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Tsoureki Paschalino (Easter Bread)

Tsoureki Paschalino (Easter Bread)
Kevin D. Weeks for NPR

The red eggs symbolize the blood of Christ. Traditionally, the dye is made from the skins of yellow onions (yes, the brown skins produce genuinely red eggs). Because the recipe calls for the skins of a dozen or so onions, I settled for Easter egg dye. If the eggs are dyed raw, they'll be edible when the bread is done. You can skip the dyed eggs entirely, but I love their festive appearance. The loaves are usually shaped, rather than made in loaf pans, and make a great bread for Easter breakfast.

Makes 2 loaves

6 to 7 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 cup sugar

1 package instant yeast

1 teaspoon salt

Zest of 2 large oranges

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1 cup whole milk, warmed to room temperature

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted

3 large eggs, beaten slightly

2 tablespoons fresh orange juice

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 medium egg, lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon water added

In a large mixing bowl, thoroughly combine 6 cups flour, sugar, yeast, salt, zest, nutmeg and cinnamon.

In another large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, combine milk, butter, eggs, orange juice and vanilla. Add flour mixture and combine well using a large spoon or the paddle attachment on the stand mixer.

If mixing by hand, scoop dough out onto a well-floured surface and knead for at least 15 minutes.

If using a stand mixer, swap to the dough hook. Knead for at least 10 minutes at medium speed, adding more flour as needed to keep the dough from becoming too sticky, although it will be somewhat tacky if kneaded in a mixer. Scoop dough onto a lightly floured surface.

Form dough into a ball by folding edges into the center, turning over and forcing into a ball shape using your palms and fingers to shape.

Clean and dry the largest bowl, then spray lightly with cooking spray. Place dough, seam-side down, in bowl and spray top lightly with oil. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in bulk — 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Once the dough has risen, punch it down and scoop onto a lightly floured surface. Knead by hand for 3 to 5 minutes. Divide in half, cover and let rest for 15 minutes.

Shape half the dough into a rope 24 inches long, fold in half and braid. Repeat with remaining dough. If you wish, place red-dyed, uncooked egg in center of the fold before braiding. They'll end up perfectly hard-cooked but difficult to peel.

Place the loaves on a greased cookie sheet or baking pan, spritz lightly with oil, and cover with plastic. Let rise until doubled in bulk, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Thirty to 45 minutes before dough has completely risen, heat oven to 350 degrees.

Make an egg wash using 1 beaten egg and 1 tablespoon of water. Brush loaf with the wash. Bake for 30 minutes until golden brown. You can tell the bread is done in the center by tapping the top of the loaf. If it sounds hollow, the loaf is finished. Cool on a rack.

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