Enriched Sourdough Brioche Easter Bunny Buns
One of the first recipes I shared here years ago was my vegan version of my mom's Easter bunny sweet rolls. My siblings and I always loved them as kids and I thought it was time to revisit this recipe as a sourdough brioche dough version. The dough is my sourdough take on traditional brioche and is flavored with vanilla extract, orange zest, ground cinnamon, ground allspice, and ground cardamom. Studded with raisins and chopped dates that have been soaked in orange juice with a splash of orange blossom water this sweet dough is full of flavor.
Shaping the buns into bunny heads and ears is as easy as crossing one end of a log of dough over the other. These sweet bunny buns are decorated with a thick lemon glaze, raisin eyes and noses, flaked coconut whiskers, and for extra fun: edible flower crowns. Young and old will adore these super cute bunny buns.
Sourdough Sweet Brioche as a Base Dough
Sourdough fruit buns tend to dry out and firm up by the next day so I wanted to start out with a very fluffy and soft base dough. Using a brioche-style dough that is enriched with eggs, milk and butter will ensure very fluffy and soft baked buns. Brioche dough is easy to make in a stand mixer as it needs to be kneaded for a long time to build up enough gluten strength to reach the "windowpane stage". Windowpane stage simple means that the dough can be stretched out thin enough to let light through it (like a windowpane) without it tearing. Do not fret if you don't have access to a stand mixer. The dough can always be kneaded by hand. It's going to be on the sticky and wet side so use a bench scraper to help lift the dough off the board as you knead it.
I've also tested this recipe with commercial yeast for those of you who don't bake with sourdough or want to make these from start to finish in one day. Check the recipe notes section below for details on how to make this recipe with instant or active dry yeast. I recommend using LeSaffre Saf-Instant Yeast – Gold for any enriched or sweet bread doughs such as the one in this post. This yeast is formulated to help enriched doughs rise faster, as ingredients such as milk, butter, eggs, and even spices can slow down the rise. It comes in a 1-pound package but can easily be stored in the freezer for longevity.
Very Active Sourdough Starter Is Key for Sourdough Brioche Easter Buns
Getting your sourdough starter super active is key when using it in enriched or sweet doughs. We want the starter to work fast in enriched doughs so that it doesn't impart a sour flavor to the final product. While a long rise and resulting sour flavor are great in artisan sourdough bread, it would take away from the sweetness and richness we want from sweet doughs like this hot cross bun dough for instance.
To give the starter a fighting chance against all of the added ingredients to this and other enriched doughs it helps to get the starter very active beforehand. To do this, start feeding an offshoot or a small portion of your starter about every 4 hours the day before and the day that you will mix the dough. This will get the starter very active and ready to work immediately once the dough is mixed. This is very helpful in cool climates, but if you live in a warmer climate may not be necessary.
How to Decorate the Easter Bunny Buns
To create the cute bunny faces each bunny gets dipped in a thick lemon glaze. The eyes and nose are made from raisins that have been cut in half to make them smaller. Dried currants would also work great for this. To create the whiskers I used 6 long strands of flaked coconut. This was a medium flake size that I purchased at our local supermarket, specifically the supermarket's own brand called Nature's Promise Unsweetened Flaked Coconut.
Perhaps the most fun part is to add edible flower and leaf crowns to the bunnies. I used violas that we have growing in the garden and foraged some red clover leaves from our yard. When using edible flowers or foraging for edibles always make sure to identify the plant correctly and confirm it is edible. Do not use flowers from nurseries unless you know they have not been sprayed or given growth retardant, which is sadly common for potted annuals. Other edible flower varieties that would work well and are in season during spring include wild violets, pansies and primroses.
tips and tricks for sourdough brioche easter buns
- use a very active sourdough starter that has been fed often to build up its activity, especially if you live in a cool climate
- fold the fruit into the dough like you would laminate butter in puff pastry dough to evenly disperse the fruit and help keep it from tearing the dough and in turn the gluten structure that was built up during kneading
- bulk ferment and proof the dough in a warm spot (100-110˚F/37-43˚C is perfect)
- use a scale to measure out ingredients (I've included volume measurement in the recipe but they are never as accurate as using a scale and are not standardized throughout the world.)
- make the dough at night and let it bulk ferment overnight to shape, proof, and bake the following morning if you live in a cool climate
- make the dough in the morning, bulk ferment, shape, and then proof in the fridge overnight, then take them out to come to room temperature in a warm spot before baking them if you live in a warm climate
The beautiful embroidered linens shown in the photographs were a gift from my friends at Coral & Tusk and are from their new Mother's Day collection.
Sourdough Brioche Easter Bunny Buns
- 200 g dried fruit such as 100 g raisins + 100 g chopped dates or your preference
- 1 cup orange juice
- ½ teaspoon orange blossom water optional
- 200 g active sourdough starter 100% hydration
- 182 g milk ¾ cup, warmed
- 70 g honey 4-½ tablespoons
- 2 large eggs at room temperature
- 9 g vanilla extract 1 tablespoon
- 8 g orange zest from one 1 large orange
- 500 g flour either all bread flour or a mix of 300 g bread flour and 200 g soft/white whole wheat flour
- 9 g kosher salt 2 teaspoons
- 3 g ground cinnamon 2 teaspoons
- 1 g ground allspice ½ teaspoon
- 2 g ground cardamom ½ teaspoon
- 56 g unsalted butter 4 tablespoons or ¼ cup, at room temperature cut into 16 pieces
- 1 large egg beaten
- 200 g powdered sugar 1 ½ cups, sifted
- 36 g lemon juice 3 tablespoons
- ⅛ teaspoon kosher salt
- 24 raisins cut in half
- ¼ cup flaked coconut
- ½ cup edible flowers and leaves loosely packed, such as violas, violets, pansies, clover, mint
- Start by soaking the dried fruit in a bowl with orange juice and orange blossom water. Let the fruit sit while you prepare the dough.
