It all started when our friends asked if I would make some sourdough for the Easter gathering at their home, but then I caught a fever—spring fever! This is not an illness, it’s actually a wellness, which means I get this urge to start making things, several things at once, in fact, and in spite of making a huge mess in the kitchen over the course of three days, I had such fun! You see, I got this vision of an Easter basket filled with homemade bread, flowers from my yard, and eggs dyed with things from the kitchen instead of a kit. I googled around a bit for some info on the natural egg dying process. Basically, you use things that have a lot of color to begin with, like purple cabbage, Red Zinger tea, turmeric, yellow onion skins, red onion skins, or beet juice. Then you boil it up, let it cool, add some vinegar, and you’re good to go. For the eggs, I asked my neighbor Marilyn if she could spare a few for the cause.
Her chickens are what they call “Easter Eggers,” because they lay these lovely pale, pastel eggs that come in light green, blue or pink. Mixing those with my own chickens’ eggs, which are varying shades of brown, plus some white ones from the store, I was starting with a variety of hues. At first I put one brown, one white and one pastel egg in each of they dyes and stuck them in the fridge for a good little while, maybe an hour or so. When I began taking them out, the results nearly took my breath away! The deep, rich, earth tones of each one was utterly delightful–no two were alike! Somehow each shell had absorbed the dyes differently, plus some slight mottling and streaking here and there, so that instead of a mere half dozen colors there was an exquisite variety. Success!
The next challenge was the bread itself. I needed to bring my baking up a notch if the end result was going to be not only visually fitting for a beautiful Easter buffet, but pleasing in flavor and texture as well. To be honest, given the vagaries of the weather these days, the mood of the sourdough starter, a chilly country kitchen and an oven that goes to whatever temperature it happens to feel like at the moment, my creations are often lacking in one or more of these areas above. It’s amazing how many variations can result from the same recipe.
One batch might be photo worthy, but be too doughy or not have enough salt. Another might make the perfect sandwich bread if you remove the blackened bottom, or don’t mind the odd shape. If all else fails there’s always the chicken coop. Fortunately, you can always count on the hens to appreciate your efforts. So, knowing this was going to take perhaps several tries, each one needing hours of dough rising time, I started on Friday with the idea of a round loaf with the eggs baked in the top. This is a traditional bread that I’ve done before, usually resulting in something fun but not very edible. This time was no exception. I’m not even sure the chickens can handle this one without breaking their beaks. The next one wasn’t much better–dense, heavy and not nearly the size needed for the number of people. Okay, so I abandoned the round loaf idea and settled for a light braided challah (recipe here) with the eggs arranged around it. By this time I had my sourdough starter completely buzzed from being fed several times a day and it was rising beautifully. The bonus was that after I had braided the dough, I had extra, so I divided it up into mini muffin tins and made little hot cross buns. This worked out great.
The challah came out of the oven a beautiful glossy, golden brown and because we had the little buns, we could sample to see if it tasted as good as it looked. It got a thumbs up! The last bit was going out to gather the flowers, a pure pleasure after all that puttering around in the kitchen. I happily took my shears out to get up close and personal with the fresh green grass and the daffodils, forsythia and crabapple blossoms. A few blooms and sprigs were all that was needed to complete this bit of spring in a basket, a sensory feast of color, taste and aroma to chase the last chill from our hearts and welcome the season of rebirth. The bread is risen indeed! Allelujah!