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easter bread

You think I’ve lost it and am a week late?

No.

It’s just that I’m (culturally) Orthodox Christian and this year our Easter falls a week after the Catholic and Protestant Easter.

Before I share our celebratory menu (with recipes) I’d like to stop you in your track if you are about to ask whether I’m ‘Greek Orthodox’ or ‘Russian Orthodox’.

I’m Bulgarian Orthodox. And this has nothing to do with nationalism (I’m rather immune to this kind of feelings) and all to do with being historically correct.

Thing is, you see, the Eastern Orthodoxy is a collection of national churches. Orthodox Christianity (for quite a few centuries after the eight century) was different from the Western Christian church in the following:

  • The church was national; e.g. Greek, Bulgarian and later Armenian, Russian etc.
  • The church was under the Emperor and this is reflected in the architecture of many Eastern cities. Built on a hill, the Emperors palace was at the top of the hill, below it was the palace of the Patriarch (the Head of the Church).
  • One of the conditions that the Bulgarian khan had for accepting Christianity was that the liturgy will be in proto-Bulgarian (this is now known as old-Slavonic). At the time (VIII century) the liturgy could be only read in Greek, Latin and Hebrew.
  • Bulgaria was the first country to have been granted: national church, liturgy in the native language (old-Slavonic) and the right to translate the Holy Book.

Today, all Orthodox Christians celebrate Easter,

We do it by cracking painted eggs, eating roast lamb and rice and breaking our traditional Easter bread (cozonac in Bulgarian, tsoureki in Greek).

How to make painted Easter eggs

This is easy but not as easy as you may think: boiling the perfect, hardboiled egg involves some tricks.

First you put the eggs in a pot and make sure that they are all on one row. I never thought about this one but my sister convinced me that when there are more than one rows the eggs boil at different rate and you can end up with over- or under done eggs.

Poor cold water over the eggs and put a tea-spoon of salt in the water. Bring to boil on low temperature so the eggs don’t crack.

Boil for 15-20 minutes.

Paint them (with special paint that can be purchased at any Polish shop or large supermarket) while hot. One thing that made this one easier on my poor hand this year was that I wore an old pair of leather gloves under the protective gloves that come with the egg paint.

Once painted, let them cool down.

Roast leg of lamb with rice

easter bread

Again, I’ve tried many ways to roast a leg of lamb.

My sister’s way is probably the best. Here it is:

Place the leg of lamb on a deep roasting tray. Rub in some salt and paprika.

Poor a mug of water in the tray and cover with aluminium foil (tuck the foil really well at the sides of the tray).

Put in a pre-heated over (190C fan over). I use a thermometer but if you don’t check the meat in approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes.

When the meat is done, uncover and leave to roast for 10-15 minutes (this depends on whether you’d like the lamb to have a nice, roasty crust or not).

Take it out of the oven and put the leg of lamb on a serving dish.

Meanwhile, chop an onion, couple of spring onions and a generous amount of fresh mint.

Fry the onion, add the spring onion and stir in the rice.

Poor the rice mixture in the tray with the drippings from the leg of lamb. Put in the fresh mint and salt to taste. Add three measures of boiling water to ever measure of rice.

Put in the oven (190C fan oven) and bake for approximately 20 minutes or until the rice is ready.

This is easily the most delicious rice of tasted!

Easter bread (cozonac) recipe for bread machine

easter bread

Traditional Easter bread (cozonac) is rich, aromatic and delicious.

It is also an absolute nightmare to make the traditional way. I still remember my mum labouring over it with a friend; I still dread the preparations and the repeated cycles of kneading and raising.

Not for me!

This is why, we didn’t have Easter bread for well over a decade.

Until…

…I found a recipe for Easter bread that can be made in the bread machine.

Here it is:

Ingredients:

  • 2 ½ teaspoons yeast
  • 4 cups of white bread flour
  • 1 cup of milk (whole or semi-skimmed)
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 egg yolk (whisked for glaze)

Preparation:

  1. Place the milk, 2 cups of flour and the yeast in the bread machine. Process on dough setting (mine takes 2 hours and 20 minutes).
  2. Mix the remaining 2 cups of flour, sugar, salt and orange zest.
  3. When the first cycle has finished add the mixture to the bread machine pan. Add the two eggs and the olive oil.
  4. Process on dough setting again.
  5. After the second cycle is completed, take the dough out (on a floured surface) and make into a ball. Cover with a towel and leave for 15 minutes.
  6. Divide the dough in three equal parts. Roll them out into long round rope and braid.
  7. Place the braid in a baking tray and leave to raise (until doubled). [Here I cheat and put the dough in the oven at 40C for 20-25 minutes. Don’t forget to cover the dough with cling film to prevent drying.]
  8. Take the dough out and spread the whisked egg yolk on it.
  9. Place in pre-heated oven (160C) for 40 minutes. Cover with foil for some of the time – otherwise the Easter bread will look very dark on top.

This is it. Go on; impress your family and friends (oh, and this bread is delicious at other times as well).

Happy Easter, my friends. May the year ahead be one of peace and plenty!