It’s Easter and it is one of my favorite holidays food wise. My Mom’s cooking is superb, she’s been doing it for 40 years and it’s hard to live up to but I always try. This year since being far from home and there’s no way of tasting Mom’s food I made our traditional Hungarian Easter meal by myself for the first time. It’s not a complicated fare… basically a cold dinner. 95% of the time we eat cold food for dinner and breakfast and only lunch is warm. For my family Easter starts on Saturday afternoon when we go to church, participate in an Easter procession and then go home to eat the first specially prepared dinner. I decided to prepare one for my friends yesterday. So the menu was …
- Cooked smoked ham with horse-radish
- Boiled eggs (there’s a little twist there, more down below)
- Mildly sweet bread called Kalács/ca-laa-ch/
Now the more time-consuming part is the bread… (but totally worth making your own in my opinion). You should definitely start your preparations with this!
1 kg or around 6 cups of sifted flour
2 egg yolks + 1 before the baking
1 medium pinch of salt
1 tablespoon of sugar (and another tablespoon or so to sprinkle later)
1 lemon’s grated zest
1 packet/ ¼ oz of dry yeast or 5 dkg live yeast
5,5 – 6 dl/550-600ml warm milk
10 dkg/1 stick of melted unsalted Butter (and a few more tablespoons for later)
Choose a big roundish plastic bowl for this dough. The first step is to sift the flour. Take care to use room temperature here because cold is an enemy with everything yeast driven. Flour is a strange ingredient, it changes depending on the country of origin so you may need more or a little bit less depending on how much moisture it can absorb. You can add it flexibly to the dough depending on the consistency. The same is true for the liquids so treat these amounts as an approximation and feel free to adjust them as needed. Add the egg yolks, the salt and sugar, the grated lemon zest and the dry yeast to the bowl too. In Hungary we use live, refrigerated yeast you can buy in a little cube format. It acts differently, so if you have only that on your hands you need to prove it first in a warm place with a bit of warm milk and a teaspoon of sugar. In 10 minutes it will swell up nicely and then you just have to add it to your flour. Then you can start adding the milk mixing the content of the bowl constantly. Keep working the ingredients together and add the butter in increments working it into the dough. It has to be soft but still workable, if it is sticky don’t start panicking, add more flour only if it doesn’t change during the kneading.
When it is starting to form a ball comes the kneading. You grab the dough on one side and with circular movements start working it. This is where the bowl’s sides help you… The kneading can take from 15 to 40 minutes depending on your speed and strength (in my case I just don’t have the stamina and grip for it so it is closer to 40). The dough should slowly smooth out and clean off your hands and bowl. You can stop when tiny bubbles start appearing under the surface.
Then powder it with some flour, cover it and put it somewhere warm and allow the dough to rise for about an hour. It should grow double the size if not your yeast has not activated!!! Take the dough out to a lightly floured surface (wax paper, cleaned counter, rolling mat or table) and flatten it slightly out with hands carefully so you don’t push all the air out of it. With a knife spread some butter here and there and sprinkle with sugar for some added sweetness then fold it three times. First grab one side and pull it over the half point than the other side over it than folded it half as shown on the photos. Now you can cut it in three parts.
Here comes the fun part… the braiding. We gently twist and pull out the pieces into strands, stick them together at the end and do a tight braid (especially if you haven’t got a bread pan to use). Push the ends under the bread so they hold tight and place it on your sheet/pan of choice. Use baking spray or butter to make your baking pan or sheet unsticky.
Put it to the side for another 30 minutes to rise in a warm spot, then gently spread an egg yolk on the top of it. This is what will give that nice golden brown color. Pre-heat the oven for a high heat, around 400 degrees Fahrenheit/220 degrees Celsius/6 on a gas oven and place your bread in for baking until it is nice golden.
Cooked ham with horse-radish and boiled eggs
Smoked uncooked ham
A dozen eggs
Horse radish to serve
This is the easy part of the meal. Unwrap the ham and sit it in a huge pot with enough water to cover it and set it on medium heat for a little bit over an hour.
Then take it out and wait until the water is cooled to slightly warm and set the eggs in it (preferably not immediately from the fridge, you don’t want them to crack) and boil. This is the twist! If you use them hams cooking water your eggs will taste delicious, because they somehow take that smokey, wonderful taste. Afterwards you just have to clean the eggs, wash the radish and set the horse-radish on the table. Ham and horse-radish is heavenly together, they complement each other perfectly. This is easy, isn’t it!
Voila… Your Hungarian Easter dinner, served!!!
See you soon with some more Easterness!