No Southern bread has a more obscure or colorful history than the yeast-leavened, rich tea bread known as Sally Lunn. Claimed by Virginia as its own and supposedly named after an English lass who sold buns on the streets of Bath in the eighteenth century, the original bread baked in shallow pans by the Virginia colonists most likely resembled a French brioche in flavor and texture. Legend has it that the stiff dough had to be beaten exactly one hundred times for the bread to come out exactly right. Sally Lunn seems to have evolved over the centuries from a sweet bun to a cake to a savory dinner bread back to a sweet dessert loaf, and on the rare occasions you find it today (mainly in historic Williamsburg, Virginia, and at a few quaint Southern country inns), chances are it will be served as a tea or dessert bread. Personally, I love the bread unsweetened, as in this recipe, and toasted for breakfast. If, however, you want an unusual sweet bread to serve with fresh fruit or ice cream, add about a quarter cup of sugar to the dough.
In a large bowl, combine the yeast, sugar, and water, stir, and let proof till bubbly, about 5 minutes. Add the milk and eggs and beat with a wooden spoon till well blended. Gradually add half the flour and continue beating. Add the butter and salt and beat till well blended, then beat in the remaining flour till a soft dough forms. Cover with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm area till doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
Punch the dough down, cover again, and let stand 15 minutes. Grease a 10-inch tube pan with butter. Scrape the dough into the tube pan, cover, and let rise again till doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes.
Shortly before the dough has finished rising,
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