Well hello faithful (and bored) blog readers. This blog has become very infrequent lately, and for that, I apologize. Hopefully, when I graduate come May, there will be posts on a regular basis.
Exciting things are on the horizon - guess what? Spring has sprung! That means that just around the corner lies gardening!!! Woo-hooo!!!! This summer, my husband and I have a community garden plot at Temple Ambler. An entire 230 square foot space just for us! I went a little crazy ordering seeds, but we're going to squeeze as many fruit and veggie babies out of there as possible. Many things are already growing in the greenhouse and I can't wait to get started outside (pics soon, I promise!).
But, this blog entry is not about gardening, it is about bread. More specifically, my Easter bread adventure. We were having dinner today at Andrew's parent's house and I promised that I would bring the bread. I had seen a great recipe in the NY Times for a Greek Easter bread and told my mother in law, not to worry - I was on the job.
So, last night, I looked and looked and looked through the NYT Easter recipes, but nothing materialized. Sure, there were tons of other tasty recipes - but I wanted to make bread. I searched the history of the computer. Nothing. Googled "NY Times Easter Bread." Nothing. Just as I was about to give up (after a painful hour or so of searching and frustration) I remembered that the recipe was from NPR.org. Whoops. Ok, I felt pretty dumb, but at least I had the recipe for this morning.
So, I got started. The bread is a eggy, buttery, braided loaf. Tsoureki Paschalino. Traditionally, it has a hard boiled egg that has been dyed red stuck in the end. I thought that was a bit too much, so opted to bake the loaf sans-egg. I followed the recipe to the word (well, except I proofed my non-instant yeast first) and although the recipe reads - "Knead for at least 10 minutes at medium speed, adding more flour as needed to keep the dough from becoming too sticky, although it will be somewhat tacky if kneaded in a mixer." - my dough was hard and tough. More like play-doh than bread dough. I was pretty sure I was screwed. With only about 3 hours to go before Easter dinner, I quietly panicked. This dough look horrible. It wasn't sticky, it wasn't bread dough like, and I though my wrists were going to break trying to knead it.
I threw it into an oiled bowl and hoped it might, by some Easter miracle, rise. Still in my sucky bread dough panic, I reached for old faithful (aka Joy of Cooking) and looked for a comparable bread recipe. Challah called my name and seemed like a delicious, if not slightly ironic addition to the meal (hey, it was just Passover - so it was a little homage to my Jewish roots I suppose). The only problem here was that it called for a second rise of 4-12 hours. YIKES! I decided that it might be ok. Made the dough (much better than the first) and set both bowls in the glorious April sun to rise.
You know what? Both rose. A lot. A super lot. And they baked up great. Now, we have lots of bread. Everyone was happy, and they were delicious! I have included NPR's recipe below. This holiday bread has orange zest, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg, and is so tasty. Try it (and let me know if you have the same tough dough problem).
Tsoureki Paschalino (Easter Bread)
Makes 2 loaves
6 to 7 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 package instant yeast (I used 2 1/4 tsp regular active yeast proofed in warm milk, then added to the rest of the wet ingredients)
1 teaspoon salt
Zest of 2 large oranges
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup whole milk, warmed to room temperature
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted
3 large eggs, beaten slightly
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 medium egg, lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon water added
In a large mixing bowl, thoroughly combine 6 cups flour, sugar, yeast, salt, zest, nutmeg and cinnamon.
In another large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, combine milk, butter, eggs, orange juice and vanilla. Add flour mixture and combine well using a large spoon or the paddle attachment on the stand mixer.
If mixing by hand, scoop dough out onto a well-floured surface and knead for at least 15 minutes.
If using a stand mixer, swap to the dough hook. Knead for at least 10 minutes at medium speed, adding more flour as needed to keep the dough from becoming too sticky, although it will be somewhat tacky if kneaded in a mixer. Scoop dough onto a lightly floured surface.
Form dough into a ball by folding edges into the center, turning over and forcing into a ball shape using your palms and fingers to shape.
Clean and dry the largest bowl, then spray lightly with cooking spray. Place dough, seam-side down, in bowl and spray top lightly with oil. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in bulk — 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
Once the dough has risen, punch it down and scoop onto a lightly floured surface. Knead by hand for 3 to 5 minutes. Divide in half, cover and let rest for 15 minutes.
Shape half the dough into a rope 24 inches long, fold in half and braid. Repeat with remaining dough. If you wish, place red-dyed, uncooked egg in center of the fold before braiding. They'll end up perfectly hard-cooked but difficult to peel.
Place the loaves on a greased cookie sheet or baking pan, spritz lightly with oil, and cover with plastic. Let rise until doubled in bulk, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Thirty to 45 minutes before dough has completely risen, heat oven to 350 degrees.
Make an egg wash using 1 beaten egg and 1 tablespoon of water. Brush loaf with the wash. Bake for 30 minutes until golden brown. You can tell the bread is done in the center by tapping the top of the loaf. If it sounds hollow, the loaf is finished. Cool on a rack.