Even though Turkey is a majority-Muslim country there is a large community of Christians as well, hence you can see Easter celebrations all over the country – normally anyway, if it wasn't for a rampant pandemic. In the days leading to the Christian holiday, the Turkish version of the traditional sweet braided Easter bread usually starts to pop up in many pastry shops and bakeries around Turkey. But now, with the hunt for Easter eggs canceled globally over the coronavirus, and those in Turkish metropolitan cities under lockdown for the weekend, it is time to roll up our own sleeves and give this version a shot in the comfort of our homes.
(yields three big braids, halve the amounts for smaller ones)
First put the yeast, mahlab, and sugar into a small portion of the flour and mix it up. Add three eggs and one egg white into the bowl. The one separated yolk will later be used for glazing the braided bread loaves.
Toss in the butter and milk as well and start kneading. While kneading, gradually add the flour until you get a non-sticky dough. If you like raisins, add them in as well and knead it a final time.
Cover your dough with a wet cloth (not dripping wet but wet to the touch) and let it rest in a warm place for at least 30 minutes.
Depending on the size of your braids, separate the dough into three equal parts. Carefully stretch and roll the dough pieces into strings and braid the bread (like you would with hair) on a baking tin.
Let the braids rest again for 15-20 minutes, as they’ll rise again. Once they’ve rested, whisk the separated yolk a bit and brush it onto the braids. After that, sprinkle the crushed hazelnuts or almonds carefully onto them as well. Bake the bread at 180 degrees Celsius or 355 degrees Fahrenheit for about 25 minutes, or until golden brown.
*While you can bake smaller braids, you can, of course, make one huge braid out of this dough, but it would need to stay in the oven for a longer time, so you might want to lower the temperature a bit and keep an eye on the bread so it doesn't burn.
*If you want to be really fancy (and want it to be even sweeter), you can drizzle some glaze over it. Just get a few tablespoons of powdered sugar and add a few drops of water or lemon juice to it and mix it until you get a thick glaze that you can spread all over the braids.
*If you think you have made too much or you simply want to make them in bulk, you can put them in the freezer once they’ve cooled down. Once out of the freezer, they taste just as fresh and fluffy as when they were freshly baked. Just keep in mind not to put them into the fridge, as they will dry out. It's better to freeze and get out as much as you can in one go. But don't freeze them with the glaze, make sure you dribble that on only before you are going to eat it.
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