Around the holiday, this rich, buttery egg bread is typically decorated with long ropes of dough shaped in the form of an early Christian cross, hence the name "Christ's Bread". Though mahleb, a spice made from ground black-cherry pits, is often used for flavoring, we've substituted the easier-to-find aniseed.
1 package dry yeast (about 2 1/4 teaspoons)
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup warm water (100° to 110°)
6 tablespoons butter or stick margarine, softened
2 large eggs
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons nonfat dry milk
2 teaspoons aniseed, crushed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg white, lightly beaten
8 candied cherries
How to Make It
Dissolve yeast and 1 tablespoon sugar in warm water in a large bowl; let stand 5 minutes. Add the butter and eggs; beat at medium speed of a mixer until smooth. Lightly spoon the flour into dry measuring cups, and level with a knife. Combine 3 cups flour, 1/3 cup sugar, dry milk, aniseed, and salt; add to yeast mixture, beating well. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead until smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes); add enough of remaining flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, to prevent dough from sticking to hands.
Place dough in a large bowl coated with cooking spray, turning to coat top. Cover and let rise in a warm place (85°), free from drafts, about 1 1/2 hours. Dough will not double in size. (Press two fingers into dough. If indentation remains, the dough has risen enough.)
Punch dough down; let rest 5 minutes. Pinch 2 (1 1/2-inch) balls off dough; cover and set aside. Shape remaining dough into an 8-inch round; place on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Brush with egg white. Shape each dough ball into an 8-inch-long rope; cut a 2-inch slash into the ends of each rope. Place 1 rope across middle of dough; brush the middle of the rope with egg white. Place the other rope across the middle of the rope, forming a cross. Curl the slashed ends together to form a circle; place a cherry in the middle of each circle. Arrange 4 cherries around center of cross. Cover and let rise 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 350°.
Uncover dough. Bake at 350° for 35 minutes or until loaf sounds hollow when tapped. Remove loaf from pan, and cool on a wire rack.
NOTE: If you don't have time to decorate this bread, skip step Punch dough down; let rest. Shape the dough into a 8-inch round. Cover and let rise 1 hour. Bake as directed.