Greek Easter Bread

Jump straight to the Greek Easter Bread recipe or some baking tips.

greek easter bread

Look, even if you’re intimidated by bread, Greek Easter Bread is crazy easy and crazy delish.

I do get that bread can intimidate. There’s the rising, and the fact that yeast is a little temperamental. There’s the kneading, which needs to be done enough, and yet not too much. In this case, there’s the braiding, but that’s kinda fun.

In fact, it’s all pretty fun. This particular recipe hails from the April 2004 issue of Bon Appetit, and was part of a big Greek Easter feast. Without the red eggs, you just have a spectacularly yummy bread braid. You could also do any color eggs you want. Whatever way you bake it, you will end up with a fragrant, barely sweet, buttery puffy loaf. You don’t need more butter, but you can add some if you’re feeling especially decadent.

greek easter bread with labneh and coffee

My son, who likes few things better than ripping a piece of bread off a freshly-baked loaf, couldn’t quite get over this one. “What’s in this, Mom?”

The grated citrus peel, both lemon and orange, adds a lot of flavor. But the true secret of a wonderfully enigmatic Greek Easter Bread is mahlepi, or mahleb, aka ground dried cherry pits. You will have to venture to a Middle Eastern or Mediterranean market to find it, but you can substitute a teaspoon for 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract in any baked good. While you’re there—if you’re there in the spring—look for the special red Easter egg dye. It’s stronger than the mix of beet juice, turmeric, and red food coloring that I used.

Greek Easter Bread: A Few Tips

  • 2-3 days ahead, dye hard-boiled eggs in deep red dye. Let them sit in the dye until you’re ready to bake the bread. I use 3 eggs in the bread, but to have some extra deep red eggs on hand is cool. They are really beautiful and unusual.
  • Whisk a package of yeast into 1/4 cup of warm (about 100-110º) water. Let it rest undisturbed until it gets thick and a little bubbly. If this doesn’t happen, your yeast done bit the dust. Do not proceed until you find some working yeast.
  • Exact proportions are listed in the recipe. Get out your hand held electric mixer to cream soft butter and sugar together. You’ll then beat in an egg, the citrus peel and mahleb or vanilla, warm milk, and flour. Once you get the egg in and as you add the milk, the mixture may look “broken.” In other words, the butter won’t be so smooth any more. Don’t worry; as you add the flour, first with the mixer, then with a spatula, it will all come back together in a lovely soft dough.
  • You need the dough til it’s smooth and satiny, then let it rest to rise. In theory, this should take about 1 and 1/2 to 1:45. Mine took closer to 2 1/2 hours. Don’t despair; if your yeast is live, the bread will rise. Just give it time, and keep it in a warmish place (but not the oven).
  • Gently knead the risen bread down, then separate it into 3 pieces. To make the bread into ropes, you kind of roll and pinch until you have a 24-inch rope, three times.
greek easter bread separated into ropes
  • Braiding the braid is a little more like a French braid; the video shows how I got to kind of a false start, and frankly the end is a little messy. So tweak that to your hearts content.
  • Then make the indentations for the eggs. Blot the eggs like crazy; they’ll still bleed a little, but don’t worry. Press them into the little dents you’ve made in the bread. Let rise a second time, till lovely and puffy.
greek easter bread after the second rise
  • Bake at 350º for 20 minutes, then turn the bread and bake another 10. The finished bread should be golden and make a nice hollow sound when you tap the bottom.
  • You can definitely eat this bread all by itself, but a little butter, jam, honey, quark, or labneh is also lovely. And Greek coffee on the side makes it even better. Here, it’s part of a table of Greek appetizers including Greek salad and spanikopita.

Greek Easter Bread: The Recipe

spanikopita triangles

Spanikopita

Jump straight to the spanikopita recipe or the steps.

spanikopita

When I was a kid growing up in Monte Sereno, California, we had Greek neighbors. Let’s call them the Constantines. All the Constantines had dark brown eyes and black hair, which, in my world of blond-blue-eyedness, I found beautiful.

