Photos, recipe and text by Chef Joey
That wonderful spring holiday, Easter, is upon us and, as with holidays, food is involved. Main courses vary for Easter, as it is the end of Lent, but meat is usually at the top of the menu. Depending on your heritage, Easter lamb is right up there, but there is one staple food that is widely known and on just about everyone’s table: Easter Bread.
In many European countries, many traditions exist with the use of bread during Easter. Traditionally, the Easter bread is sweetened. I was curious to learn that “Communion” bread traces its origin back to Byzantium and the Orthodox Christian church. However, the recipe for sweeter bread – sweetened with honey – dates as far back to the Homeric Greek period! Many classical texts mention a “honey-bread.” It is also widely known that sweetened bread desserts similar to today’s panettone, were always a Roman favorite.
The Easter holiday is one where “sweet” bread brings itself into the symbolic realm.
The Sweeter breads indicate Easter Sunday and the rising of Christ.
Although bread is significant for religious purposes, it is also symbolic of life. A peasant proverb: “Chie hat pane mai non morit” — “One who has bread never dies.”
Throughout history there have been many shapes of Easter breads. One usually contained two points and an egg covered with a cross. The egg and the points that recall birds in flight speak of fertility, sexuality and procreation — basic themes in Easter and its pagan origins. This was most likely the influence of today’s braided bread.
The second bread was designed to have no general shape, but was rather baked to encircle an egg, with the initials BP put on it. The initials BP stand for Buona Pasquaor – “Happy Easter.”
Babka is a Polish bread also made at Easter. Babka typically is tall and cylindrical, like panetonne. It frequently contains raisins, may be iced on top and is sweet.
Here is a simple, basic Easter bread recipe. You can adjust the sweetness. It is extremely delicious on a Monday morning toasted with butter – just sayin’! It is a basic sweet bread recipe my Greek and Italian family used with a few modern touches. You can place colored, pre-cooked hard boiled eggs in your braid, and there is no limit, usually one egg per household member was incorporated into the bread.
FYI: My Greek family used to boil the eggs in red onion skins to color them; the Italians used red wine instead of water. Try 4 cups of blueberries in water and boil your Easter eggs for lavender! Curry for yellow – the list goes on!💗💚💗💚💚💗
1/2 cup whole milk
10 tablespoons sugar, divided
1 1/4 envelope active dry yeast
4 large eggs, room temperature
6 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup (2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1″ pieces, room temperature, plus 1/2 tablespoon, melted
Heat milk in a small saucepan over medium heat or in a microwave until an instant-read thermometer registers no more than 110°F.
Transfer milk to a bowl; stir in 1 tablespoon sugar.
Sprinkle yeast over milk and whisk to blend.
If the milk is too hot, it will kill the yeast. Let sit until foamy, about 5 minutes.
Add eggs and whisk until smooth.
Combine remaining sugar, flour and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook.
Add milk to mixture. With mixer running, add the room-temperature butter, 1 piece at a time, blending well between additions.
Mix on medium speed for 1 minute.
Knead on medium-high speed until dough is soft and silky, about 5 minutes.
If kneading by hand, have the flour in a separate bowl and add the milk mixture and butter so it incorporates.
Take a bowl double the size of the dough and wipe the inside with some melted butter.
Place dough in bowl. Brush top of dough with remaining melted butter; cover with plastic wrap.
Let dough rise in a warm, draft-free area until doubled in size, 1 – 1 1/2 hours.
Punch down the dough and divide it into 2 equal pieces.
Then divide each piece into 3 equal pieces.
Dust your hands with flour and roll out to about a foot a half (18”). Place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
Arrange ropes side by side lengthwise on prepared sheet.
Pinch top ends together. Braid dough. Pinch bottom ends together to secure (braided loaf will be about 12″ long).
If adding hard boiled eggs, tuck them between braids, spacing evenly. Loosely cover with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel. Let rise in a warm, draft-free area until puffed but not doubled in size, 45-50 minutes.
Arrange a rack in middle of oven; preheat to 375°F.
Whisk remaining egg with 2 teaspoons warm water in a small bowl.
Avoiding dyed eggs, brush dough all over with egg wash. Bake until bread is golden usually about 20 – 25 minutes and a thermometer inserted into center of loaf reads 190°F.
Cool on a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.🎷🎷