- Measure out sourdough starter, warm milk, honey, eggs, vanilla extract, and orange zest into the bowl of a stand mixer or a large bowl if mixing by hand. Give it a quick mix with a dough whisk or a fork.
- Measure out the flour(s), salt, and spices into the same bowl and start kneading the mixture together on low speed with a dough hook attachment or by hand.
- After about 1 minute of kneading and when the dough has been mixed together well, add 1 piece of butter at a time and mix it in fully before adding the next piece. The dough should be kneaded at low to medium speed for a total of 15-20 minutes or until it reaches windowpane stage. To check this, wet your hands and stretch a bit of the dough out. Windowpane stage means the dough will be thin enough to let light through without tearing. If the dough rips apart, keep kneading it.
- Lightly flour your work surface and dump the dough onto the flour. Use a bowl scraper to help release the dough from the bowl.
- Press the dough with your hands into a large rectangle about 18" x 12".
- Drain the soaked fruit and add ¼ of the fruit to the bottom half of the dough rectangle. Then fold the dough over and give it a quarter turn, then press it out again into a large rectangle. If the dough is sticking to the board use a bench scraper and flour your hands to help move it during the quarter turns. Repeat this process 3 more times to incorporate all of the fruit. Folding the fruit into the dough in steps like this helps keep the fruit encased in the dough without tearing it, and disperses it evenly throughout the dough.
- Shape the dough into a ball and place it into an oiled or buttered mixing bowl, cover it tightly and allow it to bulk ferment in a warm spot until it has doubled in volume. This could take a few hours to overnight depending on the temperature and environment. The more active the starter and warmer the temperature the faster it will rise.
- After the dough has finished bulk fermenting, weigh it then divide it into 12 pieces for large rolls (pictured in this post) or 20 pieces for smaller rolls. Cover the portioned dough with a kitchen towel to keep it from drying out.
- Line two half-sheet pans with parchment paper.
- Shape each piece of dough into roughly a 12" long log. Twist one end over the other to create the simple bunny head and ears shape. Then transfer them to the sheet pans. Cover each sheet pan with a damp towel or proofing bag and proof the buns in a warm spot until they are puffy and slowly spring back when poked with a floured fingertip. This could take 30 minutes to 2 hours depending on the temperature and environment. A tip to speed up the proofing time is to turn on your oven just to start warming it up, then turn it off before it gets too hot and proof them in the warm oven. 100-110˚F/37-43˚C is an ideal proofing temperature.
- Preheat the oven to 375˚F/190˚C. Make sure to take the buns out first if you are proofing them in the oven.
- Brush the tops and sides of the buns with the beaten egg.
- Bake the buns at 375˚F/190˚C for 15-20 minutes for smaller buns or 25-30 minutes for larger buns or until they are golden brown and their internal temperature reaches 200˚F/93˚C.
- Transfer them to cooling racks to cool completely before glazing and decorating them. Or enjoy them warm from the oven if you like.
- To make the lemon glaze mix together the powdered sugar, lemon juice, and salt, add the lemon juice a little at a time, and fully mix it in each time. The glaze should be thick enough to hold a figure-8 shape drizzled off the back of a spoon into the glaze for 30 seconds before dissolving back into itself.
- Dip the top of the buns into the glaze and use a spoon to help spread it onto the ears if needed.
- Add the decorations before the glaze has set. Use cut raisins for eyes and a nose and flaked coconut for whiskers. Use edible flowers and leaves to make flower crowns for the bunnies. Note: The edible flowers and leaves won't last more than the day they are made, so leave them off if you are making these ahead of time.
- Unglazed buns will keep sealed in a bag at room temperature for up to 3 days before they get stale. They can also be frozen for up to six months and warmed in the oven before serving. Glazed buns are best eaten the day they are decorated, but will keep for up to 3 days sealed in a bag or container at room temperature.
- The day before you plan to mix the dough start feeding an offshoot of your starter every 4 hours or so to get it super active. This will help keep the bulk fermentation time short and in turn, reduce the chance of imparting a sour flavor into the dough. This isn't a necessary step but will help if you live in a cool climate.
- 100% hydration starter means starter that is made with equal parts by weight of water and flour. Learn how to make your own starter from scratch in my free sourdough starter course.
- This dough can be made dairy-free by using plant milk and plant butter in equal amounts. I do not recommend removing or replacing the eggs as they are the key to producing a fluffy and soft dough. If you need vegan dough then try this vegan sweet sourdough dough from my recipe archives.
- The base of this dough can be used as a sourdough brioche dough for cinnamon rolls, doughnuts, and sweet bread, rolls or buns. Follow the same steps but omit the ground spices and dried fruit.
- Honey can be replaced with any sugar or sweetener of your choice.
- I highly recommend using a scale to measure out ingredients in baked good recipes. Here is the scale I use.
- To make this dough using instant or active dry yeast instead of sourdough, omit the sourdough starter, add 7 g or 1 ½ teaspoons of yeast, and increase the milk to 232 g or 1 cup. This is the yeast I recommend for sweet or enriched doughs: LeSaffre Saf-Instant Yeast - Gold. Store it in the freezer for longevity. Follow the same steps. The dough will rise in about 1 hour for the first rise and about 30 minutes for the second proof, so it can be made from start to finish in the same day.
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