This blog is for everyone, regardless of where you stand on the political stage. It is written in the spirit of peace and unity by my daughter Chelsea. I could not be more proud of her.
In the past 24+ hours since Trump has been proclaimed president-elect my house has never been so clean. My cat is hiding from the demon vacuum and the bathroom smells like a hospital. When I am angry I clean and when I am sad I bake. The past few days my house has been subjected to both emotions. For in times of trouble “Betty Crocker comes to me speaking words of wisdom… let it be carbs”. I was taught that the answer to grief is baked goods. When my mother had cancer our family didn’t have to cook for months; when my Grandpa died we had more coffee cake than we knew what to do with. I am convinced certain recipes have healing powers. Now I am not saying my Momma’s strawberry shortcakes are going to cure your cold, nor will Grandma’s brownies with powdered sugar heal that skinned knee, but a simple, slightly-sweet leavened bread can warm your heart and give peace to an exhausted body.
This braided bread recipe is normally made at Easter. Many countries and cultures have their own version of braided sweet bread, but this is the recipe I use. For me and for many, recipes and memory are tightly interwoven. I had a wonderful priest growing up, named Fr. Tan Creti. A brilliant mind, a true scholar, a poet even, but what I remember most, far more than his accolades, was his enduring gentleness and his deep respect for human dignity. From what I recall, his most joyous days were the Blessing of the Animals on the Feast of St. Francis and the annual children’s nativity pageant. Who doesn’t love toddlers in sheep outfits. To him every creature, great and small, was important, had value, and was inherently necessary just as they were.
Now what does my humanist Priest have to do with a bread recipe? Well, at my church growing up, before your first communion you go on a little two day retreat with your parents and the priest. We talked theology, watched videos, made dinner, and played soccer on the lawn, but the most memorable part was the morning of your first communion. We all got up very early and we went upstairs for breakfast only to find that our early morning was nothing compared to Fr. Tan Creti’s early morning. He had already been up for hours. He had been prepping dough. After the first rising he turned it over to us. Everyone had to touch it, everyone had to knead it, everyone had to work together to make this bread, for that was the meaning of communion and this was to be our first Communion bread. In a few hours Fr. Tan Creti would bless and give us this bread, this bread that needed each of us in our own way.
Now, older but not much taller than my 10 year old self, this bread and this recipe should not and cannot only be representative of the Christian church. Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Atheist, Hispanic, Asian, African,First Nations, European, LGBTQ, peoples of all nations and creeds all are inherently necessary more now than ever to make figurative and literal bread. Fr. Tan Creti used to say that the reason the bread turned out so well was that it had been touched by so many hands. So I invite you to take, eat, and share this bread for it is for all of us.
2 ½ cups all purpose flour
¼ cup white sugar
1 tsp salt
1 (.25 oz) package active dry yeast
⅔ cup Milk
2 Tbsp butter
In large bowl, combine 1 cup flour, sugar, salt and yeast; stir well. Combine milk and butter in a small saucepan; heat until milk is warm and butter is softened (not melted).
Gradually add the milk and butter to the flour mixture; stirring constantly. Add two eggs and ½ cup flour; beat well. Add the remaining flour, ½ cup at a time, stirring well after each addition. When the dough has pulled together, turn it onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth, and elastic, about 8 minutes.
Lightly grease a large bowl, place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.
Punch down the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide the dough into three equal size rounds; cover and let rest for 10 minutes. Roll each round into a long roll (about 36 in. long and 1 ½ in. thick) Braid the pieces of dough and seal the ends of the dough together to form a ring.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place loaf on a buttered baking sheet and cover loosely with a damp towel. Place loaf in a warm place and let rise until doubled in bulk (about 45 minutes). Brush risen loaf with melted butter.
Bake in preheated oven for 50-55 minutes or until golden.