Monday, March 24, 2008

Greek Easter Bread

Every year, the day before Easter, I stay up late to finish baking this bread. This is an all day bread, it takes about 10 hours from start to finish. This year, I was planning on starting it in the morning, rather than at noon like I normally do... but I ended up with the flu this week and just started feeling somewhat normal about noon on Saturday... so that's when I started making the bread.
This is a huge batch, I tried to 1/2 in once and it didn't come out so well, besides- we give some as gifts for Easter and then eat a ton of it. If you use a kitchenaid, it cannot handle this much dough- a Bosch bread mixer can, I have a k-tec mixer and it barely can handle it, I think it's slightly smaller than a Bosch.

Greek Easter Bread
2 c. milk
2 1/2 c. sugar
1 c. butter
3 tsp. salt
1 tsp. crushed anise seed*
4 Tb. yeast
1 c. warm water
6 eggs, beaten
16 c. white flour
Egg wash:
1 egg, beaten
2 Tb. milk
-sesame seeds-

In sauce pan, over medium heat, warm milk, then add sugar, butter, salt and anise. Stir and heat until butter is melted.
Mix yeast and warm water in mixer, let sit.
Beat eggs until they are light and fluffy.
Turn mixer on, add 2 cups of flour and then pour in the beaten egg and the milk either slowly, at the same time or alternating. (As long as you allow it to mix while you are pouring and don't dump it in at once.)
Add the rest of the flour 1 cup at a time, then let knead for 5 minutes. Put into greased bowl, flipping so that all sides are coated in grease. Cover with dish towel, set in oven with just the oven light on. Let rise until doubled, approximately 3 hours. (The bowl I use is about 14" wide and 5" deep.)
Punch down dough, put on floured surface and divide into 5 equal sections.
Divide each section into 3 and make "snakes", with your fingers put a little cold water on the tips of the 3 "snakes", squishing them together to seal. Braid and then seal the other end the same way, tucking slightly so the loaf has a nice finish look. Place on baking sheet, cover with dish cloth and place back in oven (with only the oven light on). Let rise approximately 1 1/2 hours. Just before baking: mix egg and milk for egg wash, brush on loaves and then sprinkle on sesame seeds. Bake at 325 degrees for 40 minutes for skinnier loaves (12-14 inches long) or 50-60 minutes for fat loaves (10-12 inches long). This bread rises more when it's baking.
*Anise seed- I but anise seed in the spice section at the grocery store, and crush it with a mortar and pestle. This seems to have the best flavor.
Traditionally, the breads should have red eggs in the braid, it looks beautiful, but the time I did that the loaf was so huge it didn't get done on the inside, so I gave up and just make smaller loaves- which still come out really big.
This year, because I only have the round stones for baking sheets, I had to make my loaves curved, rather than straight and I put some in loaf pans- I cut one braid in half and put each half into a loaf pan.

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