Rise Up x3! Sweet Braided Easter Bread

bread, baking, easter

Braided Easter Bread

As Easter approaches, many of us ponder our faith. And, since this year Passover and Easter coincide, more of us are taking time to think about what it all means.

I went to a super Catholic university somewhere in the middle. Like a school where students were encouraged to attend any one of the 26, yes 26, masses held between Saturday at 4:30pm and Sunday at 6pm. A university where the Old Testament was studied as a history and taught (at the time) by the sole interpreter of the Dead Sea Scrolls. A school where a gentleman caller might ask you on a date to mass – this was a big deal.

Back then, the student body was pretty homogenous – I think it was something in the neighborhood of 90+% Christian and of that over 80% Catholic. Being surrounded by mostly Catholics and beer, oh and nickel purple passions, led to some more than riveting late night philosophical discussions and revelations about Jesus.

One such late night post purple passions or quarter beers we engaged in the most philosophical of all discussions about God and Jesus. So many questions. We all wondered was Jesus really the son of God? Did he really rise from the dead?

After much discussion, my very wise roommate summed it up perfectly for all of us. She said: I don’t know if Jesus was the son of God or rose from the dead. All I know is that Jesus was a really good guy who said a lot of really good things that lasted a really long time.

Makes sense.

One thing that I am certain will rise – and rise three times – is this sweet, braided Easter bread.

Tiny Apartment Tips:

  1. Clean as you go and reuse your prep bowls – you can temperate your eggs in the same measuring up that you used to measure your flour
  2. Active Yeast and Instant Yeast can be used interchangeably – I know because I Googled it
  3. Set aside enough time as while Jesus took three days to rise, this bread requires 90 minutes to rise and then 45 minutes to rise again

Sweet Braided Easter Bread (serves a whole bunch of people of any faith)

Ingredients:

  • 2/3 Cups Whole Milk – since I don’t drink milk, I keep little Stop and Shop single serve milks on hand – they last forever in your pantry until opened, and then a few days in your fridge
  • 5 TBSPs of Sugar – I use Domino Sugar – always have, always will
  • 1 3/4 TSPs of active dry yeast…but I couldn’t find that – so used Instant Yeast. Also – 1 3/4 TSPs is LESS than 1 packet…so, yes, you have to measure it out
  • 2 Large Eggs at room temperature – you must temperate your eggs
  • 2 1/3 C of Flour– now, the recipe actually called for 2 3/4 Cups…but I screwed up and used less – it was all fine – there was math, but an Easter Miracle made everything OK
  • 1 TSP Kosher Salt – because we welcome all religions – The Morton Salt is good and less expensive than those designer Kosher brands…
  • 1/2 C = 1 Stick unsalted butter softened and sliced…I only had salted butter so I just used less Kosher Salt
  • Some melted butter
that's all you need for an Easter miracle

that’s all you need for an Easter miracle – I didn’t even realize that the Yeast package was using my photo of perfectly braided bread

1. In a small sauce pan, gently heat the milk over a low flame to 115 degrees – this happened super quick – so watch it. I used a candy thermometer, but any thermometer will do

Gently heated to 115 degrees -I used my candy thermometer to check

Gently heated to 115 degrees -I used my candy thermometer to check

2. Pour the heated milk into a 2 Cup measuring cup and stir in 1 TBSP of sugar and add the yeast – check out my awesome tiny Le Creuset rubber prep bowl! Whisk it all together.

baking bread recipe easter

Adding Instant Yeast (use like Active Yeast) from little rubber Le Creuset prep bowl

3. Add the eggs one at a time and whisk together

Make sure your eggs are at room temp!

Make sure your eggs are at room temp!

4. Once combined – set aside and wait for the first rise – the yeast will activate and make the mixture all foamy – this takes about 5 – 7 minutes

Rise #1 - foam forms

Rise #1 – foam forms

5. In the mean time – combine the flour, remaining 4 TBSPs of sugar and salt in the bowl of your KitchenAid stand mixer with the bread attachment. This was the debut for my bread attachment!

I've never used the bread attachment before. Love my KitchenAid!

I’ve never used the bread attachment before. Love my KitchenAid!

6. Pour in the foamy once risen mixture and begin to mix over medium speed

Wet into dry - always

Wet into dry – always

7. Slowly – one pat at a time – add in the butter

I love these Land O' Lakes 1/2 sticks. Butter must be softened and sliced.

