I’m SO excited to have finally made my first tsoureki! Tsoureki (tsoo-reh-kee) is the traditional Greek bread made at Easter (Pascha) time, and I love it. It’s slightly sweet and gets its unmistakable flavor from mahlepi, which is made from cherry seeds. I had my grandma bring some home from Greece, but I actually ran across some in a semi-ethnic grocery store near me recently, so it can definitely be found in the states. You can also purchase it from Penzey’s.
I’ve been wanting to make my own for years, but the problem is, a recipe for a loaf or two (or even 4) of tsoureki doesn’t seem to exist. All recipes, my grandmothers’ included, use at least 30 cups of flour. No joke. Most Greeks always have a loaf on hand to take to someone else’s house, or just to give to someone who drops by. But I definitely don’t have that need, and also didn’t want to even think about cutting down a recipe that huge.
Thankfully, I found this recipe for 2 (sort of) loaves. I ended up halving the recipe below, which should have made one loaf. And it did. But I should have definitely, definitely made it into two.
Because it was huge.
I had to put it diagonally on my sheet pan just so it would (barely) fit and of course it stretched the limits of the pan and I ended up having square-ish ends, and not looking very braided when it was all said and done.
See what I mean?
For a minute, I was starting to wonder if the rising bread would bust through the oven door.
Anyway, despite its massive size, the tsoureki turned out fabulously. It tasted exactly like the slightly sweet, eggy bready I’m used to. Many people compare it to Hawaiian bread, which I can see. I’d liken the texture and eggy-ness to challah, but tsoureki is a bit sweeter.
Normally, tsoureki should have a dyed red egg or two baked right into the loaf, but I had zero interest in dying eggs red (maybe next year with Zachary).
Tsoureki (Greek Easter Bread)
barely adapted from Food.com
2 cups warm milk
2 (1/4 oz.) envelopes of dry active yeast
8-9 cups bread flour, divided
1.75 cups sugar, divided
1 tsp. salt
the zest of 1 large orange
1 Tbsp. ground mahlepi
1 tsp. ground mastiha (optional…but encouraged)
1/4 cup butter, melted
5 large eggs, beaten
1 egg yolk
2-3 Tbsp. milk
In a large bowl, mix together the milk, yeast, 1 cup flour, and 1/4 cup sugar. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and proof for one hour.
In a separate large bowl, whisk together 7 cups of flour, the remaining 1.5 cups sugar, salt, orange zest, mahlepi and mastiha (if using). Make a well in the center of the flour mixture; add the yeast mixture, butter, and eggs. Work from the center outwards, bringing flour into the well, stirring the mixture until a dough begins to form.
On a heavily floured work surface, knead the dough for about 12 minutes until the dough no longer sticks to your hands, adding flour when necessary.* Place the dough in a large oiled bowl, turning once to get oil on the other side. Cover with a kitchen towel and allow to rise for 2 hours, until doubled in size.**
Punch down the dough, and divide into 6*** equal portions. Roll each piece into a 12-15″ strip. Lay 3 strips side by side (I like to do this right on the parchment or Silpat you’re using). Pinch together the strips at the top, and then braid them. Pinch the bottom together. If desired, nestle 2-3 dyed red eggs into the braid. Repeat with the remaining 3 strips.
Place the braided loaves on parchment or Silpat-lined baking sheets. Cover with a towel and let rise for about 2 hours or until doubled in size.
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Whisk together the egg yolk and milk. Brush the mixture on top of both loaves evenly. Sprinkle with slivered almonds and/or sesame seeds.
Bake for about 40 minutes, checking the loaf about halfway through; you will likely need to tent it with foil to keep the top from over-browning.
*I ended up hand-kneading for a minute or two, then using the dough hook on my KitchenAid mixer to do most of the kneading, then finishing up on a floured board.
**When I’m making yeast breads, I like to heat my oven to the lowest temperature, and then turn it off a couple minutes before I place the bowl in the oven. This ensures a warm and draft-free environment.
***Like I mentioned, I would make more loaves with the amount of dough. For the recipe above, I’d split the dough into 12 equal pieces, and make 4 braided loaves.