I can't remember where I stumbled across the existence of special ethnic Easter breads, like the Greek lambropsomo. But the idea of Easter bread, and especially the name lambropsomo, Bread of Easter Brightness, entranced me. In 2010, I tried a recipe I found on The Fresh Loaf… it wasn't very good. But I was in love with the idea.
The next year I read as much as I could find find on the topic (which wasn't much) and eventually decided to just strike out on my own. I wasn't thrilled with the anise used in my first attempt, so I tried the one traditional spice (cardamom) that I could obtain. The eggs dyed with red food colors bled terribly, so I ransacked the onion bin at HEB for shed skins. And in an innovation of my own, I braided the loaf into a cross, with five red eggs: one in the middle and one at the end of each arm, like the grains of incense in the Easter candle.
It was a hit. Such a hit that I can't alter the recipe further, even though I've since acquired a source (and taste) for mahlep. GeekBaby remembers it, and asks at the beginning of Lent each year when I will bake it again. And it's beautiful for breaking our Easter fast.
I have no idea how authentic my recipe really is. Probably not very. Many elements come from, in my understanding, the traditional Easter bread. Others come from my own aesthetic sense. But, as I have no Greek heritage, I feel I ought not call it lambropsomo. So I named this recipe Bread of Easter Brightness, from the poetic translation of the Greek name that originally inspired me.
Bread of Easter Brightness
- 4 1/2 – 5 cups unbleached bread flour
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 2 teaspoons instant yeast
- 1 tablespoon cardamom
- 1 1/4 cup milk, warm
- 1/2 cup clarified butter, cooled
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 5 eggs, raw or hard boiled, dyed red
- Optional: egg wash
- Optional: sesame seeds or sliced almonds
Combine a cup of flour, the milk, and the yeast to create a poolish, and let it ferment for an hour or two, until it's very bubbly.
In a large bowl, whisk together 3 1/2 cups of flour, the sugar, salt, and cardamom. Stir in the poolish and the beaten eggs, and knead for five minutes. Add flour gradually from the remaining half cup, if the dough is very sticky. Gradually knead in the clarified butter. Let the dough rise until it's doubled in bulk.
Weigh the dough, and divide it into six equal pieces. Roll each piece into an 18″ long rope, and dimple them at the halfway point with a fingertip.
Spray your baking pan with nonstick cooking spray, and pinch together three ropes of dough at the top center of the pain. Braid until you reach the halfway dimples. Two strands of dough will naturally point one direction and the third will point in the opposite direction.
Rotate the pan 180 degrees. Join your remaining three ropes of dough at the top center of the pan and braid as above. Two strands will match up with the one strand from your first braid, and one strand will match up with the other two.
Rotate your pan 90 degrees, and braid these three strands down until you reach the end. Pinch the ends together and curl them under. Rotate the pan 180 degrees and repeat for the last arm of the cross.
At this point, the shaped loaf can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours. If you do this, let the dough return to room temperature and proof until doubled before you bake it.
Proof the loaf until it is doubled. Preheat your oven to 350 F. When the loaf is ready, you may brush the top with your egg wash and sprinkle it with the sesame seeds or sliced almonds. (I don't like the texture of an egg wash and prefer the softer, more rustic look, so I skip it.) Insert the five red eggs into the cross. Nestle them deeply in between the strands of the braid, wide end down, or the oven spring will push them out. If you use raw eggs, they will cook fully during baking, hardboiled will be heavily overdone. Eggs dyed red with yellow onion skins should not bleed.
Bake the loaf at 350 F for 45 minutes, or until the loaf's internal temperature reaches 185 F. Cool before cutting. It's delicious when fresh and warm, but it shouldn't be too hot to eat.