Monday, April 17, 2006

Greek Easter Spiral

I have a bad habit of collecting exotic ingredients. I don't mean to do it. It's just that I read about food all the time and I think "Hmm...that sounds good. If only I had blank, I would make it." Then sometime later I will come across that ingredient and buy it. Unfortunately, by that time, I have no idea where I saw the recipe that inspired the purchase of the ingredient in the first place. Months, or even years, can go by before I run into a recipe that calls for the ingredient again. This is why my pantry contains such things as pomegranate molasses, Chinese rock candy, three sizes of tapioca balls, szechuan peppercorns and mahlab.
Mahlab is the pit of a sour cherry tree found in the Mediterranean. It is used in Greece and Armenia as a spice in baked goods and imparts a mild bitter almond flavor. This bottle of Penzey's mahlab has been in my cupboard for about a year so I was happy to find a recipe for Greek Easter bread that called for it.
Mine isn't as pretty as the one in the book because I was lazy and did not use an egg wash. (The random sprinkles of sesame seeds aren't very attractive either!) This bread smelled so divine when baking that I didn't want to leave the house to work outside in the sunshine. The taste of mahlab in the finished product is subtle but you can definitely tell there's something special about the bread. I may increase the amount next time. This made delicious french toast on Easter morning. I think it'd be fun to use this dough for Hot Cross Buns too.

Greek Easter Spiral from Home Baking by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid

Starter Dough
1/4 tsp. active dry yeast
1 c. milk
2 c. flour

2 Tbsp. dried orange peel or 1 Tbsp. minced candied orange peel
4 Tbsp. butter, melted
2 large eggs
2 Tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. yeast
1 1/2 c to 2 1/2 c. flour
2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. mahlab
pinch of mastic powder ( I didn't have any and by the time I acquire it, I will have forgotten about this recipe!)
1 egg mixed with one Tbsp. milk
sesame seeds for garnish

Make the starter 12 to 24 hours before you plan on making the bread. Put starter ingredients in a bowl and mix to form a smooth dough. Loosely cover and let sit overnight or for up to 24 hours.
If using dried orange peel, boil for 20 minutes, drain and repeat. If using candied peel, rinse with warm water and finely chop.
Put the starter in the bowl of the stand mixer. Add the butter, eggs, sugar and yeast. Mix until ingredients are incorporated into the starter dough. Add the peel, 1 1/2 cups flour, salt and spices. With the mixer on low speed, mix for 5 minutes. The dough should be firm but slightly sticky. Add more flour if needed to achieve this consistency. Transfer dough to a lightly greased bowl and let rise for 2 1/2 hours.
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and roll into a 20 inch cylinder, slightly tapered at one end. Starting with the fatter end, coil loosely 1 1/2 turns. It is supposed to have a hole in the middle but mine dissapeared during the second rise.
Transfer dough to a floured baking sheet or pizza peel. Cover loosely and let rise for 1 hour. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Brush the risen dough with the egg wash and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes. Cool on a rack.

This is my entry for the Weekend Cookbook Challenge- Easter edition. My thanks to Sara and Alicat for hosting! Maybe I should start the Exotic Ingredient Challenge?


At 5:15 AM, Anonymous lindy said...

Ha! I have a bottle just like this in my cupboard, which I bought for something I decided not to make after all. This bread looks and sounds lovely. Thanks!

At 5:26 AM, Blogger lee said...

lindy- I just finished reading your post about an exotic ingredient! Try the mahlab, you won't be sorry.

At 6:32 PM, Anonymous Ivonne said...

What a beautiful recipe! And picture!

At 3:55 PM, Blogger Mrs. B said...

so the challenge is: What else can you use mahlab for?

At 4:37 AM, Blogger Alanna said...

Hmmm ... innteresting. My favorites sources to answer What to do with Odd Ingredient? (something I do several times a week) came up mostly dry.

Epicurious, nothing.

The Penzeys site -- no search on recipes, for heavens sake, wouldn't you think THEY'd be open to making this easier?

Google Blog Search, Lee's post and then the prior most recent one was OCTOBER (and then there are a couple of broad ideas).

There is an alternate spelling, mahleb, but still! Lee, maybe you're destined to become the expert!

At 9:59 PM, Blogger shuna fish lydon said...


can you put one of these leetle things in your mouth and eat it? Or is the flavour in the cooking of it?

A friend is the chef at a Greek restaurant-- I will definitely be asking him about this! Thanks.


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