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Baking Lazarakia to eat on Lazarus Saturday is a tradition practiced in Greece and Cyprus. It is said to have originated in Cyprus, and it is significant that St. Lazarus was their first bishop. The bread is a mildly sweet Lenten bread made with sweet-smelling spices that looks like Lazarus bound up in grave clothes.
7-8 cups flour
2 cups warm water
3/4 tbsp. active dry yeast
1/2 cup sugar
2 tbsp. honey
1 tbsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. aniseed or anise extract
1/2 tsp. salt
3 tbsp. olive oil (plus more for brushing)
Whole cloves for eyes or whole almonds for face
Dissolve the yeast in warm water along with the honey. Allow to stand for about 5 minutes, until it becomes frothy. Add sugar and olive oil and mix until dissolved. In a separate bowl use a fork to mix 7 cups of flour with the remaining dry ingredients. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and stir in the yeast mixture.
Knead the dough (I use a Kitchen Aid mixer with a dough hook for this process.) for about 10 minutes or until the dough is elastic. (Add extra flour until you get a dough that is neither too dry nor too sticky to handle. If you’ve used too much flour and the dough becomes too dry, you can add in water by the tablespoonful until you reach the correct consistency.) Cover and allow to rise in a warm place for an hour. Punch down and allow to rise for another 45 minutes.
There are several ways to form the Lazarakia. You want your breads to look like little men wrapped in burial shrouds.
One way (pictured below) is to divide your dough into 13 pieces, with one piece larger than the rest. Divide the larger piece into 12 cords, and then cut each cord into half. At this point, you should have 12 pieces of dough, and 24 cords. Roll each of the 12 pieces into an oblong shape. Place an almond at the top as a face. Then take two of the smaller cords and, starting just below the “face”, braid the dough together.
Another way to do this is to use gingerbread men cookie cutters, and wrap the arms around the rest of the dough to create the burial shroud. Use 2 cloves for eyes.
Or you can do it free-form, creating the shape of a man with a knife, and wrapping the arms around to make the shroud.
When you’re happy with the form of the dough men, place the breads on an oiled sheet and cover them. Allow them to rise for 30 minutes to an hour. Brush with olive oil and then bake in a pre-heated oven of 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes (or until golden).