Makes 3 to 6 loaves depending on size baker makes them. Recipe is from Vasso Dimitriades, of Baton Rouge. The Greek sweet bread is traditionally made for Easter when it is garnished with a red-dyed egg, symbolizing the blood of Christ and new life.
11/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
11/2 cups sugar, plus 1 tsp. sugar
3/4 cup lukewarm milk
3 envelopes yeast
1 tsp. mahlepi (see note)
6 cups flour (2 lbs.), or more as needed
Egg wash (1 egg beaten with a little water)
1. Preheat oven to 100? F. When oven reaches temperature, turn heat off but leave the oven light on.
2. Beat softened butter with 11/2 cups sugar until sugar dissolves, then blend in the eggs.
3. Add remaining 1 teaspoon sugar into the warm milk and then add the yeast. After yeast mixture bubbles, add to the sugar-egg mixture.
4. Add mahlepi or other flavoring and the flour. Knead well until it makes a uniform dough.
5. Place dough into a greased bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and place in the oven. Let dough double in volume and knead gently to the previous volume. Let double in volume a second time.
6. Divide dough into three to six equal portions, depending on what size loaves you wish to make. Divide each portion into three parts, rolling each into 10-inch long pieces for braiding. Start the braid from one end and work all the way down, keeping the braid tight and even. Another technique is to start the braid from the center and work to the ends. After braiding, press the ends together to form a loaf. (If decorating with dyed egg, press hard-cooked egg into one end of the loaf.) Return to the oven and let rise again, about double in size.
6. Remove loaves from the oven; then turn the oven back on, preheating to 350? F.
7. Brush each loaf gently with egg wash and sprinkle sesame seeds on top. Bake for 20 minutes.
Note: Mahlepi is a spice Dimitriades finds at A-Z International Fine Foods, 13461 Tiger Bend Road, Baton Rouge. You can substitute your own flavoring, such as orange zest or vanilla extract.)