This bread reminds me of my childhood in Istanbul, when we did not think of anyone’s religion, ethnicity or how “different” s/he was; my childhood in Istanbul when we lived together with our neighbours of Greek, Armenian, Kurdish, Turkish, Circassian, Georgian, whichever else ethnic background without questioning them and just caring about who they were, not “what” they were. The bread itself was named as “Easter Pastry” and I never really knew what Easter meant actually. Still, living in Helsinki where there is a public holiday each year for it, I forget the existence of “Easter” until the holiday comes. But I never forget the taste and smell of this bread freshly both from a bakery in Istanbul…
I think it was my oldest brother’s favourite, this bread I mean, though I am not sure. Or did it have something to do with the creepy old lady who took care of my oldest uncle? Did we use to buy the whole thing or did we buy it in parts? Could we find it in any bakery / pastry shop in Bakirkoy, my childhood neighbourhood; for example the little pastry shop around the corner from the grocery store, did they make it, or did we have to go to the main street, to a bigger bakery? Cannot remember those little details. But I remember this: Easter Pastry / bread was sold throughout the year and it was a very delicious and delicate taste added to our late afternoon family tea time.
The taste and smell of food does take you to a whole different period of your time. I surely could not bake the exact same bread that they did in those shops, for instance they probably use ground mahlepi, but I used cardamom instead, but it still feels – almost – the same. Maybe it’s also the ritual.. Anyway, I had thousands of memories with this bread and my family back in Istanbul, and now baking this version myself, I create new memories, thousands of kilometres away from Istanbul, together with new friends, also coming from different backgrounds. Yet again, what is important for me is each and every person, individual, friend; not their countries, not any stereotypes, and no hidden agendas… Enjoy your bread.
(makes 1 loaf)
3/4 cup plus 1 tbsp / 195 ml milk (whole milk, täysmaito)
2 plus 1/2 tsp / 12.5 ml dry yeast
2/3 cup / 1.6 dl sugar
1 tsp / 5 ml salt
1 tsp / 5 ml ground cardamom
4 cups / 9.6 dl (plus a bit more for dusting) flour
100+15 gr butter
1 boiled and coloured egg
1 egg yolk
1/3 cup / 0.8 dl sliced almonds
1. Put 3/4 cup / 1.8 dl milk in a pan and heat it until it’s lukewarm, about 45C with a thermometer. When it’s warm enough, pour it in a bowl. The remaining 1 tbsp / 15 ml of milk, leave aside for the moment.
2. Add yeast. Put it aside for about 15 min. while the yeast is activated and it starts bubbling as seen in the photo.
3. In a mixing bowl, sift sugar, salt, cardamom and flour.
4. In a pan, melt 100 gr of the butter, leave 15 gr aside. When butter melts, pour it into a mixing bowl and let it cool for a little while.
5. Add 2 eggs to melted butter and whisk until well combined.
6. Add yeast mixture to egg / butter and continue whisking.
7. Add dry ingredients mixture gradually (about 1 cup / 2.4 dl a time). Keep whisking after adding each batch.
8. When all dry ingredients are mixed with wet ingredients and makes a dough, take it to the work surface: flour your work surface generously and knead for about 10 minutes until you get a smooth dough.
9. Use the remaining 15 gr of butter to grease your bowl and the inner surface of a stretch film. Put the dough in the greased bowl, cover with the stretch film (the buttered surface of the film must be touching the dough). Set aside, in a warm place, until the dough gets doubled in size.
10. In the meantime, boil and dye your egg. For some simple instructions, check: http://www.realsimple.com/holidays-entertaining/holidays/more-holidays/dye-easter-eggs
11. Preheat the oven to 175C.
12. When the dough gets doubled, take out of the bowl and divide into 3 equal parts. Braid them as seen in the picture, and seal both ends by tucking them under the braid. Put the egg in the middle, as in the picture (egg is optional, you may choose not to put any coloured egg at all).
13. In a small bowl, mix 1 tbsp / 15 ml milk with 1 egg yolk.
14. Brush egg yolk / milk mixture on the surface of the braid. Add sliced almonds on the surface.
15. Bake the bread in the middle rack of the oven for about 30 to 40 minutes, until the bread is browned well outside and a toothpick stuck inside it comes out clean.
16. When the bread is done take it out of the oven and let it cool on a wire rack before serving.
(This recipe was adapted from http://www.chow.com/recipes.)