I love these Land O’ Lakes 1/2 sticks. Butter must be softened and sliced.

8. Jack up the mixer to medium/high and let the kneading begin – knead on med/high for 5 minutes or until the dough is soft and smooth!

Silky Smooth! Sticky, but silky smooth

Silky Smooth! Sticky, but silky smooth

9. Transfer the dough into a bowl brushed with melted butter.

Love my little brush

Love my little brush

10. Brush the top of the dough with even more butter, cover and set aside for the second rise – about 90 minutes in a warmish place – Dough should double in size – makes me wonder – did Jesus get bigger?

patience, bread recipe, easter

Rise #2 – brushed with butter and covered. Now, wait for it….

11. After the miracle second rise has occurred – Put some flour in a tiny bowl and dip your hands in! The dough is sticky- so flouring your hands will help.

12. Divide the dough into three equal parts. Form each into a long loggish shape and set on a cookie sheet, lined with parchment paper and lightly floured. Now, since I didn’t use enough flour from the get go – I was more generous with the flour here.

Ready to braid

Ready to braid

13. Pinch one end of each log together and braid away!

Braided and Ready for rise #3

Braided and Ready for rise #3

14. Cover the beautifully braided dough with Saran Wrap and set aside for the third and final rise – Wait 45 minutes

Risen and Ready to bake

Risen, butter brushed and Ready to Bake

15. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees

16. Remove the Saran Wrap from the bread and brush it with butter before placing in the oven

17. Bake for 20 – 25 minutes or until the internal temperature of the loaf is 190 degrees.

18. Slice and Eat!

bread, baking, easter

Braided Easter Bread

This tasty bread takes some time but is well worth it. And, while I’m no artist – I think the braiding is impressive. I mean it’s no miracle – but, this Easter weekend it did rise three times.

I’m still not sure what I believe (sorry Mom). But, when I question what it all means I always revert to the wise albeit boozy words I heard so long ago – No matter how you slice it, Jesus was a really good guy, who said a lot of really good things that lasted a really long time. Much longer than this sweet Easter bread will last, indeed.

Snow! Snow! We Can Eat Again! – French Toast

french toast breakfast recipe french bread

Perfectly Browned

I have to tell you, I kinda love a good snow storm. OK, I don’t really have to go anywhere today – so, maybe it’s easier for me. I still get that ‘maybe school will be canceled tomorrow’ excited feeling the night before. I even slept with my shades up last night so that I could see the white stuff falling when I woke. True.

During one snow event when we were little, as the heavy snow came down, my sister proclaimed: ‘SNOW! SNOW! We can eat again!!!’ (You, my follower(s) may now really think we were starved as children…no – maybe just food obsessed)

cinnamon sugar shakers snow

Filled with yummy goodness – ours was yellow and plastic – but served us well.

What my sister was talking about was the cinnamon-sugar-snow-bowls my mother would let us make with fresh snow.

We’d take a bowl out to the backyard, scoop up some snow, cover it with a tasty mix of cinnamon and sugar from a bear-shaped shaker and down it while watching the snow fall.

Yum. Pretty sure parents wouldn’t let kids do that anymore – what with the acid rain, pollution and potential dog pee, peanut allergies, Lyme disease etc.

I don’t know what it is about a good storm that makes me what to eat more. It sometimes even drives me to bake – see chocolate chip cookies. Maybe it’s the comfort of knowing that all of the potential weight gain will be well concealed by the eskimo-like attire I’ll be forced to wear if I venture out…maybe.

Last night I made Pot Roast – a truly hearty meal in preparation of the storm.

This morning it was French Toast (serves 2).

Tiny Apartment Tips:

  1. You can use slightly staled bread – you know you have some in your microwave or even freezer
  2. There’s no substitute for real maple syrup and there’s no excuse for serving cold syrup

Ingredients:

  • vanilla french toast snow

    The Good Stuff

    2 Eggs

  • 2 TBSP whole milk/cream – ok, I only had 2%, but the fattier the milk, the better
  • 8 slices of left over french baguette or 3-4 slices of bread – whatever you have. I had left over from the Baguette I bought yesterday at Fairway – best bread.
  • 1/2 TSP of  Good Vanilla – I just got the Nielsen-Massey Madagascar stuff at Williams-Sonoma during a post-holiday sale
  • Butter
  • Real Maple Syrup

Directions:

1. In a bowl, crack the eggs and whisk together with the milk and vanilla

2. Slice about 7-8 slices of last night’s baguette and dump them in the eggy mix – I soaked the first 5…then the rest for batch 2.

french toast recipe breakfast

French Toast Soak

3. Let them soak for a bit – especially if you went the baguette route. Flip ’em over and soak ’em until they’re soft but not overly soggy

4. Heat a skillet on medium and throw some butter in there – it’s snowing, you can use all the butter you want, it won’t count. Plus the butter adds flavor and will help brown your breakfast.

