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We love good bread.  Everyone in my family loves bread.  Perhaps it is in my genes as my grandfather was a bread maker in Greece.  We are always in search of good bread.  My Dad purchases his bread daily from a little corner bakery in South Philadelphia.  My husband on several occasions has tried to find out where this heavenly place is, but the directions provided were never very clear.  Convinced that my Dad wanted to keep this great bread place a secret, we went in search of it the day before Easter.  We found it!  It took a combination of GPS, several calls to my Dad, and driving in some circles, but we made it.  The things we do for good bread! 

There are not too many places that have the sort of bread we are looking for-crunchy crust with soft bread inside that is perfect for dipping into olive oil.  It would be great to make my own bread.  I did it once, with the help of my Aunt in Greece, but I barely did anything as she worked her magic.  My attempts at Greek Easter bread failed, but this time I did it!  Utilizing a very simple recipe and waiting more than a day for it, the bread was the perfect consistency and delicious with olive oil.  It was so yummy that my husband ate it alone as his dinner.

Rosemary-Lemon No-Knead Bread (from Williams Sonoma Recipes, Adapted from Sullivan Street Bakery (New York City) and Mark Bittman, “The Secret of Great Bread: Let Time Do the Work,” The New York Times, Nov. 8, 2006)

What you need:

3 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 tsp. active dry yeast

1 3/4 tsp. salt

2 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary

2 tsp. chopped lemon zest

Cornmeal as needed

 

In a large bowl, combine the flour, yeast, salt, rosemary and zest. Add 1 5/8 cups water and stir until blended; the dough will be shaggy and very sticky. 5/8 cups = 10 tablespoons or about ¾ of one cup.  I am not sure why the recipe includes such a funny measurement, but it works nonetheless.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let the dough rest at warm room temperature (about 70°F) until the surface is dotted with bubbles, 12 to 18 hours.  I made my dough around 6:00pm and didn’t get back to it until 1:00 pm the next day.  There is not a lot to physically making this bread, but there is a lot of waiting around for it. 

Place the dough on a lightly floured work surface. Sprinkle the dough with a little flour and fold the dough over onto itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap (wax paper worked fine as well) and let rest for 15 minutes.

Using just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking to the work surface or your fingers, gently and quickly shape the dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel, preferably a flour sack towel (not terry cloth), with cornmeal. Put the dough, seam side down, on the towel and dust with more flour or cornmeal.  I didn’t really understand where the “seam side” of my ball of dough was located because it was in a round ball, so I just picked a side and placed it on the towel. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise until the dough is more than double in size and does not readily spring back when poked with a finger, about 2 hours.  I left it alone for about 2 ½ hours, and when I returned to it, the dough had sort of spread itself out, and didn’t appear to get any taller.

At least 30 minutes before the dough is ready, put a 2 3/4-quart cast-iron pot in the oven and preheat the oven to 450°F.

Carefully remove the pot from the oven. Toss dough into the pot. Shake the pan once or twice if the dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with the lid and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and continue baking until the loaf is browned, 15 to 30 minutes more.  Let cool for 10 minutes.

The bread looked beautiful when it came out. It was the perfect golden brown and looked very crusty.  I think applying the cornmeal while dusting assisted with the look.  I did not really taste the lemon in the bread, but the rosemary was definitely present.  However, next time I think I will forgo both ingredients, and make a traditional loaf of bread.

Tip:  To store, put bread in a brown bag, then put brown bag in a plastic bag and tie it up.

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For the second time this weekend, I am attempting Greek Easter Bread, known as Tsoureki.  It is a sweet, light and airy bread that is served during Easter.  It is usually topped with a red Easter egg and almond slivers.  My first attempt was Friday night, when I followed a recipe that I had found online.  I have a Greek cookbook that I took from parents home many years ago, and the recipes in there always seem to work out well.  It is a delightful cookbook with recipes from members of the church.  However, the recipe for Easter bread yielded 7-9 loaves and called for 10lbs of flour, which I thought may be a little excessive.  So, adverturously, I found a random recipe online that seemed reasonable, and began my search for the two spices I never heard of…mastic and mahlepi.  I called my best friend, whose mother makes Easter bread every year, and she graciously provided me with these spices.  I love trying something new when it involves cooking, so I was excited to use these new “exotic” spices.  However, my bread, although it smelled like the delicious Easter bread I remember, looked and tasted nothing like it.  It was dry, bland, and flat. 

Ok, take two…

The next day I bravely attempted a second time to make Greek Easter bread for my guests.  This time I followed a recipe from my friend’s mother that was dictated to me over the phone.  Perhaps I wrote something down incorrectly, perhaps I just can’t follow directions, or perhaps this bread is just temperamental, but again I did not succeed.  This time the bread smelled and tasted more like tsoureki, but it came out super thick. 

So my second adventure started with 15 eggs.  Yes, that is correct…15 eggs. 

 

 I added the 5lbs of flour, the yeast, the mahlepi.  I mixed the eggs and the sugar with a splash of mastic.  I added butter and milk.  What I got was a super sticky concoction. I wrapped it in a blanket, per advice of friend’s mother, and ran it up to our third floor, the warmest part of the house, so that it could rise.  I was patient.  I checked every 2 to 3 hours, and nothing happened.  On hour 5, it looked like it had risen a little bit, but maybe I just didn’t remember how much was in there, since I had been waiting 5 hours for this sticky mess to do something.  On hour 8, I gave up.  I added some more flour to the “dough”, and decided to cook it anyway.  I placed it into two bread pans and one cake pan, and cooked it at 350 degrees for about an hour.  At one point, the bread in the cake pan on the bottom rack in the oven, rose so much it broke through to the top rack to visit the bread pans. 

Surprising, it smelled and tasted like Greek Easter bread, although it did not resemble it one bit, not withstanding the fact that I did not include the red easter egg or almond slivers.  Practice makes perfect, or so they say, so perhaps after a few more attempts (next year), I will create the bread I remember fondly.

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