Sweet Easter Bread

Sweet Easter Bread

Yes…I know Easter is six months away, but after finally getting this recipe right I couldn’t possibly wait for half a year to share it. Technically speaking this is a Easter bread traditionally served on Easter morning along with Easter eggs, but I make it all year round and serve it for breakfast. It is a staple holiday loaf all over Eastern Europe, from Russia, through Bulgaria to Czech Republic, called with different names but essentially the same delicious thing. As a child I often spent the Easter break in a pretty town on the coast of the Black sea called Varna, and I still remember the sweet aroma filling the bakery where my mom used to buy the Easter bread. I would devour my peace of Kozunak along with a bowl of sweetened Bulgarian yogurt and the red Easter egg I had just fought the egg fight with.

Ingredients:

4 cups all purpose flour plus more for dusting
1 tsp salt
1 cup milk, warm
2 Tbs dry yeast
6 Tbs sugar, divided plus more to sprinkle over the loaf
2 eggs at room temperature
2 1/2 Tbs butter, melted
1tsp vanilla extract
zest of 1 orange
2 tsp of canola or corn oil for oiling the world surface
2-3 Tbs of raisins (optional)

For the egg wash:
1 eggs, beaten
2 Tbs water

Make the dough: In a large bowl sift together the flour and the salt.
In a measuring cup stir together the warm (not hot) milk, the yeast and 3 Tbs of the sugar and put in a warm place, such as the microwave for 10 minutes or until very bubbling. The sugar and the warmth will activate the yeast.
In a small bowl whisk together the melted (but not hot) butter, the remaining 3 Tbs of sugar and the eggs.

Knead: Make a well in the middle of the flour and gently add the milk and the eggs mixture. Knead for 7-10 minutes of until the dough is smooth. Because of the butter and sugar it contains, the dough will not look as silky as regular bread dough. If too sticky add 1 more Tbs of flour. Transfer the dough to a well floured bowl, cover it with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm, free of draft place such as the oven, for at least 1 hour of until it doubles in volume.

Braid: Spread the cooking oil on your work surface and transfer the dough on it. Press the air out of it by flattening it with the palms of your hands. If you are using raising, sprinkle them over the dough at this time. Then roll it into a log and cut in 3 equal pieces. Roll each piece of dough into a 40cm rope, then pinch together the 3 ends and braid loosely into a simple braid. Tuck the ends under and gently transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper . Cover with a kitchen towel or a loose piece of plastic wrap and let rise a second time for 40-60 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 175C/350F.

Make the egg wash by whisking together the egg and water. Right before putting it in the oven quickly brush the braided loaf and sprinkle it with a generous handful of sugar.

Bake in medium position for 20 minutes.

Serve it with a drizzle of honey and a cup of freshly brewed coffee. I always have it with just a bowl of sweetened plain yogurt.

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