Sweet Easter Bread (Mazanec)

Spring is in the air now, I suppose; the flowers are in bloom, the sun is shining (occasionally – this is still the Pacific Northwest, after all), and everyone becomes marginally more cheerful as the dreariness of winter wears away. The weather is actually cooperating this Easter – the kids won’t have to put on rain boots and wade through the downpour looking for eggs, which already feels like a major Easter miracle to me! I don’t know if it’s because I don’t have small kids anymore, so the egg hunts and such are not on the agenda, but I can’t seem to get into the Easter mood this year. I think it was easier in a way while they were little munchkins, and Easter used to unfold in a very predictable fashion: Dress them in their very best outfits. Somehow, get to church on time and try to wrangle them through the service when all they think about is candy that will follow. Take them to an egg hunt; settle inevitable brotherly quarrels about who saw which chocolate egg first and help them to fairly divide the loot. Suffer in silence as you see their brand new white dress shirt (or your couch!) getting chocolate smears all over, and then try to keep them from climbing the walls and tearing the house down, when they get all crazy from the candy overdose. True Easter bliss 🙂 It wasn’t easy and I remember the relief I felt when it was all over and I was secretly munching on one of their Cadbury Eggs in the evening, but now I have to confess I kind of miss it.

I tried to make myself feel more Easter-y by making the house look somewhat more presentable and coloring some eggs, but that was kind of a debacle in itself – I wanted to ditch the chemical colorings and go with Mother Nature this year, but no matter if I colored with spinach juice, beet juice, cabbage juice or turmeric, the eggs all emerged the same murky hue, as if I bathed them in the muddy pond behind our house. (The only natural coloring that never disappoints are onion peels!) Next year, I’m back to acid green and Barbie pink from a box, I think.

At least the baking part was a success 😉 This sweet Easter bread is a classic Easter dessert baked back home on Easter Saturday. It is a buttery yeast bread, enriched with eggs and raisins. Traditionally it is slashed in the form of cross on top in remembrance of Jesus’ death on the cross, and sprinkled with sliced almonds. I wanted to play with it a bit more, so I added decorations made from simple dough made by mixing flour with some egg white and water. I also soaked the raisins in rum to plump them up, and added a spoonful of honey to the dough for better browning. With some butter and a touch of jam it’ll be a splendid breakfast tomorrow.

Happy Easter, everybody! Bake your heart out, soak up the sun if you’re lucky enough to have it, and eat all the chocolate you can!

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Sweet Easter bread (Mazanec)

 Dough:
  • 450 g (1 lb.) bread flour (or all-purpose flour)
  • pinch salt
  • ½ cup (100 g, 3.5 oz.) white sugar; + 1 teaspoon to sweeten the milk
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 100 g (scant 1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
  • 1 cup (250 ml, 8 oz.) lukewarm milk
  • 2 ¼ teaspoons dry yeast
  • ½ cup raisins, soaked in 1/2 cup rum + 1/2 cup water, and drained
  • sliced almonds (optional)
 Decorative white dough:
  • 100 g (3.5 oz.) plain all-purpose flour
  • 1 egg white
  • milk as needed to make a pliable dough

+ 1 egg yolk mixed with 1 tablespoon water – for egg wash

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Method:
  1. To make the dough, combine milk, dry yeast, and 1 teaspoon of sugar. Set aside for 10 – 15 minutes to activate the yeast.
  2. Place the rest of the ingredients except raisins in the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with a hook. When the yeast is nice and foamy, add it to the bowl. Start kneading the dough, adding a bit of milk or flour if the dough seems to be too dry or too wet. You should aim for smooth and elastic dough, that’s somewhat firm, but not stiff. Add in the raisins and mix them in well.
  3. Transfer the dough into an oiled bowl, cover, and let it rise in a warm spot until doubled, about 45 min. – 1 hour. Line a big baking sheet with parchment paper and set it aside for now.
  4. Make the decorations, if desired: In the food processor with an S-blade, mix the flour and the egg white. Add in as much milk until the dough forms a firm ball.
  5. On a floured surface, roll the decorative dough to about 1 – 2 mm thickness. With Easter cutters, cut out decorations as desired. Cover them and set aside.
  6. When the dough has risen, punch it down and form a nice round ball. Transfer the ball onto the lined baking sheet, cover, and let it rise the second time for about 20 – 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350 °F (175 °C).
  7. When ready to bake, coat the entire bread generously with egg wash. Gently place the decorations where you want them; but don’t press down too much. The egg wash should help to keep the decorations in place. You can coat the decorations with egg wash, or leave them dry for better contrast. If you’re not using the decorations, slash the dough in the form of cross and sprinkle sliced almonds on top.
  8. Bake the bread for about 35 – 40 minutes, until nicely risen and golden brown. Let cool completely before slicing. Serve with butter, jam, and honey.
Note:

I doubled the recipe and also made sweet yeast nests with colored eggs inside. To make those, form the dough into ropes about 1-inch (2.5 cm) thick and 14 inches (about 30 cm) long, and then braid two ropes together and join the ends to make a round “nest”. Let the nests rise a second time, and place a colored egg in the middle of each one, pressing down lightly. Brush the  nests with some egg and sprinkle with coarse sugar, and bake at 350 °F (175 °C) for about 20 – 25 min. (You don’t have to boil the eggs beforehand; they cook while the nests are baking in the oven.)

