March 10th, 2016
Preheat oven to 350F (180C). Line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer using the dough-hook attachment, or in a large bowl with a wooden spoon, combine 4 cups (950 mL) flour, salt, mahlepi, mastiha and the zests.
In a small bowl, combine warm water, 1 tablespoon (30 mL) of the sugar and yeast; stir and let stand 5 minutes or until frothy.
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together warm milk, 3 of the eggs, remaining ¾ cup (180 mL) sugar and melted butter; set aside.
Add yeast mixture to flour mixture and blend on low speed, or stir to combine.
Add the egg and milk mixture to the flour and yeast and continue to mix (on low) until dough is sticky and begins to come together.
Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and knead, adding more flour as required; the dough may not require the full amount of flour. It should be smooth and elastic but slightly sticky to the touch. The process should take about 10 minutes.
Place in a well-buttered bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a damp tea towel and let rise in a draft-free area at room temperature for 90 minutes, or until doubled in size.
Punch down and transfer to floured counter. Gently pat into a rough rectangle of about 7 × 23 inches (18 × 58 cm). Cut dough lengthwise with pastry cutter or knife into 9 equal strands.
Working with one strand at a time, gently hold each end and tap like skipping rope on the counter until slightly and evenly stretched. Repeat with 2 other strands, then braid the 3 strands together, tucking the ends under to fasten. If desired, place red-tinted hard-boiled eggs (kokkina avga; see sidebar for instructions) between the strands of the braids. Transfer braid onto a baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough to form 3 braids, each on a separate baking sheet.
Cover with a floured tea towel and let the braids rise in a warm place for about 50 minutes, or until the dough does not spring back when pressed with a fingertip.
Beat remaining egg and brush egg wash over loaves. If desired, sprinkle with sugar while egg wash is still wet; coloured sugar would be fun for the kiddos and very festive.
Bake loaves on middle rack of preheated oven for 35 minutes, or until golden and hollow when tapped on bottom.
SIDEBAR: Making Traditional Greek Red Easter Eggs The traditional Greek way to make red Easter eggs (kokkina avga) is to boil them up in a whack of onion skins, so I suggest you plan on making a big pot of onion soup or caramelized onions, which are fine for freezing, canning or eating on just about anything! Or—and don’t tell Yia Yia—do what I do, and use beet juice or red wine.