Friday, March 26, 2010

Easter Bread

This is another family recipe handed down for generations. There are many different ways to shape the loaves. My mother used to make beautiful long braids of the dough. My grandmother used to shape the dough into little Easter baskets with braided handles and then insert a colored boiled egg in the basket. I like to make small round loaves, and the following recipe makes 6. This bread is delicious, and even more so when toasted with butter.

10 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup Crisco
1 cup milk
3 packages dry yeast
8 eggs, beaten

Combine flour, salt and sugar in a very large bowl. Dissolve the Crisco in warm milk and let cool a bit while you proof the yeast in warm water and sugar (about 1/2 cup water and 1 Tblsp. sugar). Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Add the beaten eggs, then the yeast, then the Crisco/milk mixture and work each into the dry ingredients with your hands before adding the next. Mix the dough and continue to add more warm or room temperature milk until the dough forms nicely. Knead until smooth and pliable. Grease the dough and the bowl and then place the dough back into the bowl, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and then a kitchen towel or two. Let the dough raise in a warm place until doubled.

Divide the dough into 6 pieces. I cut the dough in half, then each half in thirds. If you want each loaf to be exactly the same size, you can weigh the dough on a kitchen scale. It does help with the baking to have them exactly the same size, but it is not necessary. Form each piece into a round loaf. There is no way to describe how to do this. You sort of roll the dough on a flat surface and form it into a round shape as you roll it, and try to keep it as smooth as possible, otherwise when baked it will crumble when cut. Don't be discouraged if you don't get it right the first time. (First timers may want to try half a recipe and make only 3 loaves to start). Place rounds on a greased cookie sheet or you can use parchment paper if preferred. You can usually fit two rounds to a sheet. If you put three on a sheet they may stick together when raising again or when baking. Place the cookie sheets in a warm spot covered again with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel, and raise again.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat one egg and 1 Tblsp. water in a small bowl and brush top of each loaf until fully covered. This will give the bread a shiny brown appearance when baked. Bake 15 to 20 minutes, depending upon your oven. I need to leave the loaves in more than 20 minutes, keeping a close eye and setting my timer for an additional minute or two. You want to make sure that the middle gets baked, and for that to happen the outside of the bread will be very brown. You can tell if it is done by tapping on top of a loaf, and if it sounds kind of hollow, it's ready. For the first time you may want to cut one of the loaves in half and see if it is done before removing the others from the oven or turning the oven off. If it is not done, leave it in for a few more minutes.

The aroma while this bread is baking is magnificent, and you will be rewarded for your hard work by many "umm, umm, good" compliments and of course the taste of this delicious bread for yourself. While it is named "Easter Bread", it can be made and enjoyed all year long. Happy Easter!