Greek Easter Bread

Saturday night I took the train out to my parent’s house. My brother is on spring break from college and our family decided to host Easter. It was a small crowd, mainly just my mother’s side of the family. (Her two brothers and their families, my grandmother, and also John and his mother joined us.)

I woke horribly early on Sunday morning to begin the onion tart and the Greek Easter bread that I was contributing. In addition we served a fruit salad, a garden salad, ham, a broccoli and cheese casserole, mashed potatoes, and olives. And for dessert Lynn brought a key lime pie, Dave baked a delicious lime cheesecake, and Carol made one of her fabulous apple pies.

I used the onion tart recipe from Molly at Orangette which I had tried before and was very pleased with. For the Greek Easter bread I used a recipe from Alberto of Il Forno. It turned out great. (Well, the loaf on the right at least. I made the dough for the loaf on the left first and panicked when it did not appear to be rising. I made the second loaf just in case and it ended up being quite superior. It was much more airy and light.)

I decided to opt for the red eggs as the pictures I saw of this traditional color were stunning. However, the color didn’t hold well and I ended up with pink eggs nestled in a ring of red-dyed bread.

The bread had a glorious crust, a wonderful aroma, and a buttery, sweet, and delicate crumb. I will definitely make this bread again. I bet the recipe would be divine if I made small rolls stuffed with a bit of gruyere or a pat of dark chocolate.

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peter - My grandma is Greek, and she makes this bread for Easter sometimes. It is very good. She uses a special Greek dye for the eggs so that they stay an extremely bright red-red, and don’t leak into the bread at all. Next time I talk with her (probably today, actually…), I’ll ask her what she uses.

gemma - That would be great to know what she uses, thanks. I figured there was probably a special dye once I saw my finished product. It would certainly be a bit more aesthetically pleasing to use one. While festive, perhaps, pink bread wasn’t all that appetizing. Luckily only a tiny bit turned though.

kasia - Your pink eggs remind me of the one traditional Polish thing I make every Easter – dyed red eggs. They’re dyed by being cooked with onion skins. It doesn’t affect the flavor at all. Actually, you probably don’t even need to cook them with the onion skins; it might be enough just to let them sit overnight in some water with the onion skins. Anyway, it might rub off less?
There is something unsettling about pink bread.

gemma - I’ve never heard of this. I will have to try it, thanks for the advice. Yes, pink bread is sketchy, though my grandma thought it was pretty.

Joy - I don’t know, the bread looks very beautiful to me! We would be thrilled if you brought some to our Easter dinner — pink eggs, red eggs or not. Fabulous. Thanks for the wonderful inspirateion. –Joy

gemma - Thanks for your kind words Joy. You should give it a try for your dinner next year. Perhaps by then I will have some advice on the bleeding egg problem. Kasia’s suggestion of using onion skins seems the most promising thus far, though I haven’t tried it.

Leni - Most Greek groceries will, around Orthodox Easter time, have special extra-strong dye so that your tsoureki eggs will get really bright red.
The bleeding problem is as far as I can tell a little more insoluble(they’ll at least look like the right color to be bleeding, though!)…presumably everyone’s Greek gramma has some sort of voodoo power to keep the dye from bleeding, I’ve never been able to do it but my yiayia just smiles when I ask her and says, “you just have to be a little careful, Eleni!”

Harold: Breadsmith Bakery

breadsmith is located squarely in the lincoln park yuppie-zone, at 1710 n. wells.  while i am normally loathe to countenance any bakery selling gourmet dog biscuits i meticulously prepared myself to make an exception in this case.  sadly my charity was misplaced.

the premises were clean and appeared to be well maintained, but standing there i found myself strangely unable to muster any interest whatsoever in the coffee.  i have no idea what came over me, actually.  while the bakery seemed to be "service oriented," i could not help but notice that the short-term memory of the gentleman helping us was sub-human.  also of general interest: breadsmith is hardly a back-to-basics type bakery.  a brief look at their website confirms this.

we began with a roll that was mild–almost tasty?–in flavor and had a fairly nice crust.  it would have done well with more salt but was otherwise ok.  unfortunately it reminded me of spongecake.  queer, no?

we continued with something called a simit.  it had a slightly sweet and insubstantial crust.  it is slightly tragic that i will never get back the three minutes of my life that i spent tasting this bread.

subsequently we tried the salt stick.  the salt stick had an impressively chewy crust with caraway seeds and the overall flavor was (wait for it….wait for it….) salty.  while the caraway was certainly a nice touch, it was rather overdone.  be that as it may, this bread was without doubt "best in show."

the ill-conceived focaccia roll seemed like something straight out of alice in wonderland, if only inasmuch as i could think nothing but "curiouser and curiouser…" as i ate it.  chief among the myriad sins committed in the design and execution of this "bread" were that it was structurally unsound and far too salty.

the final item we tried was the cheddar-jalapeño bread.  in its present form, it is too cheesy and a tad short on the jalapeños and really ought to be reinvented as a roll that is never served any other way but pipping-hot.  other possible improvements include the use of better (white?) cheddar and fresh jalapeños in lieu of the pickled ones that are presently employed.

unfortunately the best thing i can say about it is that it is not just like every other yuppie-zone bakery.  usually the preceding remark would be a compliment, but in this case i fear it is not: any amount of conformity to the gourmet bread status quo be of great service to this bakery.

See Gemma’s Review below.

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John - Wow, Harold. You’re like the mean Homer Simpson critic. Chew-ey?

Too Many Chefs - Posts of the Week

A. Delicious Days from Munich makes a heck of a debut this week with a photographic summarization of the recipe for Mozartkugeln. They seem simple enough for even a klutz like me to make. The post also includes some beautiful pictures of Spring in Mun…

Gemma: Breadsmith Bakery

Originally uploaded by dumin.

