My house smells heavenly tonight. Enough so the new scent totally eradicated the terrible odors from the morning’s attempt to dye Easter eggs naturally.  (I mean, I suppose that worked – they’re definitely natural colors: tan and hallucinatory pink.)

The loveliness in the air is Finnish Easter Bread.  It’s from Bernard New Clayton’s Complete Book of Breads (1973, Simon & Schuster). I made it because I wanted to see if it was any different at 5000 feet elevation and because – well, because it sounded utterly glorious.

And it is. This is an enriched yeast bread, enriched with the triad of eggs, butter and milk – more than one kind of milk even. It’s seriously, beautifully enriched. It’s also stuffed with chopped almonds, golden raisins, orange and lemon peels and cardamom, which happily is lovely because it’s awfully expensive.

The bread took a long time, even in my fast-rising high altitude aerie. Even so, most of the individual rises did move faster than the recipe indicated, because that’s what happens up here in the foothills. Most of the time I’m not in a hurry for my bread to rise faster – I dislike the idea of the rapid rise yeasts because I want the bread to develop with fuller flavor of a slower rise. Also, reading through one fat cookbook on baking, either a test kitchen or the King Arthur Flour baking book, I now don’t remember which, I ran into the fact that it’s perfectly all right to add extra yeast to something if you want it to rise faster. Never knew that. I did know about retarding the rise by leaving it in the fridge, either so it can be baked at a specific time, or to let the flavor develop.

his one starts with a sponge, then goes to a beautiful healthy rise, then forms into two loaves.  The recipe says it can be baked as one loaf – I can’t imagine doing so – I’m pretty sure that mass of dough weighed 5 pounds. It calls for pails (like milking pails, which I don’t happen to have laying around) or large coffee cans (ditto) so I used Panettone wrappers from King Arthur Flour.  They’re wonderful though I do put a piece of foil or a baking tray under them, especially in a recipe loaded with butter, just in case something leaks. (I have a history of setting my oven on fire.)

Only good things can come of a tall, proud, aromatic bread that comes out of the oven and gets brushed with butter while still hot. It took somewhere between five and six hours, but it’s worth it!

The Sponge

2 cups all purpose flour

2 packages active dry yeast (not rapid rise)

1 ½ cups Carnation canned milk

½ cup hot water

 

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The sponge, rising

 

The Dough

5 egg yolks

1 cup sugar

2 sticks salted sweet cream butter, softened

1 ½ teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons cardamom

2 teaspoons grated lemon peel

2 tablespoons grated orange peel

1 cup golden raisins

1 cup chopped almonds

1 cup milk, room temperature

2 cups light rye flour

4 to 5 cups all purpose flour (I used 3 ½ )

Butter, melted

Even on a wet, fresh, kind of cold day like this was, the desert atmosphere only used 3 ½ of the 4 to 5 cups of flour. Calls for bread flour. I used all purpose. For the rye flour I used light.

The sponge is supposed to take an hour – I think it took half an hour to more than double at 5000 feet. It really, really rises – use a big mixing bowl.

Mix flour and yeast, stir in the canned milk and hot water, and mix with a wooden spoon until the lumps are out of the mixture. Cover with plastic wrap (I was out, so slit open a gallon sized zipper baggie and put that over it). Allow to rise until double.

Before starting the dough, grease a large mixing bowl and set aside.

For the dough, stir down the sponge and add the egg yolks, sugar, butter, salt, cardamom, lemon and orange peels, raisins and almonds. Stir until well mixed.

Stir in the rye flour and the milk. This is a very soft, sticky dough at this stage. I added about a cup of the all purpose flour before turning it out onto the floured board and working in about 2 ½ more cups of flour.

Recipe calls for kneading for 10 minutes. I did 6 because I have no patience and because by then it felt right – not clinging all sticky to my hands, not dry and hard. In fact, this is a wonderful dough to knead, very elastic and bouncy, and very large – it weighed a ton. Transfer to the prepared, greased bowl, cover and let rise for about an hour, or until doubled.

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Once the dough has risen, turn out onto the floured board and punch down. The recipe calls for 4-quart pails. I used two King Arthur Flour’s bakeable paper Panettone pans, which were about perfect. The dough is only supposed to go halfway up the pan – I think I was at 2/3 of the way up and I’m very happy with the way they turned out.

This rises very fast, covered with a sheet of wax paper. Preheat oven to 350, and bake for one hour. One of the few breads I’ve seen tested with a metal skewer or straw for doneness. Remove from oven and brush with butter. I let mine sit on a rack for about 20 minutes, then peeled the paper off them.

They’re lovely. And they smell far, far better than the muddy naturally dyed Easter egg experiment of this morning.