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Easter Carrots with Curried Egg Salad Filling

Easter is coming really early this year. The spring is playing with us in our neck of the woods – it teases us with blooming trees and sun here and there, and just when I’m ready to let out a sigh of a relief that the winter is finally over, we get slammed with two major windstorms within three days. And let’s not even get into the subject of spring cleaning. I know it should be done, I heard it can be very cathartic… I may even find some things I’ve been looking for all around the house for months. But just when I muster up the courage to tackle those windows, I remember my poor back, and the courage dissipates within seconds. I wish at least one of my personalities would like to clean, but alas, I haven’t had that luck. I take some comfort in the fact that the Easter Bunny is a male, and judging by the three male specimens I’ve had the opportunity to observe, they don’t see dust until it’s a layer one inch thick. We haven’t reached that stage yet, so I don’t think the Easter Bunny will mind enough to refuse to visit. Quite the contrary, I’m convinced he’ll come hopping whether we’re ready or not, and will try his best to kill us by cholesterol overdose as he does every year.

Unlike many other Easter traditions from back home that I’m not too fond of (how would you like to get whipped, albeit lovingly, just *a little*, and with the promise of great health and outstanding beauty next year, just because it’s Easter and you were born with a wrong chromosome?!), I actually like egg decorating. The thing is I always end up with way too many eggs to know what to do with, and after five days of eating hard boiled eggs for breakfast, lunch, and dinner my men are ready to start throwing them at me, or maybe even to become vegans if it means to never see eggs again.

But now we’re just starting out, and I see lots of deviled eggs, eggs on toast, and eggs in casseroles in our near future. Blue eggs, green eggs, red eggs; organic eggs, free-range eggs, omega-3 enriched eggs; whole eggs, sliced eggs, chopped eggs. So to start out the season right, and to make the Easter Bunny feel welcome, I made him these nice little carrots, filled with – wait for it – curried egg salad! I got the idea when I was making the sweet cream rolls some time ago. Those were made with puff pastry, and if you don’t feel like making yeast dough or simply don’t have the time, you could use puff pastry here too. I just wanted something a little more substantial and “bready” to accompany the salad, and I’m glad I went with yeast dough. The carrots emerged a little crunchy from the oven, but then softened some under the egg salad, and I liked the combo very much. It’s a wonderful finger food for lazy people who don’t want to bother with slicing bread for sandwiches 🙂 I think they turned out pretty cute, and would be a nice addition to your Easter table menu!

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Easter Carrots with Curried Egg Salad Filling

 Yeast Dough Carrots:
  • 500 g (1 lb.) bread flour
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 150 ml (5 oz.) olive oil
  • 300 ml (10 oz.) lukewarm milk
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • 150 ml (5 oz.) olive oil
  • 2 ½ teaspoons dry yeast

+ carrot juice mixed with tomato paste – for brushing the carrots; egg white for egg wash

Curried Egg Salad:
  • 6 hardboiled eggs
  • 1 stalk celery, finely diced
  • 1 green onion, chopped
  • ½ red bell pepper, finely diced
  • ¼ cup mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 cloves roasted garlic
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • salt & pepper to taste

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Method:
  1. To make the dough, combine the milk with the sugar and yeast; set aside for 10 minutes to activate the yeast.
  2. Place flour, salt, egg yolks, and oil in a bowl of your stand mixer fitted with a hook. When the yeast mixture is nice and bubbly, pour it to the rest of the ingredients in the bowl. With a mixer on low speed, knead the dough for about 10 minutes, until it’s smooth and elastic. (If the dough is too dry, add in couple of tablespoons milk/water; if it’s too wet, add in some additional flour to achieve the right consistency. The dough should be soft, but firm.) Let the dough rise in a warm spot, covered, until it doubles in volume, about 50 minutes.
  3. Mix ¼ cup freshly squeezed carrot juice with 2 tablespoons tomato paste (use more or less till you like the color). Set aside – this will be your glaze for the carrots. Lightly butter and flour the cream horn molds. Line a big baking sheet with parchment paper.
  4. When the dough has risen, punch it down and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Preheat the oven to 350 °F (175 °C). Roll the dough out quite thinly and then cut it into long thin strips, or roll them into thin ropes – mine were about 4 mm wide. Wrap the dough firmly around the molds. Place the mold upright and glaze the dough from all sides with the tomato – carrot mixture. You can add a coat off egg white to make the carrots shiny if you wish. Place the molds onto the prepared baking sheet.
  5. Bake the carrots for about 15 minutes until golden brown; let them cool for a while, take them off the molds, and let them cool completely.
  6. For the egg salad, mash up the eggs with a fork or chop them finely. Place them in a bowl with chopped pepper, celery, scallions, and garlic. Mix the rest of the ingredients into a dressing and pour it over the ingredients in the bowl. Chill.
  7. Fill the carrots with the salad; decorate with dill or fresh parsley leaves and serve.

