Celebrating Easter with traditional Greek bread


Most cultures have a special bread associated with religious holidays. St. Patrick’s Day has Irish soda bread, Christmas has stollen and Easter has Tsoureki Paschalino — Greek Easter bread.

I first saw a recipe for this sweet holiday bread in a San Francisco Chronicle food section in 2010. I liked the sound of the bread, but I didn’t want to make anything that produced three to four loaves and included a hard-to-find ingredient such as mahlepi, a fruity Greek spice. I opted to search for a more accessible version and found this.

Traditional versions of the bread call for cardamom and mahlepi, but I don’t like cardamom and mahlepi isn’t something most grocery stores carry. The version I made may be less traditional, but I had all the ingredients on hand and I enjoyed the flavor of the final product. I decided to make two 12-inch loaves instead of a 24-inch loaf so I could store one and serve the other one. Everyone enjoyed this sweet bread, especially warm with a bit of butter on it. It has a nice orange spice flavor and the egg adds a nice splash of color.

Regardless of what you eat today, I hope you have a happy Easter.

3 to 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 package instant yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
Zest of 1 large orange
Pinch of nutmeg
Pinch of cinnamon
1/2 cup milk whole milk, warmed to room temperature
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, melted
2 large eggs, beaten slightly; set 1 tablespoon aside for glazing
1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

In a large mixing bowl, thoroughly combine 3 cups flour, sugar, yeast, salt, zest, nutmeg and cinnamon.

In another large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer combine milk, butter, all but 1 tablespoon of 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. Adding more flour if needed.

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 3-5 minutes.

Shape the dough into a rope 24 inches long, fold in half, and braid. If you wish, place dyed, uncooked eggs in center of the fold before braiding. They’ll end up perfectly hard-cooked but difficult to peel.

Place the loaf 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 the remaining egg and one 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.

Spicing up the Christmas cookie assortment


I’m in the middle of my baking test runs, the annual tradition of testing out new recipes to make for Christmas Eve. So far I’ve tried cherry shortbread dipped in chocolate, chocolate mocha sandwich cookies, chocolate gingerbread and chai spice cookies.

I came across the chai spice cookies on Better Homes and Gardens a month or two ago and bookmarked it as a holiday baking idea. I regularly enjoy Bigelow’s Vanilla Chai at work, but had never thought to use it in a cookie. I was on the hunt for a new spice cookie for the assortment this year and this looked like a promising option.

Whenever I test a recipe, I only make a half batch so, in case I don’t like it, I’m not stuck with a lot of it. I should have made a whole batch of these chai cookies. They were like shortbread with chai thrown in, topped with a drizzle of icing. But chai isn’t for everyone, so I took it to work to gauge the reaction to the cookies. My coworkers loved them.

Better Home and Gardens had this labeled as one of its newest recipes. They hit it out of the park. These will be making an appearance on my tray of Christmas cookies this year. I hope they’re as well-received by my family as they were at work.

2 spiced chai-flavored tea bags
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 1/2 cups butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons molasses
1 recipe Powdered Sugar Icing (see recipe below)

Remove tea bag contents (3 teaspoons); discard bags. In medium bowl combine tea, flour, and
pumpkin pie spice; set aside.

In large mixing bowl beat butter on medium to high 30 seconds. Add sugar; beat until light and fluffy. Beat in egg yolks and molasses. Beat in as much of the flour mixture as you can; stir in remaining flour. Divide dough in half. Cover and refrigerate about 3 hours or until easy to handle.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease cookie sheets or line with parchment paper. On lightly floured surface, roll half of the dough at a time until 1/4-inch thickness. Cut dough with 4-inch gingerbread girl cutters.

Bake 12 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Cool on cookie sheets 2 minutes. Transfer to rack to cool completely. Decorate with Powdered Sugar Icing. Makes 18 to 20 cookies.

Powdered Sugar Icing
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract
3-4 teaspoons milk

In a small bowl stir together powdered sugar, vanilla or almond extract, and enough milk (3 to 4 teaspoons) to make icing drizzling consistency.