If you are adding colored eggs, now is the time to color them. Follow the dye directions on the box or use natural dye and let the eggs sit for an hour. The longer they sit the more vibrant the color.
In a small saucepan heat the milk over medium to 110 F (I just test the water with my finger and know it’s the right temperature…warm like the temperature of a baby bottle, not hot). Add the yeast to a small bowl with the warm milk and whisk it around with 1 tablespoon of the sugar. Let sit until foamy (about 5 minutes).
Whisk in the eggs and vanilla and set aside.
In a large bowl whisk together the rest of the sugar, flour, lemon zest, and salt.
Pour the flour mixture in the bowl of a mixer. With dough hook attached and mixer on medium speed, slowly add the milk mixture (*the milk mixture has the milk, yeast, 1 tbsp sugar, eggs, vanilla) to the flour mixture.
Hold onto your mixer! Now you will add the butter 1 tablespoon at a time. I tell you to hold onto it because it will move around if you are mixing it on too fast of a speed. Start on medium-low speed. If you notice the mixer moving too much, you can lower the speed and let the butter get gently incorporated into the dough. If you have the mixture at a faster speed at this point…do not leave it alone while it’s mixing. It could bounce off the counter.
Be sure to mix well when all the butter is added (about 3-5 minutes). You may need to add more flour. (Start with 4 1/2 cups of flour. If you need more flour, add more a Tablespoon at a time until it is no longer sticky. Don’t worry about the total amount of flour, keep adding until your dough is stiff and elastic, and it is not sticky.)
Put a little flour onto a clean counter and scrape the dough out of mixer onto the counter. Knead the dough a little and shape the dough into a ball (you won’t be kneading the dough too much…just a bit to shape it into an elastic ball of dough).
Oil a large mixing bowl and place the dough into the bowl.
Rub a little oil on top of the dough and cover it to rest in a draft-free area for a bout 1-1 1/2 hours.
Punch down the dough.
Divide the dough into 14 portions. Roll each portion into a strip about 12 inches long. You could also make one large braid with this dough. If you are making one large braid, roll each piece into strips about 15 “ long. If you are making two braids, the strips will be a bit smaller (sorry, I did not measure the strips)
Start with two pieces: pinch the ends together of the first 2 ropes to secure the strips together Bring one side over to the other and tuck it in to make a small ring shape. You’re making a little nest for your colored egg to nestle into. Make sure your ring is not too big and not too tight.
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Repeat process with the next 6 sets of 2 ropes that you will make. You will have 7 little nests to hold your eggs.
Place on two baking sheets lined with parchment paper (or a silpat mat).
In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and water for the egg wash. Brush on the egg wash.
Cover the dough with a kitchen towel to proof for about 40-45 minutes.
When dough is ready to bake, brush on some more egg wash. Sprinkle on the sprinkles. Place an egg in the middle of each little nest.
Bake for about 18-20 minutes. If you are making one very large wreath, it should be done in 25-30 minutes.
Don’t forget to eat the yummy eggs that are baked in the middle of the bread. My kids fight over them! In order for the raw eggs to cook, they will need 18-20 minutes in the oven. If you prefer to add eggs already cooked, hard boil them and color them (according to color instructions)and add them already cooked to the bread. *If you have left bread out with eggs for a couple hours, just discard the eggs, and eat the bread.