For many cultures, Easter is a time of rich symbolism. Food plays an important part in the rituals and traditions at this time of year, from the fish-heavy dishes of Good Friday to the ubiquitous eggs symbolising new life.
Topped with vanilla-rich pastry cream, and dotted with brightly coloured glace and candied fruits and crisp kernels of pearl sugar (which don’t melt in the oven), this is a deliciously sweet bread recipe that makes a beautiful addition to any shared table.
Combine the milk, two tablespoons of the caster sugar and the yeast in the bowl of your stand mixer (if it’s a cold day, warm the bowl first by filling it with warm water then emptying and quickly drying it). Stir to combine, and leave to sit for 5-10 minutes, or until very frothy.
Add the sifted flour and the remaining sugar to the bowl, attach the dough hook to your mixer and switch on at a low speed. When the ingredients are roughly combined, add the eggs, then the soft butter. After 30 seconds, add the vanilla extract and lemon peel.
Increase the speed of the mixer to medium, and knead for approximately 8 minutes, or until the dough is glossy and smooth. If it feels too tacky or is sticking to the sides of the bowl, add a little more flour.
Remove the dough hook, cover the bowl with a tea towel and leave to rise for an hour (or until doubled in size).
Roll the dough out until it forms a roughly 8mm thick rectangle, then roll into a cylinder. Bring the ends of the cylinder together to form a ring, and transfer to a baking tray covered with baking paper. Smear a little butter around the outside of a small heat-proof bowl or metal ring and place it in the hole in the centre of the dough. Cover loosely with a tea towel and leave to rise for another hour.
To make the pastry cream, combine the sugar, flours and egg yolk in a bowl.
In a saucepan, stir the milk, vanilla pod and vanilla seeds over a low heat until almost simmering. Pour a third of the vanilla milk through a sieve into the egg mixture and quickly whisk it together until smooth. Add the remaining milk, and whisk vigorously until smooth and free of lumps.
Return the egg and milk mix to the saucepan and whisk over a low heat for five minutes, or until thick and smooth. Transfer to a clean bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled.
Preheat your oven to 180C (160C fan forced).
Beat an egg in a small bowl, then use a pastry brush to gently coat the surface of the bread. Transfer the pastry cream to a piping bag and pipe a circle (or lines) over the top of the bread, or use a spoon to add a few regularly spaced dollops. Sprinkle with pearl sugar, and bake for 40 minutes or until golden brown, using tongs to remove the bowl or ring from the centre half after 20 minutes.
Heat the apricot jam in a small saucepan (or in the microwave), and use a pastry brush to glaze the surface of the bread. Add a few more dollops of pastry cream, then decorate with glace and candied fruit. Serve with additional pastry cream or butter.