Good morning everyone and Happy Easter to all who celebrate the holiday!
I have always wanted to try to make the beautiful, decorated breads that are part of a traditional Ukrainian Easter. My neighbours on either side of me celebrate Easter, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to make some of these traditional breads to give as gifts. Then I went on Pinterest and found these pictures of beautifully braided/decorated breads:
This one (on the left) looks like something I can maybe accomplish with a lot of patience. Maybe…
But then I saw this one below:
and I thought, well if you’re going to fail at decorating bread…
I searched for days to find a suitable round, deep baking pan for these breads here in Toronto. Couldn’t find anything so I’ve used oval shaped casserole dishes. We’ll just see how that plays out.
Instead of the traditional dried fruits and egg in the Ukrainian Easter bread recipes, I have decided to use an eggless challah for this attempt. Why? Well, because challah is meant to be braided.
The recipe is simple (I made four batches of this for my bread experiment):
3 cups flour
1/4 cup plus 1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup canola oil (or other light oil)
1 1/4 cups warm water
1 tablespoon instant yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
Butter, honey or maple syrup for glazing (optional)
Sesame or poppy seeds (optional)
Combine the water, yeast and 1/4 teaspoon sugar, stirring gently. Let the yeast proof for 10 minutes or so. Combine all ingredients and mix well. Knead until the dough is elastic and smooth.
Allow the bread to rise until doubled. Punch the air bubbles out of the dough. Braid in a traditional challah braid, or place in a loaf pan for a standard loaf of bread. Allow the dough to rise a second time for 30 minutes. Glaze the dough with melted butter, honey mixed with a little water, or maple syrup. Optionally, sprinkle poppy seeds or sesame seeds over the glazed dough.
Bake the dough at 350F for 25 minutes or until golden brown.
So there’s the recipe. This dough makes a delicious white, challah-type bread. It makes an excellent base for garlic bread as well. Enjoy and experiment with your own glazes and toppings.
So back to my Easter bread experiment… the challah dough is great for braiding. For making detailed decorations… not so much. It raises very well, obliterating any small details and leaving only the “big picture”. So, I tried to make the details stand out a little better with some creative glazing (I used a little honey diluted with a little water) and seeds. At my disposal today were – flax seeds, unbleached white sesame seeds, black sesame seeds, poppy seeds. Not a bad set of choices. I glazed all of the tops of the bread and then used the various seeds to highlight the details and in some cases the backgrounds.
I also think these projects would have turned out better with the proper pan and perhaps a slightly denser dough… but sometimes you just have to be flexible and find ways to work with what you have. If anyone knows where I can find the right bread pans for these large, circular breads, a lead would be appreciated.
I had to leave the bread in the oven longer than indicated in the recipe, because each loaf was actually made of the equivalent of two loaves of dough. I ended up leaving the breads in the oven for 45 minutes.
The pattern on the first bread, which seemed easy to make, was obliterated by rising. But it was still light, fluffy and tasty bread. The second pattern, which was more complicated, withstood the rising but sadly one of the birds came off the loaf of bread… tasty little bird roll on the rack in the oven.
Braiding and glazing tips:
- To make rope, make a very long string from the dough. Double it over itself and twist!
- You can use an egg-wash for glazing, if you want. We do not use egg. Suitable substitutes we have used include honey diluted with a little water and real maple syrup. We don’t recommend maple flavoured syrup as it is primarily corn syrup – it will be very, very sweet on the bread and tends to scorch.
- To make the lattice design, roll out your dough to about 1/8″ thickness and cut strips from it the width that you want. Lay down all of your columns first and interlace your rows. You can use a knife or kitchen scissors to trim the rough edges around the lattice.
- To make a bread bird, roll out your dough to about 1/8″ thickness and cut a strip from it about 1″ wide by 8″ long. Gently tie a knot in the strip. Pinch one end of the knot to create the head and use a knife to cut tail feathers into the other end of the knot.
- If your bread is dry and the decorations are not adhering, add a little water before setting the decorations down. This will help the decorations adhere (as I should have done with my birds…)
- To make the palm fronds on the first bread, I rolled out the dough to 1/8″ thickness and about 1″ x 1″ squares. I wrapped the squares diagonally around the tip of my index finger and pinch the ends together. I then used a knife to score fronds into the sides. With the challah, these rose a great deal so if you want smaller palm fronds, you could roll it out even thinner and make smaller squares.
Peace and love,