An Easter bread of some form is something that many European cultures have in common. It may be sweet or savoury, flat, dome shaped or plaited, but it always plays a central role in the Easter lunch. In Naples me and my friends would visit each other's houses and inevitably have a taste of tortano or casatiello (and of course the sweet Pastiera, but that's another story), the two classic Neapolitan savoury Easter breads. Each one of us would have his or her favourites but inevitably for all of us the end of Easter holidays always brought a few more kilos on our frames. It would have been bad manners to refuse a taste, or not? This year I was really tempted to bake one of these two breads but one bread, in a German baking book caught my eye. I bought the book on impulse, sadly I must say, since all the recipes I tried have been disappointing and the recipe amounts often silly. On the other hand the book's stuffed with loads of potentially nice ideas so maybe it wasn't all wasted money... Oh, but that Easter bread! I just couldn't get it out of my mind. So I took the recipe, changed it trusting my (limited) experience with brioche-like dough and for once the result was quite nice. At least looks nice, doesn't it? And tasted good too!
The recipe is, in a certain sense, a blatant disrespect to the glorious traditions of Greek cuisine. I mean, take a traditional Greek Easter bread, called tsourakia or lambropsomo. This SWEET bread usually has (at least from my info) either one or five RED boiled eggs as a decoration. Now give the recipe to some German editor who wants to make a fashionable baking book. He or she will turn this into a SAVOURY bread with BLUE eggs on top. The result is actually better than one could think, although I would perfectly understand any Greek who feels really annoyed about it. I, for once, hid my principles about authentic food under the carpet and went on not only to bake but also to enjoy eating this bread.
For the recipe itself, first make a sponge starter with 200g (7 oz) bread (or 550) flour, 200 ml (6.8 fl oz) milk and one package active dry yeast. Let rise till very bubbly and doubled. Mine took something like 40 minutes. Meanwhile cook 60g (about 2 oz) finely chopped onion with very little butter, till translucent then add 40 g (1.4 oz) finely diced bacon or dry-cured ham (like Parma or Serrano, but possibly some less expensive one), and sautee for about 2 minutes. Set aside. Boil 3 eggs for about 5 minutes (they'll cook some more in the oven) and dye them blue or any colour you like, it doesn't really matter.
Once the starter is ready knead together with another 300 g (10.6 oz) bread flour, 1 egg, 1 tsp salt and 1 Tbs honey. Add just enough milk to let the dough come together(in my case 3 Tbs were enough), it will be quite firm. Once you have a rough dough add 75 g (2.6 oz) soft butter, in small pieces, and knead into the dough. Knead till the dough becomes nicely elastic (about 7-10 minutes) and leave to rise covered till doubled. At this point divide the dough into four equal pieces. You'll need to roll three of them into 60 cm (24 in) long ropes and the last one about twice as long (and half as thick). You'll need to stretch and roll each rope a bit, then let it rest while you stretch the next one another bit, and so on till you reach the desired size. Plait the three thick ropes together. It helps if your hands are a slightly wet at this stage to let the ropes stick better together. I must admit I'm really bad at explaining how this should work and the links I found on the net are not clearer either. Maybe you're lucky and have a bread book that explains it with some nice pictures, which makes understanding how it works a lot easier.
Once you have your plait place it on a greased sheet. Use your hand to create a sort of dent along the middle of the bread. Space the three dyed eggs evenly on the bread and use the last, thin rope to enclose them letting the rope run around the eggs in a sort of sine wave (gosh maths!). Or, looking at the eggs in a row parallel to you: over the first egg, under the second, all around the third one, over the second egg and finishing under the first one (not really clear is it?). Let the bread rise for about 1 1/2 to two hours. Glaze with egg yolk and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake at 200C (400F) for 30 to 4 minutes. Let it cool and tah-dah there's your Easter Greek-German bread!