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You know, the season that usually comes between winter and summer… the time when the days are getting longer and warmer, there’s sunshine, bumblebees and flowers, and the grass is starting to grow again.  But not this year – this spring has been postponed while we sit through yet another round of freezing cold winds, snow and icy nights.

Daffodils

The garden has slipped back into winter torpor – the few spring flowers that have emerged, regardless of the weather, are mud-splattered and wind blown.  I haven’t seen any bees so far this year, no frogs are visiting the pond, and the Woodland Trust has issued a warning that many of our native species which should now be emerging from hibernation, may be struggling with the prolonged cold weather.

Looking back at some of the photos I took this time last year, there’s a huge difference in the garden.  Last March there were violets in flower –

Violets

no flowers so far this year, just a few buds staying stubbornly closed.

The pulmonaria too, had many more flowers open.

Pulmonaria

And, according to the date on this photo, there was at least one calendula in full flower at the end of March last year…

Calendula

Bumblebees were out and about looking for nest sites, and collecting nectar and pollen.

Bee

No doubt everything will catch up once the spring arrives for real.  Until then, seed sowing continues indoors, and a thick layer of fleece is still tucked over the seedlings in the greenhouse.

Meantime, there’s bread to be baked… The theme for this month’s Twelve Loaves over at Cake Duchess is holiday breads, and with the Easter weekend ahead, I wanted to try something new.  This is where the internet comes into its own, easy access to so many recipes.  I found a recipe for a Czech Easter bread – Velikonočni bochánek.  It’s a bit like the Italian panettone – a sweetened loaf with dried fruit and nuts.  I’m not sure how authentic the recipe is, and I’ve made a few changes to it – but it was easy to make and tasted very good.

Toast

Czech Easter Bread

200ml milk

115g unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

100g caster sugar

600g plain flour

½ tsp salt

2 tsp fast action dried yeast

50ml warm water

2 large eggs, beaten

60g raisins

25g blanched almonds, plus a small handful of almonds for the topping, sliced

35g candied lemon peel, chopped into small pieces

Heat the milk in a small saucepan until it is starting to bubble, but not boiling.  Remove from the heat and add the butter and sugar.  Stir while the butter and sugar melt into the hot milk.

Sift half of the flour into a large bowl, add the salt and dried yeast and stir.

Put 1 tbsp of the beaten egg into a small bowl and set aside to use for brushing on the top of the loaf before baking.  Add the rest of the egg and the warm water to the milk mixture, and stir in.  Then add the milk to the dry ingredients.  Stir to form a smooth, wet dough.  Add the remaining flour, together with the raisins, 25g sliced almonds and candied lemon peel.  Mix again until you have a smooth and sticky dough.

Cover the dough and leave in a warm place to rise until doubled in size.  This should take about an hour, but took nearer 2 ½ in my cold kitchen – patience is key…

Turn the dough out onto a floured board and knead for a couple of minutes.  Shape into a large round loaf and place on a greased baking sheet.  Cover and leave to double in size again.

Preheat the oven to 200oC, 400F, gas 6.  Cut a cross in top of the loaf, brush with the beaten egg set aside earlier, and sprinkle with the remaining sliced almonds.  Bake for 15 minutes, then turn the oven down to 190oC, 375F, gas 5 and bake for a further 35-45 minutes.

Cool on a wire rack.

Czech Easter bread

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