Easter Bread

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Easter Bread is a rich, dark, hearty bread just perfect served with an exuberant Easter dinner.  Bold flavors of rye and whole wheat are tempered with a bit of milk and the soothing, subtle sweetness of molasses.  Including rye flour means this bread will take a bit longer to rise, but the flavors are worth the wait.  Let’s play with flour!

Ingredients (makes one large loaf)

2 1/2 teaspoons yeast

1 cup lukewarm water

2 tablespoons sugar

1/4 cup dry milk

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup blackstrap molasses

1 1/2 tablespoons butter, softened

1 cup rye flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 cup white flour

1 egg yolk

Directions

picture392Step 1) Combine yeast, warm water, and sugar in a large bowl.  Stir and let the yeast bloom for 1 or 2 minutes, until the surface looks creamy.

Step 2) Add dry milk, salt, molasses, and butter.  Mix well.  A small electric mixer (on low speed) works well for incorporating the butter.  If you mix with a spoon, as I did, just make sure to mix long enough so that all ingredients are thoroughly blended (no butter clumps!).

picture393Step 3) Gently stir in all three flours, one cup at a time.

Step 4) Remove dough from bowl and place on a well oiled* countertop.  Knead bread dough with your hands for 8 minutes, rubbing a bit of oil on your hands as needed to prevent sticking.

*Note:  We are using an oiled countertop instead of the more common floured countertop because we don’t want to work extra flour into this recipe while kneading.  More flour will give this bread a tough texture, and who wants that?

Step 5) Shape kneaded dough into a ball and let rise in a large greased bowl for 90 minutes.  It helps to place the bowl in a warm (not hot) location, and to cover the picture394bowl with a thin towel.  (Bread enthusiasts call this a “proofing towel.”)

Step 6) Grease a baking pan and sprinkle it lightly with cornmeal.

Step 7) After 90 minutes, gently lift your dough from the bowl… do NOT punch down the dough or handle it roughly.  We need to be gentle with this dough.  There are teeny tiny air bubbles trapped inside this dough, and we want to keep as many of them as possible!

Step 8) Shape your dough into a nice, rounded loaf.  The way to do this is to start at picture407the top in the center, and smooth the dough down and underneath.  Think of petting a dog, as goofy as that sounds.  It’s OK to apply some pressure and “pull” dough down the sides and tuck it underneath – just don’t rip the dough in half or anything tragic like that.  When you are happy with the shape of your loaf, place it on the prepared baking pan.

Step 9) Brush the top and sides of your dough with a lightly beaten egg yolk.  If you don’t have a pastry brush, just blot the egg yolk onto the dough with a napkin.  If you wish, you may now sprinkle the dough lightly with a “garnish.”  Ideas include quinoa, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, or even a bit of cinnamon.  I’ve sprinkled a few poppy seeds on the loaf pictured here.  Also if you wish, you may gently score the top of the loaf with a serrated knife.  This will make your loaf look all fancy schmancy, but don’t get carried away – I don’t recommend more than 2 or 3 knife marks, and don’t cut any deeper than 1/2 inch.

Step 10) Let your prepared loaf rise for another 60 minutes.  No need to cover the loaf this time.

Step 11) Bake your loaf in a preheated, 375 degree oven for 30 minutes.  Let cool, and enjoy!

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