Friday, April 2, 2010

Lessons of love

I have one of those grandmothers. You know the type. Every time you showed up on her doorstep, she greeted you with the biggest smile and the warmest hug. After smothering you with kisses, she whisked you away to the kitchen and fed you the best homemade delights. Food that let you know you were at Grandma's. And nothing from a box or a can. Ever. She was an expert cook, gardener, hostess, seamstress, and all around domestic queen. She always made you feel like you were worth the effort, and she loved you more than you thought possible (and always "up to the moon").

Just about every memory I have of my grandmother involves cooking. She taught me so many things, from how to scramble the perfect egg to making some of the most complicated dishes. Everything she made looked and tasted incredible. And she did it with such ease. 

My grandmother celebrated her 91st birthday this week. These last few years have aged her and changed her quite a bit. Even though I can still see her and talk to her, I miss her. I miss all the wonderful times we spent together. I miss our conversations and her wisdom. Most of all, I miss cooking with her. I'm so thankful for everything she taught me. I will continue to keep her legacy alive and pass her traditions on.
I love you grandma. Up to the moon.

Tsoureki (Greek Easter Bread)

Tsoureki, pronounced TSOO-REH-KEE, is a sweet bread traditionally served by Greeks to celebrate Easter. My grandmother made it every year. It should be baked on Good Friday and is considered good luck to do so. Intense red-dyed eggs are added to the bread to represent the blood of Christ (again sticking with tradition, the eggs should only be dyed on Holy Thursday). There are many different recipes for Tsoureki, but I always use a scaled down version of my grandmother's.  This is her hand-written copy (I love the hearts) and because she could bake this from memory, only ingredients are listed, no how-to.  Good thing she taught me well.

Ingredients (makes 2 loaves):
2 cups milk
2/3 cup butter
1 tsp. sugar
4 packages active dry yeast (do not use rapid rise)
6 eggs, slightly beaten
2 tbsp. fresh grated orange zest
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
8-9 cups bread flour
1 tsp salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar

Place the milk in a small saucepan and warm over low heat. Add the butter, stirring it into the milk as it melts, then allow to cool slightly to about 110 degrees. Sprinkle 1 tsp. sugar into the milk mixture, then add the yeast. Allow to ferment for about 5 minutes. Place milk/yeast mixture in a large bowl; add eggs, remaining sugar, salt, 4 cups of flour, orange juice and zest. Using an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook, mix until all flour is combined. Add remaining flour, 1 cup at a time, mixing until dough is easy to handle.
Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 10-15 minutes. Place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover and let rise for 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until doubled in size. Punch dough down, knead again and then divide the dough in half. Shape each piece into 3 ropes, each 12 inches long. Pinch the 3 ropes together at one end, then braid the 3 ropes into a plaited loaf. Repeat the process with the other 3 ropes.

Once the bread is braided, insert the red eggs and brush with beaten egg. Allow to rise again, about 30 minutes.  For a decorative touch, add blanched slivered almonds after brushing with egg.
Bake the bread in a preheated 400 degree oven for 15 minutes. Reduce temp to 350 and bake for 20 minutes longer. The finished loaves are glorious.


Honorary Indian said...

YUM! Will you get to see your grandmother while in CA? Let us know how your mom is...and happy Easter.


Cindy said...

oh my gosh this bread looks so scrumptous. i wish i had some right now! as far as the grandma thing goes, enjoy her. i learned almost everything i know from mine and i miss her more than words cans say. even these last days they have moment of wisdom that suprise you. my grandma died at 95. god bless yours:)

Amanda said...

nothing better than homemade bread - this looks wonderful!