This weekend is Easter, so in addition to coloring eggs and having our annual Easter egg hunt, I wanted to make a nice loaf of Easter bread. I had a problem, however. I couldn't figure out which type of holiday bread to make. Many cultures have breads that are traditionally served during Lent and the Easter holidays. One of the most famous is the Greek Easter Bread (called tsouréki), which is sometimes made with spices -- such as allspice, cinnamon or cloves -- or vanilla and/or citrus zest. Most recipes use mastícha, which is a Greek spice that can be found in specialty or gourmet stores. Hot cross buns are another type of traditional Easter bread and often have currents, raisins or nuts, as well as spices such as cinnamon. They are topped with a cross of icing and are a traditional English holiday bun.
My mother made a Greek-style Easter bread when I was a kid, and I always thought it was the perfect accompaniment to hard boiled eggs, jelly beans, and chocolate bunnies. I made this type of bread once or twice, but since having children, have relied on serving the lovely hot cross buns made at La Farine each Easter morning. Now that my daughters are a little older, however, I wanted to revive my mother's tradition of making home-made Easter bread.
After a childhood eating traditional Greek Easter bread during Lent, followed by an adulthood eating hot cross buns, I had a case of culinary confusion once I decided to bake something myself. Luckily, my mom is visiting right now, so we put our heads together and came up with our own creation yesterday. It is reminiscent of the traditional Greek Easter bread in that it uses eggs and is airy and light. For sweetness, I added a sugar glaze similar to that found on hot cross buns. Because I was creating my own recipe, I decided to make just a simple yeasted egg dough, but am open to adding lemon zest and spices in the future. We cut the dough into three pieces and then braided it in a circle and decorated it with red Easter eggs, which is a tradition in Greece. The result was a slightly sweet light bread with a lemony glaze that goes perfect with coffee and eggs. I can't wait to dig in Sunday morning.
Serves 6 - 10
1 cup tepid water
2 Tbsp granulated sugar
2 packages fast-acting yeast
1 cup warm whole milk
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
3 raw eggs
7 cups unbleached white flour
1 tsp salt
8 hard-boiled eggs dyed
2 cups powdered sugar
2 Tbsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp whole milk
1. In a large mixing bowl, combine the water, sugar and yeast. Let stand for at least five minutes or until it foams (see picture). Note: If you are using your stand-alone mixer to make the bread, use the mixer bowl.
2. Heat the milk in a pot on low until it's warm.
3. Mix the milk, eggs, oil and salt in a medium bowl.
4. Add the egg mixture to the yeast mixture and stir.
5. Stir in four cups of flour. If using a mixer, such as a KitchenAid, use the dough hook.
6. Slowly mix in about two more cups of the remaining flour, or until the dough no longer sticks to the sides of the bowl. Note: the dough should still look glossy.
7. Lay the dough out on a wooden cutting board or counter top dusted with flour.
8. Knead the dough, adding in the last cup of flour if the dough gets too sticky, until it is pliable.
9. Put dough in an oiled bowl and cover with a piece of oiled plastic wrap. Let it rise for an hour or two, or until it doubles in size.
10. Punch dough down and divide it into three equal pieces, stretching and lengthening each piece so they are about two-feet long.
11. Braid the pieces together in a circle, joining the ends.
12. Nestle five of the dyed eggs into the dough (yes -- you bake the bread with the dyed hard-boiled eggs in it.)
13. Cover with the oiled plastic wrap for 30 – 60 minutes, or until it rises further.
14. Bake the bread at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes or until it is golden brown and cooked throughout. Note: the bread only took 20 minutes in my convection oven.
15. Remove bread from the oven and place it on a serving dish.
16. In a medium bowl, mix one cup of the powdered sugar with 1 Tbsp of the lemon juice and 1 Tbsp of milk. It should be the texture of soupy toothpaste.
17. Spread the glaze onto the bread with a pastry brush.
18. Let the bread cool for a few minutes with the glaze and then make another batch of the glaze and recoat the bread.