For the past few years now I've been baking Easter bread on Good Friday. I'm not a huge baker of bread ~ my excuse is mostly the time thing. But I clear my calendar and set aside a few hours on this day to knead and roll and wait and punch down and wait and bake. It's a bit of a process, but the smell in my house is worth it, as is the nice little loaf of bread in the end. Making this bread is a welcome ritual, and I like how you really have to be physical with the dough. If I had any frustrations, they were sure to be gone by the end of the day!
I wasn't crazy about last year's bread - it was ok, just nothing special. For this year's Easter bread I wanted to use up some candied ginger and sour cherries I had lurking in my pantry, and I wanted a bit of a sweet dough. The recipe I found was in this old school baking book I bough at a second hand store for a dollar. Sweet deal! There's a European twist to the recipes and they all have photos circa 1980. It's good stuff, if you are a retro nerd like me.
The original recipe called for candied lemon peel and raisins. You know by now I have a strong aversion to raisins, and the lemon peel would probably be good, but I wanted to use my ginger. Substituting the raisins with dried cherries and a little bit of dried mango, I thought the flavours would go well with the toasted chopped nuts, and a hint of orange rind. Once the bread comes out of the oven it was to be brushed with melted butter and sprinkled with sugar. My kind of bread!
To be honest, this bread was a bit of battle right off the start. I thought I was following the instructions correctly, but it seemed terribly terribly dry, so in a mild panic I dumped a bit more milk and a couple more eggs into the KitchenAid, and let the machine work like mad to try and knead the dough into submission. When it had come into a decent ball, I kneaded it like hell too, because I like the rhythm of kneading dough ~ it reminds me of the ceramics classes I used to take. It was only after I had put the dough in my pretty blue bowl and was waiting for it to rise when I realized I had added my ginger too early into the process, and that may have explained why the dough hadn't come together easy. So for a little while I thought maybe there would be no bread this year, that all of my kneading was for nought! Not having lots of bread baking experience I wasn't sure how this goof up would affect the way it would rise in the first stage. But soon I saw a growing bump under the tea towel. It was rising as planned! I poured myself a cup of tea and sat outside in the sun for a bit, awaiting the second stage. It was smooth sailing after this...cutting the dough in half, kneading in more fruit and nuts, letting it rise again, and then finally baking it.
I'm always a little impressed with myself when I bake bread, and it turns out half decent. Not sure what these two golden orbs were going to taste like given the mishmash of stuff I threw in, but I was pretty pleased with the result. The bread has a wonderful light texture, the candied ginger pairs well with the cherries and sweetness of mango, and I love the toasted almonds inside. I maybe would have added more citrus zest to perk things up, and a tad more sugar, but overall the battle was worth it. Spreading butter on a slice of bread so warm it melts on contact is one of life's best indulgences. It was a good Friday indeed.
I made all of the changes to the recipe, so next year I know exactly what I'm doing!
Easter Bread with Candied Ginger and Dried Sour Cherries
1/4 cup plus 4 tbsp sugar
2-3/4 cup warm milk
4 pkgs. active dry yeast
9 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
3/4 cup plus 3 tbsp melted butter (if using unsalted butter, increase the above amount to 2 tsp salt)
grated zest of 2 lemons (or oranges)
1 cup chopped toasted almonds
1 cup chopped candied ginger (or candied lemon peel), chopped
1 1/2 cups dried sour cherries (or raisins), chopped
1/2 cup dried mango, chopped
3 tbsp rum
4 tbsp melted butter
2 tbsp sugar
To make the yeast dough:
Stir 2 tsp sugar into the warm milk and sprinkle the yeast. Let stand 5 minutes until frothy. Stir gently to moisten any dry particles on top. Sift flour, sugar and salt into a large bowl. Melt butter and cool slightly. Lightly beat the butter, eggs and lemon zest into the yeast mixture. Pour this into the flour mixture, combining to make a dough. Knead by machine or by hand for 5 - 10 minutes until smooth and elastic. Put into a lightly greased bowl, cover and let rise for one hour in a warm place.
To Make the fruit loaf:
Preheat oven to 375*F
Combine the nuts and fruit/ginger in a bowl. Sprinkle with rum and stir well. Let stand for 35 minutes.
Divide the dough in half, kneading each half a little. Knead half of the fruit mixture into each half (I let the Kitchenaid do this bit!) shape into a ball, let rest another 45 minutes in a warm place. Cut a cross into the top, brush with egg yolk and bake for about one hour. I turned the oven down to 350*F after about 40 minutes because I saw the bread getting a little too brown. When the loaves come out, brush with melted butter and sprinkle with sugar. Makes 2 glorious loaves (I gave one to my mom!) Delicious fresh, and delicious toasted, with lots of butter. Recipe adapted from "Best of Baking" by Annette Wolter and Christian Teubner.