Festive foods make the occasion for me, more than any other tradition. Tsoureki is a sweet Greek bread made at easter time, usually studded with dyed red eggs to symbolise new life.
For me, this tsoureki always brings back the memory of my family’s Easter tradition; gathering at my Grandmother’s house after midnight mass for a supper of buttered tsoureki, chocolate eggs and cups of tea.
I never had the fortune of watching my Grandmother make this bread so I chose to use this recipe because it looked the most authentic (with the exception of the orange zest) and the taste was just as I had remembered it. I will definitely be making this again this weekend to celebrate with my family. Whether you will be celebrating your Easter this weekend or you simply want to extend your Easter celebrations, this is a very tasty way to do it.
- 500 gm (2 2/3 cups) plain flour, plus more for the bench
- 21 gm (3 packets) dried yeast
- 125 ml (½ cup) milk
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten, plus extra for brushing
- 50 gm caster sugar
- 2 tsp mahlepi (available at Mediterranean supermarkets or delis)***
- 75 gm softened butter, coarsely chopped, plus extra to serve
Red Easter eggs
- 3 eggs
- Greek red egg dye (also available at Mediterranean supermarkets or delis)
The recipe instructs use of an electric mixer fitted with dough hooks. As I am not fortune enough to own one, I used the method I was most familiar with; mixing all dry ingredients in the bowl and then adding the wet ingredients (with the exception of the butter), to form a rough dough.
Gradually add the butter, about a third at a time, and knead until the dough becomes smooth and elastic. Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set it aside until it has doubled in size (about 40 minutes to 1 hour).
I must admit, kneading the butter into this dough was the most unusual step in this recipe and seemed difficult to begin with but in the end produced a really lovely dough and the butter worked in fairly easily after the first lot had been kneaded in.
After waiting over an hour…
Now gently knock back the dough, divide into 3 even portions and roll out to 30cm rolls or the length of your baking tray. On your lined baking tray, plait the three rolls together and leave to prove for another 20 minutes or so. Preheat your oven to 180 during this time.
Brush with egg-wash (or milk), push the whole, boiled eggs (still in their dyed shells) into the plait and bake in the oven for 25 – 30 minutes, depending on the size of your loaf.
When cooled, serve buttered the same day you make it. This bread goes stale quickly. If you have some left the following day, it is also good toasted with peanut butter spread on top, although this is slightly unorthodox!
***Mahlepi (or mahlab) is a powder of ground cherry stone kernels from a cherry tree that originates in east Asia. It is a member of the rose family and imparts a flavour combining bitter almond and rose or cherry. It’s a very distinctive delicate flavour and well worth seeking out if you go to the effort of making this bread.
Many recipes include orange or lemon zest in the loaf. To my mind, this is not only unusual, but also a bad addition to tsoureki, given the mahlepi has such a delicate flavour. If you do purchase mahlepi, leave out the zest, for a truly authentic flavour.