Friday, April 29, 2011

Greek Easter Bread! Yum!

In honor of my sweet Mom, you taught me well (!) . . .
(to the left is one of my favorite pictures of my mom and I, on the docks of Hotel Bora Bora when I was nine)

Easter was hard for me this year. Not only was it the last time I saw my mom before she died last year, but it was also always one of "her" holidays. Normally I don't even give it a thought because my mom always asks me what we are doing. Of course, since we didn't "traditionally" celebrate the holiday we always used it as an excuse to hang out all together and have a good meal, usually something amazing that my mom would cook.

This year, even though I was sad, I used it as an opportunity to start a new tradition. I decided to make some Greek Easter Bread. It is a long process, not too difficult, but just takes a while. My mom used to love making it for my Dad as there are some foods he gets hankerings for being away from his homeland. I remember helping her when I was younger and then eagerly awaiting the fresh cooked bread to come out of the oven. Now it was Serafin's turn to help and enjoy the outcome!

For those of you who didn't know my mom, she was an AMAZING cook. She actually had taken lessons from Julia Child at one point. Her food was mouthwatering, diverse, and, of course, NOT non-fat. A year before she passed away she asked me what I wanted for Christmas and I told her how cool it would be to have a compilation of her huge (and very messy) cookbook. I don't know how she knew where things were in that binder of recipes, it was a huge mish-mash of hand written pages and magazine clippings. Somehow though, that Christmas, my mom produced a neatly typed binder of all my favorite recipes. Included were old family dishes, Greek food, and my childhood favorites. It was also prefaced by a sweet letter from my Mom, words that I have read many times since she passed. This cook book is a treasure to have and I am especially grateful that all the wonderful foods that my mom once cooked are not lost forever.

Straight from my mom's cookbook and into our mouths, please enjoy making some Greek Easter Bread (Tsoureki). It is most definitely worth the time and effort.

Makes 4 twists

4-5 lbs white flour, sifted with 1 T. salt
4 yeast cakes or 4 packages dried yeast, dissolved in 1 cup of warm water
10 eggs beaten, with 1 1/2 cup milk
1 tsp. allspice
1 1/2 tsp. anise or 3 tsp ouzo
3 egg yolks
1/3 cup sesame seeds
1/3 cup sliced almonds

Boil the allspice and anise (ouzo) in 1 cup water and set aside, reserving water. Place 4 lbs of the sifted flour and salt in a large bowl, and make a well in the center of the flour. Add the yeast with water, eggs with sugar and mix, but do not knead; add the melted butter and milk, and the reserved liquid from the allspice and anise (ouzo); mix with your hands to blend ingredients thoroughly, adding more flour as needed (you will end up using all the 5 pounds of flour).

Then knead until the dough is smooth. Place dough on a floured board and knead until firm, smooth and not sticky. Brush the dough with melted butter, cover with towels , and set in warm place to rise until double in size. Knead again, brush with butter, and allow to rise until again twice in size. Repeat this process one more time (3 times altogether).

When dough is ready, divide it into 4 balls. Divide each section into 3 small balls and roll out each ball with your hands into a long narrow rope. Take the ropes of dough, press them together at the top and braid them, then press the ends together to form a wreath or leave straight. Brush twists with egg yolks, sprinkle with sesame seeds, place in greased baking pans and bake at 325 degrees (350) until golden brown. (45 minutes plus)