Two weekends ago Harold and I, accompanied by our friend Paul, visited the Breadsmith Bakery at 1710 N. Wells in Chicago. As you can see from the link, Breadsmith is a chain located throughout the Midwest. The bakery we went to is located in the upscale neighborhood of Old Town and the clientele seemed representative. I lived a few blocks from this bakery with my uncles for a few summers and had been interested in returning for some time.

Upon entering the store I noticed the dog biscuits for sale and almost turned around to leave. But, I was humbled when I made it up to the register and noticed that every penny of their sale goes to an animal shelter. I took a picture of their lovely ovens, but was confronted by the manager who probed me for information on what the photo was for. I was caught off guard and rambled about ‘really loving ovens. . ‘ or something like that. He asked if I was from a trade magazine and if so said they had stock photos. I regret not asking for one, because I would love a big glossy picture. This leads me to the question, would he consider this a trade magazine? Hrm. . . In any event, I am now afraid to post the lovely picture I took of their large and shiny ovens, so you will all just have to visit to see for yourself.

Here is what we selected (clockwise from the top ring):
Cheddar Jalapeno Sourdough
Salt Sticks (2)
Small Focaccia
Sourdough Roll

The simit had a delicious aroma of nutty toasted sesame. It was moist and very sweet. The flavor was a bit odd. The crust too soft, actually the whole bread was so soft that it almost disintegrated in your mouth. Oddly, it almost tasted and smelled like a commercially produced soft whole wheat sandwich loaf. Simit is a traditional Turkish bread which is indeed supposed to be quite sweet and nutty. However, this crust was much too soft and should instead be quite firm and chewy.  Here is a shot of the interior:

(l-r) Cheddar Jalapeno Sourdough, Focaccia, Simit, Sourdough Roll.

The cheddar jalapeno sourdough contained a massive amount of cheese with jalapeno slices and caraway seeds in the center. The bread was delicious and enjoyable, but this was mainly due to the cheese and not to the bread itself. The extra ingredients were spread onto the rolled out dough, it was rolled up into a loaf and baked. Without these extra ingredients the bread would be bland and unremarkable. It had a very soft crumb and chewy crust. Tasty, but solely do to the extras. 

The salt sticks were covered in caraway seeds which went fantastically with the saltiness of the bread. This was a chewy bread with a nice, glossy, chewy crust and a soft, fine crumb. It would be lovely with a soup or pasta. Perhaps ideal with a warm carrot and caraway soup (ooh, I’ll have to make that!) or a caraway and tomato based pasta sauce.

The small focaccia was similar to the cheddar jalapeno sourdough in that it would be an uneventful product were in not for the ingredients the bread was stuffed with. (In fact, it tasted like the bread would be a mediocre over-sized pretzel without the extra ingredients). It was also a rolled dough, stuffed with chopped tomato, white cheddar/Parmesan, salt, and spinach. It was very tasty and soft. It unfortunately fell apart when cut. Golden, thin, soft, and glossy crust. It was not oily, which is a plus. A second shot of the interiors:

(l-r) Salt Stick, Cheddar Jalapeno Sourdough, Focaccia, Simit.

Lastly, the sourdough roll had a very hard crust and a moist light crumb. It had small, but plentiful holes and crustiness that would be ideal for soups but a bit too hard for eating alone. The aroma was indiscernible and while the taste was sour, I suspect (though am highly disappointed to say) that they must use an artificial sourdough additive rather than using a real starter.

Overall, this is a nice neighborhood bakery with solid products, but nothing to right home about. The salt sticks were the winner.

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Too Many Chefs - Posts of the Week

A. Delicious Days from Munich makes a heck of a debut this week with a photographic summarization of the recipe for Mozartkugeln. They seem simple enough for even a klutz like me to make. The post also includes some beautiful pictures of Spring in Mun…

French Sheep’s Brie

I went to Fox & Obel today after work to look around and to ideally purchase some black truffle oil. I unfortunately found the the store to be super over-priced and not very unique. The black truffle oil was very expensive. I will have to order it online instead.

I didn’t leave empty handed of course. I purchased a baguette (not great) and some cheese.

Le Berger de Rocastin– Fromage au lait de brebis. Fromager d’Affinois (The shepard of Rocastin–Cheese with ewe’s milk. The cheesemaker of Affinois.)

This French sheep’s brie was suberb. Silky, creamy, and pungent. Delicious

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The Food Whore - There is nothing better than a fabulous brie. I will have to look for this one!
Your site is wonderful – I envy your baking skills.
Cooking I can do – Baking – eh, not so much.

gemma - Why thank you Food Whore (it feels quite odd to address someone like that, heh).
I enjoy your site quite a bit. I have taken to reading it when I get into the office each morning. Your humor brightens the uneventful days in this tall tower. (and it also reminds me that working in the food industry is not all sweet and savory).

banana muffins (IMBB13)

John and I went to Trader Joe’s this morning and bought $lots$ of delicious stuff. Upon our return home some major kitchen reorganization was in order. While cleaning out our freezer we noticed a bulk of frozen over-ripe bananas. I used Clotide’s Banana Pecan Muffin recipe—with 2 little changes. I omitted the pecans because I didn’t have any on hand and I used 4 egg whites instead of regular eggs because I had some left over that needed to be used up.

This yielded a light and airy interior that I was quite pleased with.

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santos. - those are the most perfect looking muffins i have ever seen.

gemma - Oh my, Santos! That is one of the nicest things someone has said to me. Thank you. You made my morning.