Saturday before Easter. The whole world seems to be at a standstill waiting, hoping, dreaming. It is a lovely tender-green spring day and the birds are full of songs. I am full of songs as well, slightly different than the high-pitch chatter. My kitchen is full of light and sweet-bake aromas. Today’s recipe is for a traditional Bulgarian Sweet Easter Bread. I am fallowing step-by-step my mother’s guidance and the bread turns out to be a pure delight. Well-risen, soft and sweet.
I admit, not all my previous attempts have crafted such perfection, but this time, somehow all seems right. This is a recipe for a sweet bread filled with Apricot Brandy soaked sultanas and Belgian marzipan. There is something so decadent in both flavours making the bread hard to resit. And why should we? When it melts like honey and tastes like childhood dreams.
I admit, baking Sweet Easter Bread might sound daunting. But if you try, be gentle, be kind, let the dough take its time to rise, to form, to bake.
The night before, I take the eggs out of the fridge and leave them on the kitchen counter top, so they might be at room temperature when I start the bread. The original recipe calls or sultanas, but I like to give them something extra and checking my husband’s liquor cabinet I choose to soak them in his Christmas present – a selective German Michael Scheibel Apricot Brandy. The aroma is intoxicating and this is exactly the little kick I would love to give to my sweet bread. I pour a few table spoons of brandy, mix well with the sultanas and let them soak overnight.
According to the recipe, I need 30g of fresh yeast, but as due to the Corona Virus, yeast is in short supply I use instant dry yeast instead. Initially, I felt slightly insecure that the dry yeast might not work so well, but all my hesitation was quickly gone once I saw how nicely the dough was rising. Mixing the flour, egg mixture, melted butter and milk and yeast is easy. The dough will still be slightly sticky to the touch but try not to be tempted to add more flour. This isn’t bread. Let the dough be soft and temperamental once risen it will firm up enough for you to shape. The real miracle, however happens in the oven. Once the baked the dough transforms in the most delightful soft and light, tearing apart sweet bread that will make you really proud. Perfect for breakfast, afternoon tea and why not delicious Pudding with Left over Sweet Bread.
- 6 eggs
- 1kg plain flour
- 300ml milk
- 350g sugar
- 11g instant dry east (or 30g fresh yeast)
- 1tsp of salt
- 100g butter
- 16g Vanilla sugar
- Zest of one lemon and one orange
- 1tsp of lemon juice
- 100g Marzipan (chopped in small pieces)
- 100g sultanas (24 hours soaked in Apricot Brandy)
- Handful of almonds
1. Sift the plain flour into a large bowl.
2. Warm the milk (it should not be hot to a touch), pour in a deep bowl the instant dry yeast, adding one spoon of sugar and mixing well until the sugar and the yeast have been dissolved. Add two spoons of flour and mix well with a wooden spoon. Let the yeast rise for at least 15-20 min.
3. In another bowl whisk with a mixer the remaining sugar, the vanilla sugar and the 5 eggs and one egg white, leaving the egg yoke aside. Beat the mixture until light and fluffy. Add the lemon and orange zest and the lemon juice into the egg mixture.
4. In the meantime, the yeast mixture should have risen. It not visibly enlarged, wait a few more minutes until the yeast have had sufficient time to activate. Add the salt into the flour bowl. Add the egg mixture into the flour bowl mixing with a wooden spoon the liquids and the flour. Add the yeast mixture into the flour bowl and continue to mix with a wooden spoon. Add the melted butter into the bowl and continue mixing. When all liquids have been absorbed into the flour, take away the wooden spoon and start folding the dough within the bowl with your hands until all the flour has been absorbed.
5. Lightly cover a table surface with flour and take the sweet easter bread dough out of the bowl and start kneading the dough with a strong but light touch. Knead for 2-3 minutes than stop, take the dough into your heads, raise it high and slam it into the surface with force several times. This will enable air to get into the dough and let it rise even more. Repeat this process for at least 15 minutes.
6. Grease the inside of a large bowl and let the dough rest inside until it has doubled its size (at least one hour). Let the dough rest somewhere at a warm place as the warmth will help it rise.
7. When risen, take the dough out of the bowl and place it on a lightly greased surface. Cut it into three equal parts. Spread each part open by stretching the dough aside and fill the inside with sultanas and marzipan. Roll the surface of the dough until all the inside filling has been covered. Twist the dough ribbons and bind in a braid.
8. Grease the surface of a deep baking tin where the sweet bread will be baked. Place the sweet bread dough inside and let it rest for at least one hour until doubling its size. When risen, cover the surface with beaten egg yoke, sprinkle with sugar and almonds.
9. Preheat the oven to 200C. Place the sweet bread inside and let it bake for 10 min then decrease the oven temperature to 160C. Bake for additional 30 minutes until golden brown on top and baked inside (a tooth pic should come out clean when inserted inside the pastry).
10. Remove from the oven and let it rest for 2 min in the baking tin, then take it out of the tin and let it cool.
11. Keep in dry place and the sweet easter bread could last for a week.