This beautiful loaf is the traditional bread of Easter in Greece and many other Christian countries. It is an enriched dough that is twisted around brightly dyed eggs. The bread is often braided with three strands to represent the holy trinity, formed into a circle as a reference to life and the eggs are dyed red as a symbol of Christ’s blood. The dough is lightly sweet, flavored with orange zest and a traditional Middle Eastern spice called Mahlepi, which is made from ground cherry pits. The spice can be found in Middle Eastern or Greek markets. If you don’t have the spice, you can make the dough with ground Anise seed or even Cardamom.
2 pounds chilled Challah or Brioche dough (When you mix the dough add 1 teaspoon Mahlepi or ground anise seed and 1 teaspoon orange zest to the water.)
5 eggs (you can use uncooked eggs, since they will cook while the bread is baking. The eggs are for decoration and not really meant to be eaten, so its a nice place to save time.)
Egg wash (1 egg mixed with 1 tablespoon water)
To dye the eggs place 2 cups boiling water, 2 teaspoons vinegar and food coloring in a bowl. Drop the eggs into the dye. If the solution cools off, reheat it and continue with the other eggs.
During my classes I stir our dough with a Danish Dough Whisk. One evening a student laughed and said “My wife bought me one of those and I had no idea what it was, so I use it to retrieve hard boiled eggs from the boiling water!” Well, that struck me as a brilliant idea, so when I dropped the eggs in the dye and had nothing to pluck them out with, I thought of him and grabbed my whisk. Worked like a charm.
Make sure your eggs are well rinsed so they don’t bleed color onto the bread.
Form the dough into a ball.
Divide the ball into two equal pieces. (If you prefer to make a 3-piece braid, follow these instructions.)
Stretch the pieces into ropes. If the dough is not stretching easily, just let it sit on the counter for about 5 minutes. If your kitchen is draft, lightly cover with plastic.
Continue stretching until each piece is about 1-inch wide and about 24-inches long.
Join the ends together and twist the dough together tightly.
Continue and join the other end together.
Form a ring and gently transfer to a cookie sheet lined with parchment or a Silpat Baking Mat. Stretch the twisted dough apart to place the dyed egg in between.
Evenly space the eggs around the twisted dough. Cover the loaf loosely with plastic and allow to rise for 90 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Brush the dough, avoiding the eggs, with egg wash.
Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the loaf is golden brown.
Allow the loaf to cool on a wire rack.