No Easter celebration in Argentina can be considered complete without a rosca de Pascua and some colorful chocolate Easter eggs. Easily the most popular baked good at Easter, the rosca de Pascua, a decorated, ring-shaped loaf of bread, appears in bakeries and corner stores all over the country during Semana Santa (Holy Week).
Meant to symbolize eternal life, Easter bread rings form part of the baking tradition in many countries, but the classic toppings of pastry cream, candied cherries and pearl sugar set the Argentine version apart from the rest. Lightly sweet and scented with vanilla and lemon zest, this tender yeast bread pairs perfectly with mate or a cup of coffee.
If the rosca de Pascua strikes a familiar chord with you, I can explain why. The bread ring prepared during Semana Santa is virtually identical to the rosca de Reyes that is eaten during the celebration of the Epiphany, just after Christmas. The two breads occasionally differ in terms of their presentation (some bakers insert hardboiled eggs—or chocolate ones—in the rosca de Pascua), but for the most part, the recipes are one and the same.
Rosca de Pascua (Easter Bread Ring)
Yields 2 medium-sized bread rings
1/4 cup bread flour
1 Tbsp. honey
2 tsp. instant yeast
1/3 cup warm milk
3 1/2 cups bread flour plus up to 1/2 c. bench flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 1/2 tsp. instant yeast
1/3 cup warm milk
1 Tbsp. lemon zest
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
1 Tbsp. malt extract [optional]
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 stick butter, softened
2 cups milk
1 whole egg
3 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 beaten egg
red candied cherries
For the glaze: [optional]
1 Tbsp. apricot jelly
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. water
To make the sponge, in a medium bowl, dissolve the honey in the warm milk, and then add the yeast and flour, stirring to create a paste. Leave the mixture, covered with plastic wrap, to rise and bubble for 2 hours.
For the dough, sift together the flour and sugar into a large mixing bowl, then make a well in the center. Dissolve the yeast in the milk. Add the lemon zest, vanilla extract, malt extract, eggs, butter and the sponge to the well. Slowly add the milk and yeast mixture to the well while incorporating the flour and sugar into the wet ingredients with a wooden spoon. Once the dough comes together into a ball, turn it out onto a lightly-floured work surface and knead by hand (the dough will be sticky). Use up to 1/2 cup of additional bench flour to knead the dough until it’s smooth and elastic and no longer sticks to your hands, about 10 minutes. Divide dough and shape into two balls. Place each ball of dough in a lightly-greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Allow dough to rise in a warm place, until it doubles in volume.
While the dough is rising, make the pastry cream. Scald the milk in a heavy saucepan (milk should foam but not boil). In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the whole egg along with the egg yolks, sugar and flour until smooth. Slowly incorporate the hot milk into the egg mixture, whisking constantly to avoid curdling the eggs. Return the mixture to the saucepan, and whisking constantly, cook over medium heat until it just comes to a boil and thickens. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract. Transfer the pastry cream to a clean bowl (pass it through a fine-mesh strainer if you spot small pieces of curdled egg), and cool the pastry cream to room temperature.
Punch down the dough and form it into a ball. Place the dough ball on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone mat, and make a hole in the center of the ball with your fingers. Carefully stretch and shape the dough into a ring. Insert a lightly crumpled ball of aluminum foil or an empty tin can in the hole. Repeat the procedure for the other ball of dough. Allow the dough to rise in a warm place for about one hour or until doubled in volume.
Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
Using a pastry bag with a star tip, decorate the rings with pastry cream. Brush the rings with beaten egg, avoiding areas with pastry cream. Place the candied cherries on top and sprinkle with pearl sugar.
Bake the rings for about 30 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
Optional step: While the roscas cool, prepare the apricot glaze. Make as much glaze as you like, respecting the ratio between the 3 ingredients. Bring the apricot jelly, sugar and water to a low boil in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring often. Let the glaze reduce until it has thickened slightly, about 2 minutes. Lightly brush the roscas with glaze to enhance their appearance and give them shine.