"Easter isn't Easter unless I make this bread," says Christine Cushing. Ms. Cushing, who was born in Greece and raised in Canada, has been the family keeper of this Easter tradition since the age of 12. "I used to camp out on sleeping bags in the living room with my cousins so we could set the timer and sleep between risings – it took me all night."
Servings: 3 loaves
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1½ teaspoons ground mahlepi, or ground cherry stones, available at specialty Greek food shops
1 teaspoon ground mastiha
2 packages active dry yeast
¾ cup sugar
zest of 1 lemon
zest of 1 orange
½ cup warm milk
⅓ cup warm water, about body temperature
1 tablespoon sugar
⅓ cup melted butter
about ½ cup all-purpose flour for kneading
1 beaten egg for brushing bread
Preheat oven to 350.
In mixing bowl with hook attachment, combine dry ingredients and zests.
In small bowl, combine warm water, one tablespoon sugar. Add yeast, stir and let stand five minutes or until frothy.
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl whisk together warm milk, eggs, sugar and melted butter.
Add yeast mixture to flour mixture with mixer on low speed.
Add the eggs mixture and mix until dough is sticky and begins to come together. Turn mixture onto well-floured surface and knead, adding more flour as required. Dough may not require full amount of flour. It should be smooth and elastic but slightly sticky to the touch. The process should take about 10 minutes.
Let rise in well-buttered bowl, covered with plastic, in a draft-free area at room temperature, for 90 minutes or until doubled in size.
Punch down and transfer to counter. Gently pat down until a rough rectangle forms. Cut dough with pastry cutter or knife into nine equal strands, about 7 inches by 2½.
Working with one strand at a time, gently hold each end and tap like skipping rope on counter until slightly but evenly stretched. Repeat with two other strands. Braid three strands together tucking the ends under to fasten. If desired, place red-tinted hard-boiled egg into one end of the braid between two of the strands. Transfer braid onto large baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Repeat with remaining dough.
Cover with tea towel and let the braids rise in a warm place for about 50 minutes or until finger imprint does not spring back.
Brush with beaten egg and bake on middle rack of preheated oven for 35 minutes or until brown and hollow sounding when tapped on bottom.