What Is The Greek Easter Bread?
Tsoureki is Greeks favorite Easter treat. Well, this and the Traditional Greek Easter Cookies. It's a very soft and airy sweet bread, filled with sweet flavors and aromas. All buttery and topped with flaked almonds (some add sesame but I think it steals the show from the Mahleb's flavor). I will explain in a bit what Mahleb is and why it's A MUST in this recipe.
This delicious bread traditionally comes in the shape of a braid, which makes it look as good as it tastes. And even though its described as a bread (because it's made with yeast and kneading), it's much softer in texture. Bread is kinda firm and condensed, while Tsoureki is very airy and fluffy. I think the best way to describe it, is to compare it with a croissant. Since it has that similar stringy inside. Meaning the croissants you buy in a grocery store. Not the ones you buy from a bakery.
Sweet Greek Easter Bread (Tsoureki)
How To Make Tsoureki
So in order to make Tsoureki, you first create a bread-like dough and then add the butter into the dough by kneading. This way the moisture of the butter creates all these stringy layers. Just like when making puff pastry.
And I'll be honest with you. It does require quite some time and effort to make. It's not an easy nor a simple process but it does worth, both the time and effort. For me, it took me most of my day to make. I started at 9 o'clock in the morning and finished at 6 o'clock in the afternoon.
This time includes a 'dough-resting-time' of 3 hours, plus a 'dough-resting-time' of 30 minutes, plus a 'dough-resting-time' of 20 minutes. And also includes a break to have some lunch (had one of my favorites Green Peas Stew). As well as a water supply cut-off, that left me with a very messy kitchen for a few hours. They change the villages water supply old pipes and cut off the water supply whenever they feel like it, without informing you, but I don't want to get started on that...?
The Mahleb Powder
But I will start telling you about Mahleb powder. Mahleb is used as a sweet flavoring to some middle Eastern desserts. It's made out of the seeds of a cherry species and has a very strong and unique flavor (unique in a good way, not a weird one :P). If you have never tried Mahleb than you are definitely missing out. Its flavor is really enticing.
From the moment it starts to bake it makes the whole house smell like you are in a bakery. A 100 times better than vanilla does. There is a bakery in Northern Greece, at Thessaloniki that's very famous for it's Greek Easter Bread (Tsoureki). Called 'Terkenlis'. Everyone who has visited that bakery, says exactly the same thing. Oh, that sweet smell that breaks your nose and you can smell from one mile away...Thinking to yourself -Now they bake the Tsoureki.
In most Greek Easter Bread recipes, you will see Mastiha used as a flavoring also. Some say it's a must to accomplish the Tsoureki flavor. But I totally disagree with that. To me, the Mahleb is what gives Tsoureki its flavor and it's A MUST to make an AMAZING one. I never felt like anything's missing. Plus I'm not a fan of Mastiha anyway.
Mahleb is my 2nd favorite sweet spice after cinnamon (3rd comes the flavor of brandy). So if you don't know where to go look for it I'm sharing a link here with the one I use.
The Different Shapes
The Greek Easter bread always comes in the form of a braid. But it can be a 3 piece braid, a 4 piece braid or the simplest of all a 2 piece one. Ladies, I think we all know how to make a braid (ugh, except the French one which drives me crazy). But for whoever that doesn't, I included a simple sketch showing how to make a braid. I thought it would be easier, rather than adding my pictures of showing how to make a braid.
Greek Easter Bread (Tsoureki)
For The Bread:
- 950 grams / 2 lb + 1.5 oz bread flour
- 200 ml fresh milk
- 120 ml water
- 200 grams / 7 oz butter at room temperature
- 250 grams / 8.8 oz sugar
- 4 medium-sized eggs
- 18 grams / 0.6 oz dry yeast
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 10 grams / 0.3 oz mahleb powder
- 1 small orange zested
For The Egg Wash:
- 1 egg 1tbsp water egg wash
- flaked almonds
- In a small saucepan, add the milk, water, sugar, and half the amount of butter (100 grams).
- Warm up the mixture over medium heat by whisking constantly. Remove from heat, once the butter and sugar have dissolved completely.
- Add the yeast (make sure the mixture is under 60° C before doing so), the vanilla extract, the orange zest, and the mahleb powder. Whisk until fully combined.
- Pour the mixture into the mixer's bowl, along with half the amount of flour.
- Beat over medium speed for 2 minutes (with the mixer's dough hook attached on).
- Add the eggs one at a time until fully incorporated.
- Add the remaining flour slowly.
- Once the dough is fully combined remove it from the mixer. It should all come out in one piece. Otherwise, add a bit more flour.
- Add the dough to a large mixing bowl and cove the bowl r with a dampened kitchen towel.
- Let the dough rest at room temperature for a few hours until it doubles in size. It takes about 2-3 hours at an average temperature of 20 to 25 ° C.
- Take the dough and press it down with your hand to remove the air.
- Melt the remaining 100 grams of butter and wait until it cools down a bit. Then start to pour the butter to the dough (small bits at a time) while kneading.
- Continue kneading until all the butter is incorporated into the dough. It may look a lot but don't worry it will absorb it all. Just keep kneading. You will feel the dough become very soft and airy.
- Preheat oven to 50 ° C for 10 minutes. Add a small pan with some water at the bottom of the oven.
- Cover the dough with a tea towel. Turn off the oven and add the bowl with the dough in the oven. Let the dough rest for 30 minutes.
- Once the dough has doubled in size once more remove from the oven.
- Squeeze the dough to remove the air and cut it in half. Then cut each piece to either 2, 3 or 4 pieces. Depending on how many pieces you want your braid to be made of.
- On a lightly floured surface, shape each piece into a long cord. Pinch the desired number of cords together at one end. Start making the braid. Once you're finished, pinch the other end together as well. Tuck it under the braid to secure it.
- Transfer each Tsoureki on a large baking pan or your ovens tray covered with parchment paper.
- In a small mixing bowl, whisk the egg with the one tablespoon of water. Brush the Tsoureki with the egg wash and add some flaked almonds on top.
- Preheat oven to 50 ° C once more for 10 minutes. Turn off the oven. Add the Tsoureki and let it rest for 20 minutes.
- Remove the Tsoureki from the oven. Preheat the oven to 150 ° C / 302°F. Bake the Tsoureki for approximately 40-45 minutes. Preferably one Tsoureki at a time and without removing the pan with the water from the bottom of the oven.
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