Tsoureki is a very aromatic and soft bread that's served during Easter in Greece.
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 the word bread doesn't do it any justice as it's so soft similar to a croissant or a very fluff brioche bread.
How To Make Tsoureki
So in order to make Tsoureki, you first create a bread-like dough and then add the butter to the dough by kneading. This way the moisture of the butter creates all these stringy layers. Similar to 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. It requires patience to rise and shape and rise again.
But let's break it down a bit:
First of all, you make a starter dough in order to dissolve and activate the yeast. You do this by mixing flour, water, sugar, and yeast. Then let triple in size covered at room temperature.
Secondly, you make the dough. You can do this using either a wooden spoon or an electric mixer with the hook attachment on. Give the dough a rest again.
Thirdly, fold in the butter. The butter should be melted yet cooled down to room temperature so it won't kill the yeast. Knead and fold the dough just like you would do with any bread.
Rest the dough and let double in size. It takes about 3 hours at room temperature.
You can leave the dough at room temperature until doubled and then place it in the fridge overnight to do the shaping and second rise the next day. The dough will be much easier to handle. Before you do handle it though allow it to warm up a bit for 1, 5 hours at room temperature.
And finally, it's time to shape the bread and proof it in the oven until it doubles in size.
Tsoureki is very very aromatic. Its delicious Eastern aromas are what make it so unique and absolutely irresistible. These spices are Mahlep, Mastic, Cardamom, and orange.
But I will start telling you about Mahleb powder. Mahleb is used as a sweet flavoring for 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 then 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. It's 10 times stronger than vanilla.
There is a bakery in Northern Greece, at Thessaloniki that's very famous for its Tsoureki. Called 'Terkenlis'. This is the most famous bakery for buying Tsoureki and every Greek that visits it agrees on this: the smell of Tsoureki breaks your nose even if you are very far away from that bakery (they bake Tsoureki non-stop). Of course, the other spices contribute to that amazing flavor and aroma as well.
If you can't find Mahlep where you live, 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 pretty much we all know how to make a braid (ugh, except the French one which drives me crazy). But for whoever doesn't, I included a simple sketch showing how to make a braid. I thought it would be easier this way.
What To Serve With Tsoureki
My number one way to enjoy Tsoureki is to spread some butter on it. It's so good. You can of course enjoy it as is, as it won't be lacking flavor or with jam. Or even a chocolate spread.
Once Tsoureki is cooled to room temperature, wrap it very well with plastic wrap and then place it in a plastic bag. Close it air-tightly as well as you can so it keeps soft and fresh. Keep like this at room temperature for up to 4-5 days. Adding Tsoureki to the fridge will make it firmer as it's a buttery bread.
You can pop it in the freezer though. Again wrapped very well with plastic wrap. And to unfreeze just place in the fridge overnight and then at room temperature for 2 hours. It will last for up to 3 months in the freezer.
Greek Easter Bread (Tsoureki)
To Activate Yeast:
- 60 grams (2.1 oz) bread flour sifted
- 30 grams (1.05 oz) fresh yeast or 10 grams (0.35 oz) of dry yeast
- ⅔ tablespoon sugar
- 100 ml lukewarm water (under 35°C / 95°F)
For The Tsoureki Dough:
- 470 grams / 16.6 oz bread flour sifted
- 100 ml milk
- 155 grams / 5.4 oz sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 + ⅓ teaspoon Mahleb powder
- ⅓ teaspoon Cardamom powder
- ⅓ teaspoon salt
- ½ orange zest
- ⅔ teaspoon Mastiha Powder or ½ teaspoon Mastiha tears (see note 1 at the bottom of the recipe)
- 100 grams / 3.5 oz butter melted and at room temperature
- flaked almonds or sesame seeds
Activate The Yeast:
- Crumble the fresh yeast into a measuring cup. Add the water and stir. Add also the sugar and flour and mix until fully combined and no flour lumps remain. Cover with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for about 20 minutes or until tripled in size.
To Make The Tsoureki Dough:
- Separate the eggs. Add one egg and one egg yolk to a bowl and beat lightly. Keep the egg white to use later on for the egg wash.
- In a small saucepan add the milk, sugar, orange zest, and spices. Heat over low heat gently just until sugar dissolves.
- Cool this mixture down to 35°C / 95°F.
- Mix in the eggs.
- Combine flour and salt.
- Make the dough. Using a wooden spoon stir the flour into the dough gradually. Wait until all flour is mixed in before adding the next batch. You will need to add some strength here. And make sure you scrape the sides as well. Once all flour is added you will end up with a very sticky dough. (see note 2 below)
- Rest the dough. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and rest for about 20 minutes.
- Fold in the butter. Add the butter in a little bit a time and knead and fold the dough until all is fully absorbed. Make sure there are no dough remnants on the sides of the bowl. The dough will turn out really soft at this point.
- Rest and Rise. Cover the bowl again with plastic wrap. Rest at room temperature for 2-3 hours or until the dough has doubled in size.
- Divide the dough. Press the dough down with your palms to gently remove the air. Then transfer it to your working surface. Cut and divide the dough in half.
- Make a two-cord Tsoureki: Take one piece of the dough and cut it in half. Shape into round balls and then into two long cords. Pinch together the top ends of both cords to stick. Then braid them together. Press the bottom ends to stick. Then tuck under both the top and bottom end to secure.
- Make a three-cord Tsoureki: Take the remaining piece of the dough and cut it into 3 pieces. Follow the exact same procedure as in the step above.
- Second Rise. Place each Tsoureki bread into a parchment paper-covered loaf pan. Preheat your oven to 50°C /122°F. Then turn it off and add in the loaf pans. If your oven has a proofing setting, turn it on to 35°C / 95°F and add the loaf pans without switching it off. Leave the bread to rise and double in size.
- Remove loaf pans from the oven and heat the oven to 170°C / 338°F.
- Add the egg wash. Mix the egg white with 2 tablespoons of water. Gently brush over the Tsourekis. Then sprinkle some flaked almonds or sesame seeds on top (optional).
- Bake the Tsoureki. Bake for about 30 minutes until nicely colored on top.
- Remove from the oven and let the Tsoureki cool down to room temperature inside the pan.
- Slice and serve with butter or any other spread you prefer. It's also very flavorful on its own!
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