A few weeks ago, I shared with you my recipe for no-knead Cinnamon Swirl Challah Bread. Since the master challah recipe I provided makes enough dough for four loaves of bread, it occurred to me that I should have given you some other ideas for using the rest of that dough. Since we are coming into the Easter season, I thought I'd also share my recipe for no-knead Easter bread. I've been making my Easter bread this way for several years now, and the results are fantastic.
Easter has always had a close association with food. The word actually originates from the name Eostre, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of light and spring, to whom the month of April was dedicated. The festival of Eostre was celebrated at the vernal equinox, when the day and night are of the same duration. Special dishes were cooked in her honor so that the coming year would be endowed with fertility and abundance. One of the most important of these was bread. Likewise, bread has long played an important role in religious ceremonies and holidays. In many cultures, bread is considered the "staff of life". Holiday breads are often baked in symbolic shapes and include special ingredients. Easter breads usually feature eggs, a food once forbidden by the Catholic Church during Lent.
This no-knead challah dough yields a rich and slightly sweet Easter bread. Following with tradition, the loaf is braided and baked with colored eggs entwined in it. The result is a bread that beautifully burnished on the outside, and soft and pillowy on the inside.
If you're looking to bake a special Easter treat this year, try this bread. It's delicious, festive, and with the no-knead method, it's also easy.
No-Knead Easter Bread (adapted from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois)
Makes four 1-pound or two 2-pound loaves. The recipe is easily doubled or halved.
1 3/4 cups lukewarm water
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated yeast (2 packets)
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted (or neutral-tasting vegetable oil such as canola), plus more for greasing the cookie sheet
7 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
4 raw, colored eggs, more if you are clumsy (Make sure you use raw eggs. They will cook along with the bread. Hard boiled eggs will sink.)
Egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon of water)
1. Mixing and storing the dough: Mix the yeast, salt, eggs, honey, and melted butter (or oil) with the water in a 5-quart bowl, or a lidded (no airtight) food container.
2. Mix in the flour without kneading, using a spoon, a 14-cup capacity food processor (with dough attachment), or a heavy duty stand mixer (with dough hook). If youre not using a machine, you may need to use wet hands to incorporate the last bit of flour.
3. Cover (not airtight), and allow to rest at room temperature until the dough rises and collapses (or flattens on top), approximately 2 hours.
4. The dough can be used immediately after the initial rise, though it is easier to handle when cold. Refrigerate in a lidded (not airtight) container and use over the next 5 days. Beyond 5 days, freeze in 1-pound portions in an airtight container for up to 4 weeks. Defrost frozen dough overnight in the refrigerator before using. Then allow the usual rest and rise time.
5. On baking day, dust the surface of the refrigerated dough with flour and cut off a 1-pound (grapefruit-sized) piece for each loaf you're making. Dust each piece with more flour and quickly shape it into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter turn as you go.
7. Divide each ball into thirds, using a dough scraper or knife. Roll the balls between your hands (or on a board), stretching, to form each into a long, thin rope. If the dough resists shaping, let it rest for 5 minutes and try again. Braid the ropes, starting from the center and working to about 1 inch from one end. Turn the loaf over, rotate it, and braid from the center out to about 1 inch from the remaining end. Carefully bring both ends around to form a circle, and braid the ends together to close the circle. Place one colored egg in the center of each loaf.
8. Allow the bread to rest and rise on the prepared cookie sheet for 1 hour and 20 minutes (or just 40 minutes if youre using fresh, unrefrigerated dough).
9. About 10-15 minutes before baking time, preheat the oven to 350-degrees F. Brush the loaf with egg wash and sprinkle with the sanding sugar. Bake near the center of the oven for about 25 minutes. Smaller or larger loaves may require adjustments in baking time. The loaves are done when golden brown and offers resistance to pressure.
11. Remove from the oven and allow to cool before slicing. Serve as is or toasted with butter and your favorite jam.
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