In many languages, the word "Lent" actually means "fast". Although their interpretation of Easter and its traditions may differ, after a long Lenten fast, people around the world would agree that at least one thing is in order : A sumptious meal.
The foods, as well as the style in which they are prepared may vary; but the sentiments of celebration and renewal reign. Some cultures consume their primary Easter meal in the morning, while others wait until noon or afternoon to sit down to their own tradition-rich meal. Regardless of the time, every meal offers a variety of foods such as eggs, cheese, meats, sweets and coffee, from which partakers have abstained during Lent.
Whether you observe Easter in traditional customs steeped in religion, or lean towards the more light-hearted rituals of exchanging chocolate bunnies and conducting egg hunts, one thing that will bring us together in harmony is a delightful menu based on some of the flavors which highlight the season of rebirth for all of us.
There is a bread which I knew as 'pandispanya' (Pain d'Espagna) when I lived as a child in Turkey. It was available year round in pastry shops, and my mother occasionally served it with afternoon tea to her guests. What I liked most about it was the different texture and the yellowish interior with a shiny egg glaze on top. It was braided which captured my interest and had an aroma which was unique to it - very different from the hearty, crusty daily loaves Babacim brought from the oven on his way home. As I grew up and developed a culinary interest, I learned that it was actually the Challah, or a version of the Greek Easter Bread.
My mother was a very good cook, but she never baked bread at home. Bread, known as ekmek is the staple of every meal in Turkish cuisine. I was raised to clean my plate with my last morsel, because wasting food was considered günah, a sin. Another one of the traditions of my upbringing regarding respect towards bread is never to hold it below the table. If, by mistake one drops his slice or his piece on the floor, it is picked up, kissed and touched lightly on the forehead, as a sign of reverence. If we see a piece of bread on the street, we pick it up and place it out of stepping range, or somewhere where birds can peck at it.
I doubt if today such old-fashioned values still continue, but I left my country when I was still quite young. Even if I were older, some values placed in me are so deeply rooted, that I doubt age would have mattered any. My son and daughter were born in Montréal, into a marriage of interfaith. Still they picked up the same values and respect I learned in my childhood towards certain things, at the top of which comes respect to their elders, their teachers and their peers - as well as to that wonderful staff of life many take for granted.
1 cup warm (100-115 degree F) water
¼ cup butter, at room temperature
1 Tablespoon honey
1 egg + 1 egg white
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 package granular yeast
2 teaspoons sea salt
3-1/2 to 4 cups all purpose flour
egg wash ( 1 egg yolk with 1 tsp cold water)
In a mixing bowl, combine water, oil, honey, egg, egg yolk, sugar, yeast and salt. Mix on low speed until combined. Add flour gradually until dough forms a ball (this may take up to more or less than 3-1/2 cups of flour), and mix on low speed for five minutes. Increase speed to medium and continue mixing for about ten minutes (or knead dough in a large bowl for about 15-20 minutes) until the dough feels soft and elastic, and does not stick to your hands.
Place dough in a large, oiled bowl and turn to coat the surface. Cover loosely with a damp towel and let it rise in a warm, draft-free place until it has doubled in volume. This may take from 1 to 2 hours. To test, make an indentation in the dough with two fingers; dough should not spring back, but should very slowly return to its former shape.
Divide dough into three equal parts and roll each piece into a rope 14 to 16 inches long. Braid the three strands and place braided loaf on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet.
Cover loosely with a damp towel or plastic wrap, and allow to rise again in a draft-free, warm place until almost doubled in volume (second rising will take less time). Toward the end of the second rise, preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
Brush top of the loaf with egg wash. Bake for about 30 minutes, until it is golden brown and sounds hollow when lightly tapped on top.
Füsun Atalay ~ Copyright © Will of my Own - 2011
Photo credits: Füsun Atalay