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from "The Olive and the Caper" by Susanna Hoffman

The joyous festivities and the marvelous foods of Easter sweep every Greek into their embrace. Every family roasts a whole lamb or goat, stews a joint of the meat or simmers Mageiritsa soup. The baking that has been going on for days now manifests as sumptuous treats: sweet Koulouria rings, powdered sugar cookies, cheese pies and the most essential, the Easter bread, called Lambropsomi or Tsoureki, the bread varies slightly in shape and flavoring from region to region, but it is always rich, sweet and most important, decorated with eggs dyed red. The crust is honey brown, the crumb airy and a rich ocher. The pieces waft their piney, mastic aroma. No wonder family members hover until the bread is broken and with it, make communion with both their faith and one another.

Makes two 1 1/2- to 1 3/4-pound loaves

1 1/2 cups milk, scalded and cooled to lukewarm
1 package active dry yeast
1 cup sugar
7 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground mahlepi (see Notes)*
1 teaspoon powered mastic (mastiha; see Notes)**
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, cut into small pieces, at room temperature
4 large eggs, beaten until frothy
Olive oil, for coating the dough and the baking sheets
1 egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon milk, for the wash
1/2 cup (about 2 ounces) sliced almonds
4 to 6 Red Eggs (recipe follows)

Red Eggs
3 cups water
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons red food coloring
4 to 6 eggs (see Notes)
Olive oil

*/** FreshDirect Note: As suggested in the author's notes, we've omitted mahlepi and included vanilla extract as a substitute for mastic.

Print Print recipe

1. Pour 3/4 cup of the milk into a bowl. Add the yeast, 1 tablespoon of the sugar and 1 cup of the flour and stir to mix. Set aside in a warm place until lightly spongy all the way through, 30 minutes.
2. Sift the remaining sugar, 5 cups of the flour and the salt into a large mixing bowl. Add the mahlepi*, mastic** and butter and briefly mix with your fingers. Make a well in the center and pour in the beaten eggs, yeast mixture and remaining 3/4 cup milk. Knead with your hands until you can gather the mixture in a ball, 1 to 2 minutes.
3. Dust the work surface with some of the remaining 1 1/2 cups flour. Transfer the dough to the floured surface and knead, dusting the surface with flour as needed, until dough is smooth and elastic and no longer sticky, 10 minutes.
4. Lightly coat the dough ball with oil and place it in a clean bowl. Cover the bowl with a cloth and set it aside in a warm place to rise until the dough has doubled in bulk, about 2 hours.
5. Punch down the dough and transfer it to a lightly floured surface. Knead the dough again for 1 minute, then divide it in half. Cover the two portions with cloth and let them rest until puffed up again, 20 minutes.
6. Divide one of the portions of dough into thirds. With your hands, roll each third to form a rope about 20 inches long. When you have three ropes, braid them together. Pinch the ends together, tuck them under the braid and place the braid on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Repeat with remaining portion. Set the braids aside, covered in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
7. When you are ready to bake the bread, preheat the oven to 350° F.
8. When you are ready with the egg wash. Press 2 or 3 red eggs into each braid and sprinkle the almonds over the top. Bake until very golden on the top and sides 40 to 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest on the baking sheet for 30 minutes. Slice and serve while still warm, or cool completely and wrap in plastic wrap. The bread will keep at room temperature for up to 1 week.
• If necessary, 1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla extract can be substituted for the mastic and the mahlepi can be omitted—but the flavor of bread will not be traditional.
• Some cooks also add about 1 tablespoon coarsely grated orange zest to the dough.
• If you're one who loves warm bread, you can slice the loaf right after it comes out of the oven; the texture will be more spongy and cake-like than bread-like.
Red Eggs
As much as the lamb, eggs are emblem of the Greek Easter. To Greeks, spring eggs denote sudden wealth, the fertility of the coming summer, abundance and above all else, joy. Announcing Christ's resurrection in a splendid splash of color, the eggs for the Easter bread are dyed red. In earlier days this was done in water tinted scarlet form beets, the first spring vegetable, or, where it was available, reddish wood. Now cooks generally use commercial packets of dye. The dyeing begins on Holy Thursday, before the solemnity of Good Friday wraps the week in black. Indeed, Holy Thursday is sometimes called Kokkinopefti, "the day red falls," to symbolize Christ's blood.
1. Place the water in a saucepan just large enough to hold the eggs in one layer and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the vinegar and red food coloring. Reduce the heat to just below the boiling point, and gently, one at a time, add as many eggs as will fit in one layer. Cook for 15 minutes, adjusting the heat so the liquid simmers without boiling. Then remove the pan form the heat and set the eggs aside to cool in the liquid for at least 40 minutes.
2. Lift the eggs out of the liquid and pat them dry on paper towels.
3. Grease your hands with olive oil and rub the eggs to make them glossy. Use right away or store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Note The color of the eggshell affects the depth of color when the eggs are dyed. Brown eggs turn out a denser red; white eggs turn out more luminescent.

Buy The Ingredients
Product nutrition and information
 Quantity Ingredients Est.Price
  Fleischmann's Active Dry Yeast - $3.19/ea
 3ct, 0.25oz ea
  Just FreshDirect Blanched Almond Slices - $6.99/ea
  McCormick Assorted Food Color - $5.89/ea
 1fl oz
  Roland Aged French Red Wine Vinegar - $4.19/ea
 16.9fl oz
  Amish Country Farms Organic Whole Milk - $4.99/ea
 1/2 gallon
  Gold Medal All Purpose Enriched Bleached Pre-Sifted Flour - $2.49/ea
You May Already Have
  Domino Granulated White Sugar - $2.79/ea
  Morton Regular Salt - $1.19/ea
  Breakstone's All-Natural Unsalted Butter - $3.19/ea
 2ct, 4oz ea
  O-Live & Co. Extra-Virgin Premium Olive Oil - $13.99/ea
 25fl oz
  Spice Select Pure Vanilla Extract - $4.79/ea
 2fl oz
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