to the sugar mixture in four portions, mixing until each is incorporated before adding the next.

2. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Mix on medium high speed until fluffy, 2 minutes. Add the flour, salt and milk mixture. Mix at low speed to make a soft, tacky dough, 2-3 minutes. (If making the apricot version, sprinkle in 1/2 cup chopped dried apricots and 1/4 cup golden raisins during last minute of mixing.)

3. Transfer the dough to a floured work surface; knead by hand, adding more flour as needed to make the dough pliable, 2 minutes. The dough should be golden, soft and supple. Form into a ball; place in a clean, lightly oiled bowl. Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap; leave at room temperature, 2 1/2 hours, or place in the refrigerator overnight to roll it out the next day.

4. Roll dough into a 15-inch square on a lightly floured surface, about 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick. As you roll, frequently lift the dough with a scraper and dust surface with more flour to prevent sticking. (If adding fillings, left, do so now.)

5. Roll the dough like a jellyroll; place seam side down. Rock back and forth to extend length to 18-24 inches long. Coil into a circular snail shape; stand the coil on end, perpendicular to counter. Press into a loaf shape. Place in a greased loaf pan, domed side up. Cover loosely with plastic wrap; let rise at room temperature, 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or refrigerate overnight.

6. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Poke a few holes in the top of the dough with a toothpick to eliminate air pockets. Brush top with the egg wash. Bake 20 to 25 minutes. Rotate pan; bake until the top is a rich, dark brown, 20-25 minutes.

Nutrition information:
Per serving: 238 calories, 32% of calories from fat, 8 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 104 mg cholesterol, 34 g carbohydrates, 6 g protein, 211 mg sodium, 1 g fiber.

Almond: Spread with 1 package almond paste. Sprinkle with ½ cup slivered toasted almonds.
Apricot: Spread with 3/4 cup apricot jam.