Next Up: Asian “Tangzhong” Breads

“Tangzhong method” a.k.a. “water roux” a.k.a. “soup method” breads have been around for about 15 years now. There’s a debate on about where they originated, either China or Japan. I’m not sure that matters much. The upshot is that breads made via this method are extremely soft and fluffy with a very tight and consistent crumb. All that flies in the face of bread trends here in the US where everyone seems to be trying to get back to hard crusts and inconsistent, open crumbs. Still there’s enough reader interest in this technique for me to want to give it…

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Making Italian Easter Bread

Talk about great decorative breads for Easter brunch, these are it. Italian Easter breads are sweet and fluffy with some very welcome surprises baked in. Little Joan Pastry would eat hard boiled eggs all day long if I let her. I don’t know what she’s looking forward to more on Easter morning, chocolate eggs and jelly beans or these breads full of eggs.

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Hard Boiling Eggs

A lot of requests for a tutorial on this. It makes sense given that most hard boiled eggs end up sticking to the insides of their shells, and/or with that blue/green film around the yolks which signifies over-cooking. The first problem is best solved by time. Sticky shells result when you boil very fresh eggs. Easy-peel eggs can be had by either aging the eggs in the fridge for 10 days or longer, or letting the eggs sit at room temperature for about 24 hours. The aging loosens the membrane that surrounds the white from the inside of the shell, and that does the trick. Note that before you hard boil your eggs they should be chilled again, at least for this method, which assumes cold eggs.

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When Calendars Collide

Reader Chana writes:

A few years ago there was a very strange situation where Easter actually fell before Passover. Someone explained the whys and wherefores to me, but the truth is that I didn’t understand it at all. I mean, huh? Your explanation above is so clear (really), I thought maybe you’d like to tackle this one as well.

That’s a bit of a toughie, Chana. The year was 2008 and everybody — Christians and Jews alike — was confused. Only an astronomer can properly explain how it happened that way, but suffice to say that the Catholic Church has revised its timekeeping methods since 325 A.D. when Christians and Jews were more or less on the same calendar, a lunar one, meaning a calendar that’s dictated by the cycles of the moon.

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Why is this night different from all other nights?

Holy Thursday is the day when Christians celebrate a Passover Seder. Not in the strict sense, we wash and awful lot of feet, but it’s the night we celebrate the Last Supper, which three of the four Gospels depict as a Seder meal. If you’re a Christian and you’ve never celebrated a proper Seder, try it sometime. Any understanding of Christianity is really incomplete without an appreciation for the faith’s Judaic foundation.

Which brings me to the question this post inspired: reader Lori wants to know why in most other languages Easter is called “Pascua”, “Pasqua”, “Pascha” or something similar. The answer…

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On Easter Eggs

Eggs are a conspicuous part of an Italian Easter bread, and for Greek Easter bread as well as reader Rick reminds me. The two are virtually identical save for the fact that in the Greek version the eggs are all dyed a single color: a deep crimson red. That’s standard for Greek Orthodox Catholics, being a bit more doctrinaire than most Roman Catholics. I guess they don’t call it “Orthodox” for nothing.

In the orthodox tradition Easter eggs are always dyed blood red to symbolize the drops of blood shed by Christ on the cross. Roman Catholics, like other Christians who celebrate Easter, tend to approach Easter eggs with a bit more frivolity. Ours come in all colors of course, they can be tie-dyed, drawn upon, you name it. …

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Moveable Feast: Not Just Another Catering Company

We’re getting some warm spring breezes in Louisville today and they’re welcome after a not very snowy but conspicuously cold winter. Puts an old Catholic like myself in the mood for Easter, because if Easter isn’t about tulips, short sleeve shirts and roast spring chickens, then what’s it about? The resurrection of Christ thing, that’s a for-sure.

Reader Dusty wrote in to ask an interesting question: why does Easter move around the spring calendar so drastically when other big Christian holidays like Christmas are always on the same day each year? That’s a lovely one, and it all goes back to a little something called the Council of Nicaea, a gathering of Christian leaders that was convened in 325 A.D. by Constantine the Great, the Roman emperor whose conversion to Christianity turned the entire Roman Empire Catholic in one fell swoop, transforming the faith from an underground religion to an officially sanctioned church.

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How to Make Fancy Pastry Like a Pro

Reader Michelle writes:

Joe, I’m frustrated. I consider myself a fairly accomplished baker but every time I set out to make a really fancy pastry the whole thing ends in disaster and my entire day is wasted. I don’t want to give up but I just can’t seem to get the fancy pastry thing right. Should just stick to bread and cookies? Help!

Michelle, as a white-haired man named Clinton once said: I feel your pain. There’s not much worse than spending a long day making components for an elegant pastry, then having the whole thing collapse into an ugly, delicious mess. It happened to me over and over again, then I went to work in a pastry shop and saw how the pros avoided my mistakes.

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Italian Easter Bread Recipe

What we have here is something similar to brioche, though not as fussy. You mix it all together in one step (no beating in the butter once the dough is made) and let it rise as you would any bread dough. The result is a bread that’s still quite soft and rich, but without the explosive rise of brioche, which in this context is a good thing. You’ll need:

4 ounces (1/2 cup) butter
6 ounces (3/4 cup) milk
1 lb. 1. 1/2 ounces (3 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
zest of one orange
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
6-8 hard boiled eggs, dyed Easter colors
egg wash

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Next Up: Italian Easter Bread

I know I’ve been spending a lot of time in Italy lately, but the food is good so why not? Plus who can resist braided brioche with a dyed hard-boiled egg baked in the middle? My girls are going to go nuts and the breads will look amazing on the Easter table. I promise to do something very different after I’m done getting all Martha Stewart on you. Cool?

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