At Easter, the family dyed all their Easter eggs red, to signify “God’s blood,” Greg’s older sister Andi told me. Eastern Christian, or Eastern Orthodox Easter does indeed opt for bright red eggs as opposed to the pastel rainbow favored by Western Easter, both secular and religious.

However, in my over-romanticized child’s view of the world, I was sure she said, “the gods’ blood.” I managed to convince myself that the family worshiped all the Greek gods—and since my Greek mythology book was one of my favorites, I thought that was very cool indeed. Those red eggs surely symbolized some exotic ritual that had something to do with pomegranates. It was wildly exciting.

Eating Spanikopita

I didn’t try Greek food until years later, when I lived in Ithaca, NY, for an interesting experiment of a year at Cornell. (I was in the MFA acting program and it didn’t really take, particularly since I got a chance to move to New York City and live in a downtown apartment for $265 a month.) The Greek restaurants—really diners—in Ithaca are wonderful. It was there that I ate spanikopita for the first time.

Between fall of 1983 and the following spring, many a helping of spanikopita was had by me in this very location.

Greek diner spanikopita tends to come in a big pan, kind of like lasagna with filo. Fun fact: Filo (or phyllo, depending on which box you buy) and strudel are basically the same thing. Why?, you may ask. Well, think about geography. The Austrian-Hungarian empire went pretty far east; Turkey and Greece, as you can see, are not that far to the south.

Those inventive cooks and bakers who transformed a handful of flour, water, and fat into a Nerf-ball-sized lump of dough, which they then rolled out to about the size of a bed sheet, inspired and probably taught the Magyars, Serbs, Croats, and Bulgarians how to make the same stuff. Next time you tuck into a crispy, shattery apple strudel, realize it could just as well be spinach and feta cheese, or honey and pistachio nuts between those layers.

By the way, you can use this same recipe to make the lasagna-esque version of spanikopita. Still, I prefer these little triangles, which are only a little time consuming, and otherwise easy. And while it helps to have a decent size counter to work on, I have made these in tiny NYC kitchens. So it can be done.

Here’s how.

Making Spanikopita

  • Take a package of frozen spinach, thaw it, and squeeze the hell out of it, until it’s as dry as possible. I always use thawed frozen spinach. The volume of raw spinach necessary to cook down to 10 ounces takes up a ton of room in the fridge.
spanikopita-squeeze
  • Chop scallions, dill, and parsley. Add to a bowl with the squeezed-dry spinach. Mix in one egg, a pinch of salt, a sprinkle of nutmeg, and 4-6 ounces of crumbled feta. Naturally, the better quality the feta, the yummier this will be.
spanikopita mix
  • Melt about a stick of butter and have a pastry brush ready. (If you use coconut oil instead, you will have a cracklier spanikopita, which may be fine for you.) Line a counter-top the size of a cookie sheet with parchment. You can work directly on your baking sheet if you want, but it will have some butter on it afterward, and that could smoke up your oven.
  • As lightly as possible, brush the sheet with butter, then lay down your first sheet of filo. Brush that lightly with butter, lay down another sheet, until you have 3 sheets.
  • Put a heaping tablespoon of filling at the top of the sheet. Then repeat so you have four tablespoons going across the sheet.
spanikopita
  • Take a sharp paring knife and cut rows down the length of the sheet.
a
  • Fold one corner of the sheet over in a triangle, the way you’re supposed to fold a flag. Just keep flipping, until….voila.
This format was an experiment; next time, I won’t be shooting in portrait.
  • Repeat, then repeat the whole exercise until you run out of filling.
  • When you’re done, brush the tops of completed triangles with butter. You can either freeze them in layers. Or you can bake the spanikopita in a preheated 350º oven for about 12-15 minutes. They should be nicely golden.

Spanikopita are, to my mind, the absolutely perfect Easter meal appetizer. But they are really pretty darn wonderful any time of year. Just hunker down, do the work, and feel safe and secure that you have a store of yum in your freezer for the next 6 months. You probably won’t need a reminder to eat them.