5. Put the eggy soaked breads in the skillet. Be patient.  Wait to flip until there’s a lovely brownness on one side – you can sneak a peek to check for brownness.

french toast breakfast browned

This is the right amount of brownness

6. While waiting – heat your syrup – just nuke it for :20 seconds or so. I mean, what’s the sense of serving a warm breakfast if you’re going to ruin it with cold syrup. Seriously!

7. Flip the deliciousness and cook the second side until equally brown

8. Serve with warm syrup and butter

Every time it snows I can hear my sister’s voice – maybe she’s giving me permission to eat all I want until the storm passes. Maybe she’s just reminding me of how delicious life was with a bowl of cinnamon-sugar-snow. Either way, I’m heeding her message – Snow! Snow! We Can Eat Again!

Have some Banana Bread, Robert Pattinson

A friend asked me recently why emotional stress has such a strong effect on one’s physical well-being. Break ups tend to bring on intense stomach pains and dramatic weight loss. Many therapists would argue that any emotional distress has a profound impact on one’s personal well-being. How well you sleep, perform at work, socialize, exercise etc are all intimately tied to your emotional health.

Thus, comfort foods; the only things we can eat when we can’t eat anything.

When I was little, my mother used to threaten us kids with jail time. Seriously – jail time. This was before the invention of the ‘time out’. We were told that we would be sent to jail where they only served bread and water. I thought; ‘Whatever Mom! I WANT to go to jail because bread is my favorite food!” It still is. Whenever I’m sick or sad, I crave bread – generally toasted and then slathered in butter. (When on the distress diet, I’m not worried about caloric intake). From the moment I can smell it heating – It starts to make me feel better.

This morning, Robert Pattinson fresh off his break up with Kristen Stewart, was on GMA. It was just his second public appearance since the split. And he seemed OK. Like Edward, in Twilight, he was relatively serious, put together and poised. Though he did joke with George Stephanopoulos about his Cosmopolis costar, Paul Giamatti’s, huge fan following in Brooklyn Heights. If you had been living under a rock lately and you were watching Robert this morning, you really wouldn’t suspect that anything had happened. You’d have no idea that he, the world’s sexiest vampire, had been cuckolded. And, making it worse, it had all played out in the tabloids. You wouldn’t know anything…

Anything except that…he looked a little thin.

So, I got to thinking  how I could help and thought I might send him some Banana Bread.

Here’s a simple recipe I found online and tweaked just a bit:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a 9×5 in loaf pan. You should really have a pretty colored one – I think bright colors can also help in treating a broken heart.

2. In a large bowl, combine 2 cups of flour, 1 tsp baking soda an 1/4 tsp of salt.

3. In a second bowl, combine 1/2 cup of softened butter with 3/4 cup of brown sugar. I like to use the darker, but either is fine.

4. Gently beat two eggs and stir into the butter/sugar mixture. Add 1 tsp of vanilla. Add 2 – 2 1/2 cups of mashed over ripe bananas. Whenever I have an aging banana, I peel it and put it in the freezer and defrost when I’m ready to make banana bread.

5. Combine the wet mixture with the dry ingredients and stir just until the mixture is moist. (You can add walnuts at this point…but you also may be too sad to chew hard nuts and can leave them out)

6. Pour the mixture into your pretty colored loaf pan and bake for 60-65 minutes.

7. After about 10 minutes, you should be able to easily flip the loaf pan and release the banana bread. Serve it warm and slather it with butter. Go ahead – you’re thin and sad…

I don’t know Robert Pattinson personally but we’ve all been through a break up or two and I felt for him over the past weeks. And, I’m not a Twi-hard, but thought (besides the weight) he looked pretty good. I do hope he’s OK and getting through it. I’d like to see him eat more. Now, if I just knew where he was staying so that I could deliver the bread….and reassure him that this too shall pass and there will, no doubt, be a New Moon.

