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Sculpting an Easter centerpiece

Turn Italian bread into a dove for holiday table

Italian dove bread lies somewhere between brioche and pannetone. It is eaten around the Easter holiday, often accompanied by espresso or a cappuccino. It is a bit of work to make, though none of the steps is particularly difficult. And it makes a beautiful centerpiece for the Easter table.

Traditionally, the bread is flavored just with candied citrus peel, but you can add other dried fruit if you like. Just mix them in at the end with the candied peel. A combination of chopped apricots and cranberries would be beautiful.

Though the dove shape of this bread is traditional, for simplicity it also could be baked in a loaf pan.

Italian Dove Bread

For the dough:

1/2 cup milk, warmed

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup honey

3 eggs

Zest of 1 lemon

Zest of 1 orange

1 teaspoon salt

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons instant or fast-acting yeast

4 tablespoons ( 1/2 stick) butter, room temperature

1 cup candied orange or citron peel

For the decoration:

1 egg, separated

1/2 cup almond paste

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Whole almonds

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the milk, sugar, honey, eggs and both zests. Turn the mixer on low, then add the salt, flour and yeast. Mix until a dough comes together, then let the mixer knead the dough on low until smooth, about 3 to 4 minutes.

Add the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, and continue kneading, allowing each piece to be fully incorporated before adding the next. Mix in the candied peel. Remove the bowl from the mixer, cover with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours.

Meanwhile, prepare the decorations. In a medium bowl, mix together the egg yolk (reserve the white), almond paste, flour and almond extract. Once mixed, use your hands to knead the mixture until smooth. Roll the mixture into about 25 to 30 marble-sized balls.

Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray.

Once the dough has risen, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide the dough in half.

Roll one half into a log about 12 inches long and place on the prepared baking sheet. Using the heel of your hand, gently flatten the center of the log.

Form the other half of the dough into a triangle, about 15 inches long and 6 inches wide at the base. Place the triangle over the log, so that the wide end, extends 4 inches below and the pointed end 7 inches above. Bend about 3 inches of the pointed end to the side to represent the head and beak.

Using a sharp knife or kitchen shears, cut the edge of the wings (the log) and the bottom of the tail (the wide end of the triangle) to create feathers.

In a small bowl, beat the reserved egg white until foamy. Use a brush to paint the egg white over the surface of the dove. Decorate the dove with the balls of almond dough, pressing them into the wings, tail and chest of the bird, as well as using 1 ball for the eye. Repeat with the whole almonds, gently pressing them into the surface of the dough.

Loosely cover the dough with a kitchen towel and allow to rise again until puffy and about doubled in size, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Toward the end of the rising time, heat the oven to 325 degrees.

Bake until golden and cooked through, about 40 minutes.

Yield: Makes 1 large dove-shaped loaf, about 12 servings

Approximate nutrition per serving: 325 calories, 10 grams fat (3 grams saturated, 27 percent fat calories), 8 grams protein, 52 grams carbohydrate, 82 milligrams cholesterol, 3 grams dietary fiber, 201 milligrams sodium.



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