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Festival Breads for Easter

In celebration of Good Friday, Diane is on hand to explore the best festive loaves from around the world…

Easter would hardly be Easter for many families of European heritage without the centuries-old tradition of rich, often sweet and ornate loaves of homemade Easter bread.

Growing up in the North of England, a hot cross bun was – and still is – one of the treats of Easter. One bite of this sweet spicy bun, with its sticky glazed topping and special white cross, and I’m eight years old again!  Traditionally associated with Good Friday, the classic hot cross bun is easy to make, packed with flavour and, for me, irresistible when a little warm from the oven and dripping with butter. The other ‘Easter bread’ of my childhood was Simnel cake, with eleven marzipan balls representing the eleven faithful apostles.

Nowadays, the range of breads open to us has blossomed… and the sweet enriched dough of Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean interests me …

A Byzantine tradition is to make an Easter bread called Paska, which symbolizes the “Bread of Life”. It’s made with eggs, whole milk, yeast, and yellow raisins as is the traditional Russian Easter bread, Kulich, which is shaped in a cross like that of the Russian Orthodox church. These rich, eggy, slightly sweet yeast breads exist in almost every culture. Bohemians and Czechs call it Houska; Poles, who call it Chalka, adopted it from their Jewish countrymen who refer to it as Challah, and so on…

Italian Easter Bread – anise flavoured and with dyed eggs – is a favourite of mine. It is a traditional dish, featuring sweetened bread dough shaped into a wreath with coloured Easter eggs tucked into it before baking. While still edible, the placement of the eggs in the bread is symbolic rather than culinary. Eggs are a common Easter symbol, not only for their popular use in egg hunts, but more directly for their historical association with fertility and re-birth. Easter celebrates Jesus rising from the dead, and thus, the egg and Easter have been firmly linked. As eggs were originally forbidden during Lent (the 40 days before Easter), when the big day came it was time to enjoy them again with gusto.

Traditional Italian Easter bread ‘Pane di Pasqua’ is made by twisting ropes of dough around raw eggs and can be made with one or two eggs or, using longer ropes and several eggs, it can be shaped into a wreath. The eggs bake along with the bread. Some Easter breads are sweet like brioche or a pannetone in the shape of a dove. Whatever the recipe, it’s often the presentation that makes a celebration bread or cake at Easter most special.

At the Cookery Studio this month we have been making enriched breads on the Artisan baking course. A great winner for this Easter celebration has been an Easter-style marzipan Couronne made with marzipan, green pistachios and golden sultanas to represent the fresh bright colours of spring. Click here to discover this recipe and try your hand at baking a traditional homemade Easter bread.

About Diane

Diane and her husband Robert run the Cookery Studio – a new & innovative cookery school in Badlesmere, just ten minute’s drive from Faversham. They run regular classes in a variety of cuisines & techniques (one of which we tried ourselves!) with an emphasis on provenance and responsibly sourced and seasonal foods. If you’re a member of the Macknade Community you’ll receive a 10% discount on courses at the Cookery Studio in April & May 2015. Find out more about the Cookery Studio here.

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