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Greek Easter bread – the execution and completion

My starter had been going since Monday – I fed it a bit each morning all week long and gave it a little refreshment Saturday morning so it would be rarin’ to go once it was added to the dough mixture – Reinhart’s recipe for artos (which after reading that link, I realize isn’t technically artos. This bread was NOT blessed by a priest at any point during its brief existence) calls for wild yeast starter and a bit of commercial yeast. I prepared a mise en place which has become vital in my new kitchen since I don’t know where anything is yet:

I was making the lambropsomo/Easter version which calls for all light colored fruits. Anything this pretty in the bowl will look gorgeous in the bread, right?

golden raisins, chopped dried apricots, and toasted slivered almonds


All the ingredients combined:

I made a special trip out to buy mahleb, which is the ground pit of Prunus mahaleb, a cherry native to Central Europe and parts of the Middle East and considered an invasive in some parts of the US. The pits of most Prunus species are notorious for containing cyanide – so maybe this label is meant as a distraction:

cheery!


I tasted some before I added it and loved the flavor – it is nutty and slightly bitter but definitely unique and, I think, a much better alternative to the more traditional cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice recommended in the recipe. Don’t let the presence of cyanide scare you, you eat a bit when you eat an almond anyway (which, come to think of it, this bread also contains, along with almond extract. Was it the cyanide that made it so delicious?!).
The dough came together really, really quickly but it was really pretty tiny:

After so many other BBA Challenge bakers mentioned how enormous their loaves were, I was a little concerened, but I needn’t have been – this produces one giant loaf of bread in the end.
I kneaded about 12 minutes, adding maybe 1/2 cup more flour – I don’t maintain specific hydration proportions on my starter, and I think it’s on the wet side, so that didn’t really surprise me. The dough was smooth, silky and a joy to work – until I had to incorporate the fruit. It took a lot of muscle and a lot more than two additional minutes. Here’s the dough before rising:

And here it is after 90 minutes fermentation:

(You can’t really tell the difference in these photos, but trust me, it doubled)
I divided it into three sections for a braid. I weighed the dough mass, eye-balled the division and then weighed each one just to double check but I was spot on:

And then I braided, which I enjoyed tremendously:

Off to proof for 60-90 minutes. It finished in 60:

Then into the oven. Others have mentioned how wonderful this smelled while baking, and it is insanely, deliciously aromatic. The mahleb takes on a life of its own, and between this bread in the oven, homemade bbq sauce on the stove top, and the pork shoulder smoking in our new smoker out back, we were pretty much losing our minds at this point. I baked this loaf on parchment on a stone. This isn’t really necessary, as it isn’t a very crusty bread, but it was in the oven anyway so I went with it. It finished right on time:

Since I wasn’t serving the bread until the next day, I originally planned on glazing it later. After re-reading the recipe, though, Reinhart recommends glazing as soon as it comes out of the oven, so I did. Or, I should say, my husband did – a job he relished with surprising zeal, even though it caused him to miss 5 minutes of the MSU/Butler game upon which the success of his entire bracket depended:

The glaze kept perfectly well over night, so there was nothing to worry about. It probably helped keep the bread moist, too.
You’ll note the lack of dyed eggs decorating the bread. I ended up deciding that it wasn’t worth the effort if people were going to think it was weird, and in the end, I was really glad I didn’t risk any dye sullying this gorgeous, impressive loaf. By this point, I had obviously changed my tune about the size of this bread – it is gigantic. Humongously gigantic – it barely fit on the stone and it barely fit on the cooling rack. It was so big (and sticky), in fact, that this was how we had to transport it over to our friends’ house:

I also made a lemon-meringue pie to take over to the dinner. I had never made one before and it turned out beautifully. It was, however, extremely stressful to transport. It had just come out of the oven when we had to leave and nothing had set. I had the pie on my lap and watched it blobble around with every little bump and stop – I swore it would be a miracle if it made it over there in one piece, but it did!

It was delicious, but not nearly as utterly delicious as the bread:

Everyone absolutely loved it. The flavor is just so incredible that it compels you to keep eating more. The texture of the fruit and almonds is fun to chew and the crumb is perfectly moist, just a little bit rich, gorgeously colored. This will definitely become an Easter tradition!

Greek Easter bread – the preface

My new landlord is Greek, Easter is this weekend, and I’ve been fascinated by the recipes for Artos, Greek celebration breads, ever since I first cracked open my copy of BBA. I plan on heading over to Kalustyan’s tomorrow at lunch to buy mahleb and maybe mastic to make lambropsomo in honor of all these forces coming together (it’s also why I started the BBA challenge last weekend. Perfect timing!).
I am finally replenishing my wild yeast starter after a very long dormancy:

but I am literally agonizing over every other detail of this thing. Should I use the mastic? HOW do I use the mastic? I guess that one will be answered by the cost of the mastic when I do my shopping.
Update: I didn’t buy mastic, because right on the package it said “colorless! odorless! tasteless!” so apparently, it wasn’t the right kind of mastic (though, coincidentally enough, it was right next to the mahleb). In any case, I wasn’t spending $7 for a bag of tasteless rocks.
Do I use lemon or orange zest (I’m leaning toward orange, frankly)? And the shaping! So many options! How about the eggs – do I use them? I am hesitant to, because the way the dye bled in many bakers’ loaves looks really unappetizing. If I do, I plan on dying them the traditional, natural way. Is there a way to prevent the dye bleeding? Do I hard boil them first? If I don’t bake with the eggs in the bread, will they stay on for display? Will our friends who invited us over for Easter dinner think I am 100% out of my mind if I show up with a loaf of bread with dyed eggs baked into it? I plan on baking on Saturday, so I have basically three days to figure out these answers. Your input in not only welcome, but necessary!