I love holiday traditions of every shape and size, especially if they’re food-related. I feel like Easter sometimes gets the short end of the stick when it comes to food traditions. Thanksgiving is the holiday that is most especially all about the food, and Christmas gives us an excuse to bake cookies and make candy for the better part of a month. However, when it comes to Easter, everyone is gearing up for summer, no one wants to eat heavy, and the beginning of spring ushers in cravings for things that are light and fresh.
Growing up, there were three things that always meant Easter was right around the corner: pigu, bacon cheese bread, and fried dough “bow ties” sprinkled in powdered sugar. My grandma made all of those, and I have such vivid memories of all of us spilling into her house after Good Friday services to devour trays of pigu while we watched movies or played games. The bacon cheese bread had to wait for Saturday, and the fried dough made its appearance on Easter Sunday.
Over the last few years, I have added more traditional Easter breads to my repertoire: Italian Easter bread, paska (Polish/Ukranian Easter bread), and hot cross buns have all graced my table at one point or another. When I ran across a recipe for a version of Greek Easter bread, I wanted to try it immediately.
The Greek bread is very similar to the Italian bread in that it is a sweet bread infused with orange flavor. While the Italian bread also includes anise flavoring and is covered in a thin icing and sprinkles, the Greek bread is braided with dyed red eggs nestled inside for decoration.
Sweet bread with a beautiful brown crust?
I don’t think I need to tell you how little time it took for one loaf of this bread to disappear in my house. It rivaled the great ciabatta take-down.
I love accumulating holiday recipes more than most anything food-related, so I’m thrilled to add another fabulous recipe to my collection!
Do you have any special Easter food traditions or recipes in your family?
Make the Red Easter Eggs: Place the eggs in a large pot, cover with 2 inches of water, and bring to a boil over high heat. Cover the pot and remove from heat. Let stand for 7 minutes. Transfer the eggs to a bowl of ice water and let stand until chilled, about 10 minutes, then drain.
Pour the 6 cups of water into a large bowl. Stir in the food coloring and vinegar until combined. Add the eggs and let stand until deep red, about 2 hours. Lightly rinse the eggs under running water and let dry on a paper towel-lined plate.
Make the Bread: Combine 1½ cups of the all-purpose flour, sugar and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment; whisk on low speed to combine. Increase the speed to medium-low and gradually add the warmed milk to the mixer bowl, scraping down the sides if necessary. Mix until combined. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let stand until bubbling, about 30 minutes.
Return the mixer bowl to the stand and attach the dough hook. On medium speed, mix in the lightly beaten eggs in 3 additions. Add the remaining 1 cup all-purpose flour and salt and mix until incorporated. Add the butter, orange zest, orange juice and vanilla, mixing until combined. Gradually mix in 2 cups of the bread flour, scraping down the sides of the bowl if necessary; then add enough of the remaining bread flour to form a soft, slightly sticky dough that pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
Increase the speed to medium-high and mix until the dough is very smooth, about 8 minutes. Form the dough into a ball, place in a greased bowl and turn to coat. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until 1½ times its original size, about 1½ hours.
Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. Punch down the dough and cut the dough in half with a bench scraper or sharp knife. Set one half aside and cover with plastic wrap. Cut the other half into 3 equal pieces and roll each piece into a 16-inch-long rope. Loosely braid the ropes together, pinching the ends to seal, and place the loaf diagonally on one of the baking sheets. Repeat the process with the other half of dough. Loosely cover each loaf with plastic wrap coated with non-stick cooking spray and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, 1 to 1½ hours.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F and adjust the racks to the upper-third and lower-third positions.
Transfer the baking sheets to the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Remove one baking sheet from the oven. Quickly and carefully push 5 eggs, larger side down, into the center of the loaf, spacing them evenly down the length. Brush the dough with the egg wash and immediately return to the oven. Repeat with the second loaf.
Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F and bake, rotating baking sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway through, until the loaves are deep golden and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom, about 25 minutes more. Transfer the bread to a wire rack; let cool completely before slicing. The bread can be stored at room temperature, wrapped in foil, for up to 2 days.
Note: The recipe advises not eating the decorative red eggs.Nutritional values are based on one serving