I love, love, love Greek Easter bread (technically it’s called Tsoureki). My mother is Greek so any time we celebrated something a second time because of the Eastern Orthodox calendar we just called it Greek Christmas or Greek Easter or whatever food we were eating that was slightly different because of the Mediterranean influence we’d toss the word Greek in front of it and my sister and I would happily partake in whatever it was. Now that I’m older and have been ribbed by my friends for years that it’s actually Eastern Orthodox Christmas and Eastern Orthodox Easter we were celebrating two weeks after the western version and that it’s more like Mediterranean chicken and pilaf – not just for Greeks – but I don’t care. I still use ‘Greek’ instead of ‘Eastern Orthodox’ and I can’t help it. 😉
This year, Greek Easter falls an entire month after western Easter but I’m baking up some Tsoureki anyway – because why not? I made this before we left Canada and one of my (painfully honest) Greek aunts said it was good, which is the equivalent of angels singing and clouds parting after two days in the kitchen trying to get it right. All it takes is the right recipe – and a little patience.
Tsoureki via Thea Rika
8 cups all purpose flour (plus more for counter)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups warm milk
3 envelopes dry yeast
1 2/3 cup unsalted butter
1 2/3 cup sugar
zest of one orange
zest of one lemon
1 tablespoon mahlab
5 eggs, lightly beaten
1 egg, beaten with a splash of water
sesame seeds or chopped almonds for sprinkling
1 red egg (optional)
It’s not that far from making sweet rolls, really.
Sift the flour and the salt, dissolve the yeast in the warm milk (not too hot or it’ll kill the yeast), after a few minutes add 1/2 cup flour and 1 tablespoon of sugar. Now let it sit till it foams up. I usually cover it too.
Melt the butter in a large saucepan, stir in the rest of the sugar, the orange zest, lemon zest and mahlab. Remove from heat and stir in the beaten eggs.
Using a large bowl, combine your yeast mixture with your warmish egg and butter mixture and very slowly add in the flour. Cover it and let it rise for two hours.
Now is the fun part! Sprinkle your counter with flour, punch down the dough and knead it. Separate it into four balls and let them rest for 10 minutes. Roll the pieces into long strips, about 12″ long. Braid the dough, tuck it into a loaf pan and place your eggs in the braid. Let it rise again, this time for about an hour. Preheat your oven to 350.
Before you pop it in the oven, brush an egg wash over it (just water and an egg whisked together) and sprinkle with sesame seeds or almonds (or not). Bake for about 30 minutes until the top is golden brown.