Chef Joey made all the breads pictured here for his friends and family! From top to bottom: Italian bread, dinner rolls, Focaccia, Sweet bread! Go, Joey, go!!!!
Text, recipes, photos by Chef Joey
Wonderful spring is upon us and, as with all holidays, food is involved. Main courses vary for this Holiday, as it is the end of Lent, and meat is usually on the top of the list, and depending on your heritage, lamb is right up there. But there is one staple food that is widely known and on just about everyone’s table, and that is Bread.
In many European countries, many traditions exist with the use of bread during Easter/spring. Traditionally, the 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 back as far as 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 for life. A peasant proverb mentions, “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.”
Romania and Moldova also have a traditional Easter bread called Pasca. Ukrainians call it Paska, and they tend to decorate it with symbols, crosses, braids and other designs as a tribute to Eastern Catholic and Orthodox faith. The term Pasca is “Easter” in the Eastern Orthodox faith, similar to Pâques in French. It is derived from the Hebrew pesah, who have their own sweet Challah Bread. The Romanian Pasca bread, however, is made with cheese (and may also include fruits, nuts, or chocolate for decoration). It is usually be found alongside another traditional sweet bread which Romanians and Bulgarians make for Easter and Christmas called cozonac.
Babka is also a Ukrainian, Polish and Belarusian bread also made at Easter. Rather than being broad and round, like Paska, Babka typically is tall and cylindrical, like panetonne. It frequently contains raisins, may be iced on top, and is much sweeter than Paska. Babka usually is only made, like Paska, to celebrate Easter Sunday and the rising of Christ.
Here is a simple basic spring bread recipe – you can adjust the sweetness as you like. It is extremely delicious!! Monday morning toasted with butter – just sayin’!
This 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 blueberries in water, and boil your 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
4large eggs, room temperature
6 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup (2 stick) unsalted butter, cut nto 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 n 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; whisk until smooth.
Combine remaining sugar, flour, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add milk 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.
Pinch bottom ends together to secure (braided loaf will be about 12″ long).
If adding hard boiled colored eggs, tuck them between the 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 registers 190°F.
Let cool on a wire rack so moisture does not make the bottom wet.
Serve warm or at room temperature!
CELEBRATE LIFE! CELEBRATE SPRING!