A repost (and updating) of a recipe that has come to be the quintessential Easter recipe in our household. Even more so than the leg of lamb, this bread is what we break our fast with on Easter morning (or, depending on if we’re hungry after the Vigil, in the middle of the night). It’s David’s first, strongest association with the holiday. And it’s fundamental rightness in our household celebration delights me.
Since I first developed this recipe, I’ve also added mahlab to the recipe, and this year I will experiment with mastic as well, if I’m lucky at the market. I’ve also moved away from adding melted butter and towards the brioche method of kneading in soft butter at the end.
Bread of Easter Brightness
- 4 1/2 – 5 cups unbleached bread flour
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 2 teaspoons instant yeast
- 1 tablespoon ground cardamom
- 1 teaspoon ground mahlep
- a pinch of mastic, powdered with mortar and pestle
- 1 1/4 cup milk, warm
- 1/2 cup soft butter
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 5 eggs, raw or hard boiled, dyed red
- Optional: egg wash
Combine a cup of flour, the milk, and the yeast to create a poolish, and let it ferment for an hour or two, until it’s very bubbly.
In a large bowl, whisk together 3 1/2 cups of flour, the sugar, salt, and spices. Stir in the poolish and the beaten eggs, and knead for five minutes. Add flour gradually from the remaining half cup, if the dough is very sticky. Gradually knead in the butter. Let the dough rise until it’s doubled in bulk.
Weigh the dough, and divide it into six equal pieces. Roll each piece into an 18″ long rope, and dimple them at the halfway point with a fingertip.
Grease your baking sheet, and pinch together three ropes of dough at the top center of the pain. Braid until you reach the halfway dimples. Two strands of dough will naturally point one direction and the third will point in the opposite direction.
Rotate the pan 180 degrees. Join your remaining three ropes of dough at the top center of the pan and braid as above. Two strands will match up with the one strand from your first braid, and one strand will match up with the other two.
Rotate your pan 90 degrees, and braid these three strands down until you reach the end. Pinch the ends together and curl them under. Rotate the pan 180 degrees and repeat for the last arm of the cross.
At this point, the shaped loaf can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours. If you do this, let the dough return to room temperature and proof until doubled before you bake it.
Proof the loaf until it is doubled. Preheat your oven to 400 F. When the loaf is ready, you may brush the top with your egg wash and sprinkle it with the sesame seeds or sliced almonds. (I don’t like the texture of an egg wash and prefer the softer, more rustic look, so I skip it.) Insert the five red eggs into the cross. Nestle them deeply in between the strands of the braid, wide end down, or the oven spring will push them out. If you use raw eggs, they will cook fully during baking, hardboiled will be heavily overdone. Eggs dyed red with yellow onion skins don’t bleed as much as eggs with food coloring.
Bake the loaf at 400 F for 20 minutes, or until the loaf’s internal temperature reaches 185 F. Cool before cutting. It’s delicious when fresh and warm, but it shouldn’t be too hot to eat.
It’s a lot of bread, the recipe ought to halve well enough, but you probably can’t get a cross loaf out of a half recipe. If you make a half batch, I recommend just a straight braided loaf (with red eggs tucked into the ends).