Greek Easter Bread
3 packages dried yeast
1/2 C. lukewarm water
5-pound bag all-purpose flour
3/4 lb. (3 sticks) butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 C. sugar
1 1/2 C. lukewarm milk
1 t. ground mahlepi (available at Middle Eastern stores) or grated rind of 1 orange
9 hard-cooked eggs, dyed red
1 egg, lightly beaten (for glaze)
1/2 C. sliced almonds or 1/4 C. sesame seeds (for decoration)
In a bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the water. Stir the mixture, then stir in 1/2 cup of the flour.
In an electric mixer, cream the butter, add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time. Add 2 cups of the flour and beat well.
Transfer the mixture to a large bowl. With a wooden spoon, add the lukewarm milk, yeast mixture, mahlepi or orange rind. When the mixture is smooth, add the rest of the bag of flour a few cups at a time, until it is all added and the mixture starts to form a dough.
Knead the mixture in the bowl for a few minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. Cover it with plastic wrap and set it in a warm place.
Let the dough rise for 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until doubled in bulk.
Punch down the dough, cover it, and let it rise again for 1 hour.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board. Divide it into thirds. Cut each piece into three strips and form the strips into ropes -- you should have nine ropes. Use three ropes to form each braid; you'll end up with three braids.
Lightly butter three baking sheets. Shape the braids into rounds, pinching the ends together. Transfer one round to each baking sheet. Tuck 3 eggs into each bread, setting them into the spaces in the strands of the braids.
Let the breads rise again about 1 hour or until doubled in bulk.
Set the oven at 350°F. Brush the top of the dough -- not the eggs -- with glaze and sprinkle with almonds or sesame seeds. (If you don't have room for all the breads to bake at once, let one of the breads rise in a slightly cooler place than the others so it won't be ready as quickly; then bake the other two breads first.)
Bake the breads for 30 to 35 minutes or until the breads sound hollow when tapped on the bottom and their tops are golden brown. If the breads seem to be browning too quickly during baking, cover them loosely with foil.
Cool on racks and cut into wedges for serving. The eggs are fine to eat (and the person who gets them also receives good luck).
Makes three 10-inch rounds.