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Greek New Year's Bread (Vasilopita)

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon anise seed
  • 1 small stick cinnamon
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 5 cloves
  • 4 cardamom seeds
  • Orange peels
  • 2 packages active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 5 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 pound butter
  • 1 tablespoon Crisco
  • 1/3 cup orange juice
  • 3 eggs (beaten)
  • 1 jigger cognac
  • 2 to 2 1/2 pounds flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon masticha
  • 1/2 cup liquid from spices
  • 1 egg
  • Sesame seeds

Instructions

  1. Boil anise seed, cinnamon, bay leaf, cloves, cardamom seeds and orange peels in 1 cup water. Gently boil for around 15 minutes or until it boils down to 1/2 cup. Strain and reserve.
  2. In a small bowl dissolve yeast in 1/2 cup warm (105 to 115 degrees F) water . Add 2 teaspoons sugar and 5 to 6 tablespoons flour to make a thick mixture. Stir until smooth. Cover and put aside in a warm place for about 10 minutes. It will foam and rise.
  3. Heat milk to warm. Add sugar and stir to dissolve. Add butter and Crisco and stir until they melt. Take off heat, let it cool a bit. Add orange juice, beaten eggs, and cognac.
  4. Put around 1 1/2 pounds of the flour in a large bowl. Add salt and masticha. Make a well in the center and pour the above liquid into hole. Mix either by hand or in electric mixer. Add the 1/2 cup liquid from the spices. Continue to mix well. Add the yeast mixture and mix. Put dough hook onto your mixer if you have one or else by hand continue mixing and kneading, adding the remaining flour. Add enough flour to make a moderately, but not too stiff dough.
  5. Grease or oil a clean bowl. Put dough in bowl, cover with wax paper and a clean towel. Put it in a draft free warm place and let it rise until it doubles in size - about 2 to 3 hours.
  6. Punch down and knead a few minutes. Cover dough and let rest for 10 minutes.
  7. Form into one large round loaf and put into an 11- or 12-inch round greased pan or separate into two loaves and put into two 9- or 10-inch round greased pans. Make sure you spread the dough so that it touches the edge of the pan. Wrap a clean coin with tinfoil and hide in the dough (from underneath). Cover and let it rise again until almost doubled - about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
  8. Beat one egg with 1 teaspoon sugar and brush top. (You may, with some reserved dough, write the year on top.) Sprinkle top with sesame seeds.
  9. Place in lower part of oven and bake at 300 degrees F for 1 hour 15 minutes for large loaf or for 1 hour if two smaller loaves. To keep the top from browning too much, the last 15 minutes cover loosely with aluminum foil.

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