Easter Egg Cookies with Boozy Vanilla Buttercream

Slovak Easter traditions are abundant, varied, and… weird. As many other cultures around the world, we decorate eggs, bake traditional sweets, and feast on ham. Bring it on, there’s nothing wrong with stuffing your face in the name of tradition, right? The custom I’ll let you in on, though, takes place on Monday after Easter, when the actual Easter holiday technically ended. It’s widespread all around Slovakia and for someone who didn’t grow up in Slovak culture may seem rather odd at best, and bordering on abuse at worst. On Monday morning Slovak men go from door to door visiting their favorite girls and women, and they don’t come empty-handed. No, no. Visiting somebody empty-handed would be rude, and all the Slovak men know that. So they have a hand-woven willow whip in one hand, and a bucket of icy-cold water in the other, and cheerfully knock on the door. When the poor female lets them in, they whip her and drench her in water. The rationale behind it is that by doing so, the girl would keep her health, beauty, and vitality for the entire next year. In exchange for the cold bath and the privilege of being whipped, the girl gives her manly visitors a decorated egg, and ties a colorful ribbon around their whip. As a bonus, the men almost always get a bite to eat and a shot of spirits as well. And off they go, because another girl from across the street is already waiting – schizophrenically hoping they’d stop by so she’d have something to brag about the next day, and praying their water won’t be so horribly cold as she remembers it from last year.

Easter cookies big pic

Easter whips and water have deep roots in Slovak culture. In the past, young men from Slovak villages used to throw the girls into a nearby creek, or pour water pulled from a well on them. The whipping, pretty eggs, and ribbons were a constant, as was the alcohol. The modern Easter traditions are somewhat different, maybe because majority of folks live in cities nowadays, and they don’t have a water stream running through their living room (and if they do, they have a bigger problem than thinking about bathing young girls in it!). The men still come, but instead of buckets maybe carry only a big glass of water, and their whipping is more moderate as well – at least in the early morning, when they haven’t had too many shots to drink. As the morning progresses, they become a lot less sober and a lot more insistent in their whipping.  They want their favorite girls to be gorgeous and healthy, after all!

I have to say I don’t remember this Easter tradition with great fondness, and am now the only female in our family of four. So even though keeping traditions from back home is very important to me, I’ve decided I’m pretty and healthy enough and don’t need any Easter help from my men in this regard. Given the male – female ratio in our household I think that was a smart decision on my part. I stick to what I enjoy the best – I cook, decorate some blown-out eggs, and most of all, I bake. Everybody’s happy, nobody gets beaten, and in the evening I take a nice hot bath on my own.

Happy Easter, everybody. May we all be healthy and happy for the entire next year!

Easter whip

Easter Egg Cookies with Boozy Vanilla Buttercream

Linzer cookies:
  • 300 g (10.5 oz.) unsalted butter, at room temeperature
  • 500 g (17.5 oz.) all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 120 g ( 4 oz.) powdered sugar
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
Vanilla Buttercream:
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 150 g (5 oz.) powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 200 g (7 oz.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 ½ tablespoons rum
Easter sheep
Method:
  1. To make the cookies: Cream the butter with sugar until light and fluffy. Add vanilla, egg yolks, and lemon zest. Lastly, mix in the flour and combine until the dough forms a ball. Chill the dough, wrapped, for at least an hour, so it is easier to handle.
  2. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to less than ¼ inch (6mm) thickness. With a rectangular cookie cutter with scalloped edge, cut out the cookies, and place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Chill the cookies on the baking sheets for about 20 minutes, and then cut out the smaller egg shape from half of them.
  3. Bake the cookies at 350 °F (175 °C) for about 10 minutes, until light brown around the edges. Let them cool on the baking sheet for a while, and then transfer them to a cooling rack to cool completely.
  4. To make the vanilla buttercream: In a water bath, whisk the egg yolks with powdered sugar until the mixture begins to thicken. Add vanilla and cornstarch, and continue to whisk until the crème is thick. Set aside and let cool.
  5. Cream the butter, gradually add vanilla and rum. Add the cooled egg yolk crème, one tablespoon at a time, and combine.
  6. To assemble the cookies: Spread 1 tablespoon of frosting on the flat side of each solid cookie. Dust the cut-out cookies with powdered sugar and press them onto the filling.
  7. Chill for about 30 minutes to firm up the filling, and then decorate the cookies with melted chocolate and/or sprinkles if desired.

(makes about 20 – 25 sandwich cookies)

Easter cookie detail