I always thought it was an awfully sadistic system that made you prepare your Easter feast during Holy Week, which is of course the strictest fast period in the church calendar, but you do come out feeling like a hero -- I know, I know real martyrs were burned with hot oil and things like that, but cooking divine-smelling easter bread on Good Friday when you can't eat anything must be a close second on the list of horrible tortures (although I think there must be a disproportionate level of masochists in the Orthodox Church because it seems to work out okay)!
Greek Easter Bread (or Tsoureki) is a braided egg bread and is traditionally braided around hard-boiled red eggs. My mom used to use dyed eggs that my sisters and I made, which made for a eclectic mix of colors (depending on the age of the children at the time). I guess this year, no one was dying Easter eggs at home since, as you'll see from her photo, she didn't put any in her bread.
GREEK EASTER BREAD
If you follow to a "t", this recipe takes 11 hours just for the raising of the yeast/dough. From year to year I forget this part, so instead of the 8 hours for the second rising I usually only do 4. And for the second rising after braiding, often just 1 - as I've started the bread later in the day than intended and have to get it in the oven so I can go to bed when it comes out!
1 pkg yeast (2 1/4 tsp)
1/2 C warm water
1 lemon peel, grated
2 C warm milk
1/2-1 tsp crushed cardamom seeds
6-8 cups of flour (or more)
1/2 pound butter, melted
5 eggs, plus one yolk
2 C plus 1 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt if using unsalted butter
Dissolve yeast in warm water. Add 1 cup warm milk, 1 T sugar and 1 1/2 C flour to make a pudding-like batter. Cover and let stand in a warm place for 1 hour.
Meanwhile, combine 2 C sugar and eggs and egg yolk. Place 5 C flour in large pan/bowl and add orange and lemon peel, cardamom, remaining 1 C milk and melted butter, and salt (if needed). Stir in yeast mixture, and then sugar-egg mixture. Add flour as needed to make a kneadable dough. Knead gently. ( I add a little flour at a time, sifted through a strainer to avoid lumps.)
Place dough in a clean oiled pan (I use a really huge metal bowl). Put dough in bowl, roll around a little to get it oiled, then turn upsidedown so the oiled part is at the top. Cover with dampened dish towel or paper towels, checking to be sure they stay damp so dough on top doesn't get dried out or crusty while rising. Let rise for 8 hours (4 seems to work fine).
Punch down, knead lightly again and divide into 9 balls for 3 larger loaves (that you can braid dyed hard-boiled eggs into) or 12 balls for 4 smaller loaves.
Shape each ball into a long strip - 18 to 24 inches- then braid 3 strips together. Place the 3 loaves on a greased cookie sheet (each on its own cookie sheet), cover with damp paper or dish towels (I use paper cause it's hard to clean dough off of the dish towels if it sticks) and let rise for 2 hours. (Here's where it's usually getting late on Holy Friday night and I cheat and let it rise an hour.) Brush the top of the loaves with the lightly beaten egg white and bake at 325 degrees F for 30 minutes.
Allow to cool on racks. Wrap in plastic wrap. Bread can be frozen, in a deep freeze for months even, and defrosted for a taste of Pascha when called for!
Christ is Risen!
Thanks Mom! One of my favorite breakfasts of all time (and the one I like to eat every day the week after Easter) is a plate of egg bread with crispy bacon! Can't wait!