The April Daring Baker’s Challenge was hosted by Wolf of Wolf’s Den . She challenged us to Spring into our kitchens and make Easter breads reflecting cultures around the world. Please make sure to visit her blog and see the amazing German (Osterbrot) and Italian (Anello dDi Pasqua Maria Pia) Easter breads that she made. I so wanted to bake the Osterbrot but I just didn’t have enough time so it goes on the bucket list…
Since moving to Canada 10 yrs ago I have been so blessed with not only a luscious husband and amazing daughter, but with extraordinary friends. Both my husband and I have no family out West so to be able to fill our house on holidays with good friends is such a treat for us and helps fill that empty hole in our hearts not being with our moms and family. Over the years our house has become a sort of commune, with one friend or another eating (or sleeping over ) a few nights a week. We always welcome them with open arms and love sharing good times with them. My husbands best friend, who has been living with us a few days a week for the past year while conducting business here in Calgary, now has one of his old friends moving here from back East. And I mean very Greek. He drove out west a month ago not knowing anybody. Since we both know how that is, he has been over for dinner at least 5 times already, with everyone being extremely welcoming (or trying to be). So with that in mind, I baked Tsouréki , a very traditional Greek Easter bread to help make him feel more at home.
Holiday breads, especially Easter breads, are enriched breads. This means that they contain eggs, and usually also butter and milk, making them more indulgent than “lean” bread. Eggs represent rebirth, or new life. Many holiday breads are braided as well, like this one. If you have never tried baking a braided bread, I can’t express enough how much fun they are to make. You can make anywhere from 3 to 12 strand loaves. Start with 3 strands and move your way up as you get more comfortable. I personally like the look of a 6 strand braid but that is just me. Please look at the end of my post on challah bread for multiple links on braiding techniques to help you.
This bread is scented with makhlépi, (also known as mahleb, mahlepi and other spelling variations) is a spice derived from the seed kernels of the Prunus mahaleb, a type of cherry tree (also referred to as a Rock cherry or St. Lucie cherry), and primarily used in Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Eurasian cuisines. They are small kernals with a bitter almond kind of flavor. I was very excited when I saw this ingredient since I had some on hand from when I made Assyrian Spinach Pies last year. The kernals are steeped in water, discarded and then the liquid is used to flavor the dough. Now, I realize this might not be easy to find in some areas, so just substitute plain water in its place if you cannot find it.
At one end of the bread a red-dyed egg is inserted into the dough before baking. This represents the blood of Christ. the best way to get a dark red egg is by using commercial red dye as opposed to the little tablets that come in Easter egg dying kits. Bake On!
Makes 2 small loaves
1 1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 cup (8 oz) warm milk
4-5 cups flour
3/4 cups sugar
2 tsp. makhlépi , also known as Malhab (optional)
1/4 cup water
4 tbsp. butter, melted and cooled
4 eggs, 1 lightly beaten and set aside for the egg wash
2 teaspoons. grated orange zest
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
2 hard-cooked eggs, dyed red
pearl sugar or black cumin seeds to decorate, if desired
Dissolve yeast in milk in a large bowl. Stir in 1/2 cup of the flour and 1/4 cup of the sugar, cover bowl with plastic wrap, and set aside for 1 hour. Steep makhlépi, if using, in 1/4 cup simmering water for about 5 minutes. Strain, discard makhlépi, and set aside liquid to cool.
scented liquid into yeast mixture; if you aren’t using the makhlépi then just use plain water instead. Add the butter and 3 of the eggs and mix thoroughly. Sift 4 cups of the flour, salt, and remaining 1/2 cup sugar into mixture. Add orange and lemon zest, and mix thoroughly. Turn out dough onto a floured surface. Knead (adding more flour if necessary) until smooth, about 10 minutes, then form into a ball and place in a lightly greased bowl. Alternatively, knead using a stand mixer, fitted with the dough hook, for 10 minutes. Place in a clean, lightly grease bowl and cover with a clean dish towel. Set aside to rise for 2 hours.
Turn the dough back onto the floured surface. Divide into 6 parts, rolling into ropes about 15″ long. For each loaf, tightly braid 3 ropes, then press 1 dyed egg near the end of each braid. Set bread aside to rise again for 1 hour on a parchment paper lined baking sheet.
Preheat oven to 350˚ thirty minutes before baking.
Brush bread with reserved beaten egg, sprinkle with pearl sugar if desired, and bake until golden, 40–50 minutes .Let cool completely.
This recipe was adapted from here