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)

In Portland, Ore., Patricia DiPrima will bake bread in the shape of a dove and top it with crushed amaretti cookies. The traditional Italian Easter bread known as colomba pasquale will be among the special holiday offerings at DiPrima Dolci Italian Bakery & Cafe.

Across the country, at Silver Star Bakery in Providence, R.I., Eduarda Ferreira will nestle plain white eggs into her Portuguese sweet bread dough, continuing a tradition she grew up with in the Azores.

And in Greenville, Ill., about an hour east of St. Louis, Lydia Shalanko will sell kulich for her first Easter in business as Piety Hill Bakery. The bread, a Russian specialty, bakes in a tall can, rising dramatically high.

Easter breads may be braided into wreaths or baked into a towering dome. They may be light and airy like brioche or dense and sweet like coffeecake. They may overflow with bits of candied fruit, decorated with whole eggs or left stoically plain. But however they are made, meaning is kneaded into every crumb.

"Easter breads are a continuation of the same tradition that for millions of years breads have been used: to tell a story," said Peter Reinhart, a baking instructor at Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte, N.C., and author of "Artisan Breads Every Day."

"They give another opportunity to deepen the sense of connectedness to the reason why we're celebrating the holiday in the first place."

Reinhart offered a brief guide to the symbolism of Easter bread. First, they are always leavened: The rising of the dough reflects the story of Christ rising from his tomb.

Usually, they are loaded with eggs, which symbolize rebirth and lend the dough a golden hue — the color associated with resurrection. Golden fruit, such as apricots and raisins, may be added to signify abundance.

Nuts and seeds — another powerful religious reference to rebirth — may be used as garnishes. Loaves braided from three strands evoke the Holy Trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

We asked Reinhart to recommend an Easter bread that could be made three ways, and he suggested a recipe based on babka, a dense, cakey, Eastern European bread.

Whether you prefer it perfumed with almonds, marbled with apricots or left plain to let the eggy bread shine on its own, it will taste like spring: a hint of the sweet abundance of seasons to come.

Easter bread

Note: Adapted from "Artisan Breads Every Day," by Peter Reinhart. We had best results when letting the shaped dough rise overnight.

Prep: 30 minutes
Rise: Overnight
Bake: 40 minutes
Makes: 12 slices

2 tablespoons instant yeast