Gold Medal Egg Cups for the Fab 5

My niece and I stayed up until after midnight last night to cheer on the US Women’s Gymnastics team as they made history earning the first team gold since 1996.

Last night’s victory was amazing – but not quite as suspenseful as the evening we watched as the US women clinched the gold in 1996. They were leading Russia as each team entered its the final rotation; Russia on floor and the US on vault. Then, disaster struck. It’s as if the team fell apart the second they saw the vault. First, Shannon Miller stumbled and missed her landing, then Dominique Moceanu missed as well. With two missed vaults for the team, the last athlete, Kerri Strug, had to make her vault in order to even have a chance at the win for the US. The weight of the team was on Kerri and Kerri wasn’t known as the athlete who could put it all together and perform under great pressure…. As she prepared for her first vault, the eyes of 60,000 in attendance and the entire country were on her.

She missed. Kerri Strug missed her vault twisting her ankle and landing on her bum.

Kerri fell – badly – and appeared injured. She had one last chance and had to make it. There was no question as to whether she would do her second vault – the only question was how? On a badly injured ankle, while Bela Karolyi screamed ‘You can do it, Kerri! You can do it!’ from the sidelines, Kerri Strug attacked and stuck her second vault. She earned a score of 9.712 and sealed the gold medal for the US women – the first Team Gold for the US ever!

That night is as etched into my memory as the night that Mary Lou Retton captured the first ever gold in the All-Around at the 1984 Olympics with a vault that earned a perfect 10.

This morning, in honor of Mary Lou, the 1996 and 2012 US Women’s Gymnastic Teams, I made Gold Medal Egg Cups for my niece. This is an tweak on Rachel Ray’s Green Eggs and Ham….

Here’s what I did…

1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees

2. lightly butter a muffin tin….use the standard size, a Texas Muffin Tin is too large

3. Cut the crusts off of 12 pieces of bread – white works best here

4. Carefully line each cup of the tin with one piece of the bread

5. Add a few shavings of a favorite cheese to each cup. We used cheddar this morning, but any melty cheese will work

6. Carefully crack one egg into each cup

7. Top each egg with a little salt and pepper and gently add a few more shavings of cheese

8. Bake for :15 minutes until eggs are set. At :15mins the yolks should still be runny.

My love (or obsession) with Olympics Gymnastics runs deep. My niece wasn’t even born when Kerri Strug vaulted the US Team to gold. Thank you 2012 US Women’s Gymnastics team for giving me a gold medal moment with one of my favorite people on the planet!

Happy Pixies in My Kitchen

By far my favorite thing to cook when I was little was Ronnie Rooster’s Cinnamon Toast. I got this recipe from my very first cookbook: The Happy Pixies’ Cookbook. The recipe was exactly what one might think it would be, but I still followed the directions – carefully pre-heating the oven, placing white bread on a cookie sheet, smearing each slice with softened butter (this was pre-microwave, when butter had to be softened by leaving it out on the counter and then…waiting), sprinkling with brown sugar and then sprinkling again with cinnamon.

In just a few minutes under the broiler I had perfectly toasted, buttery, sugary delights!

I made the Ronnie Rooster Cinnamon Toast all the time and often tried different takes on it. If we didn’t have brown sugar, I found that regular sugar worked nicely as well. If you lightly toasted the bread without anything on it first and then added the butter and toppings, the heat of the toast would help to melt the butter and you didn’t have to wait for it to soften on the counter. I even got a little indulgent a few times and did a second layer of butter/brown sugar/cinnamon and re-toasted.

Sometimes getting a recipe right is like working your way through a maze where the dead-ends are just dishes that aren’t yet perfect. And, even though I had strayed from the original recipe, I always kept the book out while preparing the toast.

Everyone has her own comfort food – the one thing she craves when feeling down. For me, that was always Ronnie Rooster’s Cinnamon Toast.

There are things you need if you want to create in the kitchen and there are things that you just don’t really need anymore. I gave away almost all of my cookbooks last year as part of the downsizing of my life. If I need a recipe, I can find it online. Actually, I can find 1,000 variations in most cases. And, living in a small apartment, I love that the Internet doesn’t take up any physical space.

I know by heart how to make Ronnie Rooster’s Cinnamon Toast. And yet, when recently sorting through what to keep and what to give away, I decided to keep my tattered copy of The Happy Pixies’ Cookbook. I like knowing that there are always happy pixies in my kitchen.