As šunka u kruhu is on the menu for Easter lunch, this year I decided to do my pletenica on Good Friday–essentially turning my morning into a bake-fest as I got a head start on other necessities such as makovnjača. Rather than make pinca (another delicious bread often made for Easter, but has roots on the coast), for this post I decided to stick with my continental traditions. Along with our trademark red/white checkerboard, braiding and interlacing (pleter) are very Croatian motifs–and, similar to other Central and East European traditions such as the Hungarian kalács or Czech vánočka, featured with our breads. Found at all the major holidays, but somehow most fitting for Easter in my opinion, this sweet bread can be shaped into a wreath or simply left straight. In fact, a cute tradition is to place a dyed egg at the top of the braid (kind of like a wand) or in the middle of the wreath. As I’m not dying my eggs until Holy Saturday, I’ll have to wait to place them in the middle, post-bake, though normally you would bake it with the dyed eggs in place.
- 500 g of wheat flour (all-purpose or plain flour, not whole wheat) + more to knead
- 11 g of instant dry yeast
- 1 tablespoon of salt
- 4 teaspoons of sugar
- 1 egg
- 2 egg yolks (save the egg whites for the glaze)
- 3 dl of milk (about 1 1/2 cups)
- 1 dl of canola oil
- 1 tablespoon of sour cream
First mix all of the dry ingredients together in a large bowl with a fork, aerating it as you go. (This is an easy way to get around sifting.) Make a well in the middle and add one egg and two egg yolks. Gradually add the milk and oil, alternating between the two, until you have formed the dough. To get the best consistency, I usually start with a fork, gradually incorporating the flour from the edges of the “well,” then move to my hands once the dough gets thicker.
On a well-floured surface, turn the dough out and knead until the dough sits properly in your hand (doesn’t move and sag) or is elastic enough to stretch without breaking apart. Set aside and let rest for about 30 – 45 minutes.
Heat the oven to 170 degrees Celsius.
Divide the dough into three parts and role each into three ropes. If one or two of the ropes are a bit longer, simply break off the excess and reserve for a smaller wreath or straight “wand.” Braid then shape as desired. Brush with a glaze made out of the leftover egg whites and one tablespoon of sour cream.
Bake in the oven for about 40 minutes for the larger, and a bit less for any in smaller shapes. Periodically check to make sure it is not baking too fast and/or add additional glaze, if necessary. If it browns too fast, you can cover lightly with aluminum foil.