Previously published in the magazine Dutch, issue March/April 2012
The gathering of family and friends around the breakfast, lunch or dinner table is always a feast on First Easter Day. It was, especially for the Roman Catholic areas in the country, the first celebration after Lent and the one that broke the 40 day fast. For those that didn’t fast during that time, it was a Spring time event that warranted celebrating just for the sheer joy of better times ahead. The stark diet, whether for religious reasons or because winter rations were running out, was replaced by a day of abundance and good cheer. Children had saved their candy during Lent and were now allowed to dig into their sweet savings, and adults splurged on meat, eggs and fresh spring vegetables.
Eggs were, by definition, a sign of new life and a great source of protein to strengthen and gather energy after a cold, dark winter. Breads were enhanced with sugar, dried fruits and almond paste, and meat-filled soups were part of the tradition: all to celebrate with abundance the arrival of Spring, of new life and of warmer weather.
Paasbrood can be served as a loaf or, as shown in the picture, as rolls. Divide the dough into six equal parts, roll them into balls, cover and let them rise until puffy, about thirty minutes at room temperature. Make an incision in the top with some scissors and press an unboiled egg in the dough, making little nests, or shape the bread like paashaasjes, as can be seen here.
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup dark raisins
1/3 cup currants
4 cups flour
2 1/2 tsp yeast
1/4 c sugar
zest 1 lemon
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 1/4 cup milk, warm
1 stick butter, melted
1 heaping tablespoon citron peel
1 heaping tablespoon candied orange peel
Place the raisins and the currants in a small saucepan, add a cup of water and bring to a simmer on the stove. Let it simmer for a good ten minutes, then turn off the heat and let the fruits sit. Proof the yeast in half a cup of the warm milk. Mix the flour, the sugar and the cinnamon, and slowly pour in the proofed yeast and the rest of the warm milk. Keep mixing and while the dough comes together, add in the egg, the melted butter and the salt, then mix and knead the dough until it comes together in a soft, pillowy dough. If the dough is too sticky, add a tablespoon of flour.
Place the dough in an oiled bowl, turn it over so that both sides of the dough are greasy, cover the bowl and let it rise, away from cold drafts, for an hour or until doubled in size.
Now divide the dough in half, shape them into loaves, grease two 9x5 bread pans and place the bread, seam down, into the pans. Cover and let rise for about 30 minutes or until the dough fills the pans.
In the meantime, heat the oven to 350F. Place the bread pans on the middle rack and bake golden in about 40 minutes. If the bread browns too quickly, tent the pans with a sheet of aluminum foil. Brush the tops with water when the bread is done and place them back on the rack for a minute, then take them out.
Let the breads cool on a rack before you slice them. Serve with some good butter. Zalig Paasfeest!