Today’s recipe is a long-standing Easter tradition in my immediate family. My mom didn’t bake bread quite as often as I do, but we did almost always have a loaf of bear bread for our Easter breakfast. I’m not entirely sure why we eat bear bread at Easter instead of bunny bread, but we do. You can use the dough to make a bunny (I’ve done it before), but habits are hard to break, and so to me, bear bread seems very appropriate for an Easter breakfast.
The dough recipe is from my grandma, my dad’s mom. She hand-wrote a lot of her recipes down and put them in an notebook for my dad when he left home, and this recipe is one of those. I have a scanned copy of it in my recipe binder, and I love to look at this recipe written in my grandma’s handwriting.
Grandmothers’ handwriting is special, you know? This is the same familiar handwriting present on so many birthday cards and Christmas cards and letters and notes (my grandma and grandpa lived in South Dakota, far away from my childhood home, so my grandma sent my siblings and me lots of mail), and I like it better than any font.
Though my grandma shunned technology and modern advancements (she used a wringer instead of a washing machine until she died!), I have no doubt in my mind that she’d be very pleased to see her recipe featured on my blog. My grandma lived through the depression and was, as a result, exceedingly frugal, so if she was still here, I’m quite sure she’d be an ardent supporter of my blog and what it represents.
She used this dough to make sweet rolls during our summer visits (oh, delicious memories!), and I’ll probably show you how to do that in a future post, but for today we’re going to use the dough to make Easter bears.
First, dissolve 2 packages of yeast (4 1/2 teaspoons) in 1/3 cup of warm water.
Then heat the milk, butter, sugar, and salt together to about 110 degrees F. My grandma did this in a saucepan on the stove, but a microwave works too.
Add the warm milk mixture to the yeast mixture along with about 3 cups of the flour. Beat for several minutes.
Add enough additional flour to make a soft dough, turn out onto a floured surface, and knead for 3-5 minutes, or until smooth and elastic.
I completely forgot to take a picture of the dough when I turned it out onto the counter, so all I have is a picture of the kneaded dough.
Place the dough back into the mixing bowl, cover with a wet tea towel, and let it rise in a warm place for an hour. Punch the dough down, and divide it into fourths.
This amount of dough will make two bears if you divide it as follows. Leave 2 fourths alone, as these will be the bodies. Divide 1 fourth in half to make two head pieces, and divide the remaining fourth into 14 pieces for the paws, ears, and noses.
Shape each piece into a neat ball, and arrange them on a greased baking sheet like so:
Normally I use raisins for the eyes and belly button, but I only had craisins on hand.
I think this makes the bear look a little bit possessed prior to baking.
Anyways, cover the bears with a wet tea towel, and let them rise in a warm place for about 30 minutes, or until they’re doubled in size and look soft and puffy.
Bake in a preheated 350 degree F oven for 25-30 minutes or until brown. Because of the unusual shape of this bread, you’ll need to make sure you bake it sufficiently…if you take it out when the nose looks done, the neck area of the bread will be doughy and undercooked. So, don’t judge the done-ness by the appendages!
I was relieved to see that the heat of the oven turned the craisins black…my bear looks much less disturbing now.
When I was a kid, I loved to eat the paws and ears warm, with a bit of butter inserted in the middle. So tasty.
If you’re not eating the bread promptly, you’ll want to let it cool on a wire rack. I find a plastic cooking spatula to be very helpful in removing the bread from the baking sheet to the rack. I use the spatula to loosen the bear from the baking sheet and then I kind of slide the bear onto the cooling rack.
I hope you enjoy our non-traditional Easter tradition.
Sweet Dough for Bear Bread
2 pkg. (4.5 teaspoons) active dry yeast
2 cups milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter (8 tablespoons)
2 teaspoons salt
about 6.5 cups flour
In a large mixing bowl, dissolve yeast in 1/3 cup warm water. Heat milk, sugar, butter, and salt to 110 degrees F. Add to dissolved yeast along with eggs and 3 cups of flour. Beat for 3 minutes on medium speed (or stir thoroughly by hand). Add enough of the remaining flour to make a soft dough.
Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead for 3-5 minutes or until smooth and elastic. Place in a bowl, cover with a wet tea towel, and let rise 1 hour.
Punch dough down and divide into fourths. Shape 2 fourths into balls and place on two greased baking sheets to serve as the body of the bear. Divide 1 fourth in half, shape each piece into a ball, and place above the body piece to serve as the head. Divide remaining fourth into 14 pieces, and shape each piece into a ball. Use 4 balls for the paws, 2 balls for the ears, and 1 ball for the nose of each bear.
Cover the bears with a wet tea towel and let them rise in a warm place for 30 minutes, or until doubled. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 25-30 minutes, or until browned. Cool on a wire rack.