Walnut Easter Bread

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If you use two baking sheets, refrigerate one loaf of rich egg bread while the other loaf bakes. Baking one loaf at a time ensures that each loaf bakes evenly.

6  to 6-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2  packages active dry yeast
1-2/3  cups milk
2/3  cup butter or margarine
1/2  cup granulated sugar
1/2  teaspoon salt
1/2  teaspoon ground nutmeg
1  large egg
3/4  cup finely chopped walnuts
10   walnut halves
1  tablespoon water
1   beaten egg yolk

1. In a large mixing bowl stir together 3 cups of the flour and the yeast. Set the flour-yeast mixture aside.
2. In a medium saucepan heat and stir the milk, butter, sugar, salt, and nutmeg just until warm (120 degrees F to 130 degrees F) and butter almost melts. Add the milk mixture to the flour mixture. Then add the whole egg. Beat with an electric mixer on low to medium speed for 30 seconds, scraping the sides of bowl constantly. Beat on high speed for 3 minutes. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the chopped walnuts and as much of the remaining flour as you can. 

3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead in enough of the remaining flour to make a moderately soft dough that is smooth and elastic (6 to 8 minutes total). Shape the dough into a ball. Place dough in a lightly greased bowl, turning once to grease the surface of the dough. Cover and let rise in a warm place until double in size (about 1 hour). 

4. Punch the dough down. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide the dough into 3 portions. Cover and let dough rest for 10 minutes. Grease 1 large or 2 small baking sheets; set aside.
5. Shape 2 of the dough portions into balls. Place on the prepared baking sheet(s), allowing 4 inches between balls. Flatten each ball to 5-1/2 inches in diameter. Divide the remaining portion of dough into 16 pieces. Roll each piece into a 10-inch-long rope. Loosely twist 2 ropes together. Repeat with remaining ropes, making 8 twisted ropes total. 

6. Place two of the twisted ropes in a cross atop each flattened ball of dough; tuck rope ends under balls. Place two more twisted ropes around the base of each ball, stretching the ropes if necessary so ends will meet. Brush ends with water and pinch together to seal. Brush centers and ends of crossed ropes with water. Press a walnut half in the center and at the ends of the crossed ropes. Cover and let rise in a warm place until nearly double in size (about 30 minutes). 

7. In a small mixing bowl beat the egg yolk and water with a fork. Brush loaves with some of the egg mixture. Bake in a 350 degree F oven for 45 to 50 minutes or until bread sounds hollow when you tap the top with your fingers. (If necessary, cover loosely with foil the last 20 minutes of baking to prevent overbrowning.) Remove bread from baking sheet(s) and cool on wire racks. Makes 2 loaves (32 servings). 

Make-Ahead Tip: Prepare and bake bread as directed; cool completely. Place bread in freezer containers or bags and freeze for up to 1 month. Before serving, thaw frozen bread overnight in the refrigerator.

Source:  Better Homes & Gardens
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