Most Eastern European households have a recipe for a sweet eggy bread made at Easter. This is my family's version - a sweet nutmeg and lemon scented bread with a toothsome softness.
The glory of this bread, of course, is its vast size - nearly 2 feet long! - and beautiful braiding. It looks complicated but it's truly not difficult at all. It makes a spectacular holiday centerpiece, and the sweet, moist flavor is indescribable. Read on for the recipe and more photos of braiding the bread...
The official recipe follows, but here's the general steps, since it does look pretty overwhelming at first.
1. Make the sweet dough and let it rise until doubled.
2. Roll out and divide into strips and braid the first four into the bottom layer.
3. Braid the next three and place on top.
4. Twist the last two on top. Brush the whole thing with egg yolk and sprinkle almonds on top.
makes one very large loaf
8 cups flour
1/2 pound unsalted butter
2 packages (0.25 oz. each) yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup cream
2 cups milk, scalded and cooled to lukewarm
1 cup sugar (less 1 tablespoon)
1 tablespoon salt
2 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
1 cup chopped blanched almonds
1 cup golden raisins, plumped in warm water and drained well
2 teaspoons grated lemon rind
1 teaspoon nutmeg
Extra beaten egg yolk
Slivered almonds, for garnish
Work butter into flour with your fingers until well combined.
Put yeast, sugar & sweet cream together in a separate bowl. Let stand for about five minutes or until it gets bubbly.
Mix the milk, extra sugar and salt and stir well. Beat eggs until light. Add the milk, and then the yeast mixture. Beat in the flour mixture, stirring at the end. Add almonds, raisins, and lemon rind.
Knead thoroughly 15-20 minutes. Cover and let rise for two hours or until doubled in size. Punch down and shape into smooth round ball.
Roll out 9 strips, each 18 inches long. Braid four for the bottom row, then three on top of of that, and twist the last two strips on top. Place on a lightly greased sheet and brush with beaten yolk and sprinkle chopped almonds on top.
Let rise for 1 hour.
Bake at 350ºF for 30 minutes, then lower temperatore to 250ºF and bake for another 30 minutes.
Let cool before slicing.