The Recipe

Affordable Kitchen Makeover: Before and After

The Easy Kitchen Reorg

I must tell the truth: My humble kitchen, from which I hope to offer up delicate morsels of cooking wisdom, was simply not Company Ready. I needed a fast, affordable, easy kitchen reorg. And when I say “fast, affordable, easy kitchen reorg,” I mean one that’s going to cost as little as possible, not take up too much time, and be totally DIY.

My kitchen is inherited, and it’s swell. I didn’t need a new stove or to knock out a wall or anything. My problem was disorganization. Not an insane amount, but enough that cooking was frustrating. And if cooking’s frustrating, well, you don’t want to do it.

Below are the specifics if you want to read. Or just watch the video.

I had a deep drawer that held ALL my spices. I would reorganize it about once a year in a well-intentioned way. But it never worked.

Easy Kitchen Reorg: The before, super-messy spice drawer.

I had  a drawer I could easily label “Weird Stuff I Really Need When I Need It, Which Is Hardly Ever.”

Easy Kitchen Reorg: The before, super-messy baking drawer.

Because my other big deep drawers were filled in a nonsensical, semi-logical manner, I had  all sorts of crap on my counters, including a bunch of vitamins (out of frame) that were there because I was supposed to remember to take them or something. I’d occasionally clean them off, but the crap always crept back on because of how that Broken Window thing works. (And if you don’t, here’s a link on Broken Window Theory as applied to housekeeping.)

Easy Kitchen Reorg: The before, mildly disorganized counter.

My sister loves organizing. So I gave her a drink that she also loves because she will do a lot for that drink. And I said, will you please fix this?

No, she wouldn’t, because I was the one who needed to do the fixing. But she did analyze my work flow. Here’s what that meant.

The Easy Kitchen Reorg: The Steps

I had to empty everything out of the drawers and to my dining room table at full extension. If you don’t have a table, I’d use the floor with a blanket on it, but the everything out thing is key. This only took about 5 minutes.

Easy Kitchen Reorg: Everything out of the kitchen drawers and onto the table.

I set out cookie trays on the table and started to group things by category. I dreaded this step, but it only ended up taking 45 minutes. Also, it was kinda fun in that kindergarten “clean up, clean up” way.

I moved things directly on the trays over to the new cleaned out drawers, one drawer at a time. This only took about 10 minutes.

Easy Kitchen Reorg: Everything out of the kitchen drawers, organized for new placement.

Spices now lie flat in rows in the 2 shallow drawers on either side of the oven; savory on the left (because I use those more and even though I write with my right hand, my cooking tends to orient left, which works out nicely for my left-handed husband)…

Easy Kitchen Reorg: Savory spices after organization.

….and baking spices. I repurposed our extra-large silverware tray for this, and I’m happy with it, even though it’s not Martha Stewart gorgeous. And since there’s more room in the baking drawer because I don’t have nearly as many sweet spices as I do savory, I could get all the vitamins hidden away but still accessible.

Easy Kitchen Reorg: Baking spices and vitamins after organization.

With the baking spices on the right, they’re just above a drawer of mostly baking type of things that I now use more because everything is organized.

Easy Kitchen Reorg: Baking and miscellaneous items after organization.

Silverware is next to the dishwasher. This was our one purchase, a smaller silverware holder. And I have to say, this is my favorite part of the redo and I actually look forward to unloading the dishwasher.

Easy Kitchen Reorg: Silverware drawer, newly placed next to the dishwasher.

Finally, we re-allocated the “Hardly Ever” stuff. Sometimes it fit with the baking or cooking things, but much went into a closet in a nearby room.

The Easy Kitchen Reorg: The Math

5 minutes to empty the drawers

45 minutes to organize

10 minutes to put the organized stuff in the drawers

60 minutes total

The value of this was tremendous. Cooking went from being this mildly stress-inducing process to a super streamlined one. Now, gathering all ingredients and tools ahead of time and stashing them back in almost no time takes a lot less energy.

So I highly recommend setting aside about an hour to just think about how you cook and what will work for you, and then taking the other hour to take everything out, reconfigure it, and put it all back. I’d love to hear from you, too; every kitchen is different, and if you have a cool way to deal with something, please share.

Cook joyful!