Tsoureki (τσουρέκι in Greek) is the traditional sweet bread that Greeks traditionally make every year on Holy Thursday, and eat on Easter Sunday.
Tsoureki symbolizes rebirth and the resurrection of Christ as the flour rises to take its shape. The ritual of braiding the dough is rooted in pagan time. It was said that specific shapes of bread warded off evil spirits.
Ground mastiha from the island of Chios is the key ingredient that gives tsoureki its unique fragrance and delicious flavour. Mastiha is the resin of the Mastic tree which is found only on the island of Chios in Greece; it has a Protected Designation of Origin in the European Union. Mastiha medium tears can also be used. Crush them till they turn into a fine powder.
40 gr frozen yeast
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
3/4 warm water
1/4 cup sifted flour
100 grams melted butter
50 grams warm milk
3 room temperature eggs
1 tablespoon mandarin/citrus zest
125 grams of sugar
500 -700 grams of sifted flour
1/2 tsp mastic
1/2 tsp cardamom
1 packet vanilla sugar
Glazing - egg yolk, a splash of milk or heavy cream, castor sugar or almonds
1 bowl of water for the oven to help bake (oven-safe bowl or pot)
- always convert yeast to a lower amount if using dry active or instant yeast instead of frozen fresh yeast. *** Don't add salt to the yeast mixture in step 3; if using dry active or instant yeast, instead add it later as a dry ingredient.
- Preheat the oven to 280C to start baking and place a container of water in the bottom part of the oven.
Bake at 280 first, then raise oven temperature to 315 after the tsoureki has risen at about the 20-minute mark, and don't over bake it from that point on. It may take 15 -30 minutes. So keep checking on the colour. You want it light golden brown.
- Sift 700 grams of flour in a large bowl. Measure by weighing 500 grams into one large and keep the other flour separated. In the bowl with the 500 grams, add your mastic, mahlepi and cardamom or any other dry flavourings you like and stir it well.
- Measure/weigh and prepare the rest of your ingredients. Keep all wet ingredients separate, and add the citrus zest to the melted butter.
- Place the yeast in a bowl and crumble it. Add the warm water and salt, and sugar. Stir to incorporate it. Put it to the side.
- After 5 minutes, add 1/4 cup of flour, stir well and place a towel over it. (Place in a warm spot)
10-20 minutes later, check on the yeast mixture, and it should start bubbling and growing.
- Place into your mixer, and then add the butter and zest. Mix well on low, then add the milk, mix well and then slowly add the eggs one at a time until incorporated.
- Add your sugar and vanilla sugar.
- Now slowly, one cup at a time, incorporate into the mixer the flour/spices.
- As the dough starts to form, if the dough is wet, slowly add 1/4 cup of extra flour at a time until the dough is no longer wet.
- Keep mixing the dough until the dough is elastic. Press your finger into the dough, and if it bounces back quickly, it's ready. It may take a good 3-4 minutes in the mixer for the dough to become elastic.
- When the dough is formed, place it in a clean bowl that is lightly floured. Cover with a towel in a warm spot. Proof the dough for 30-45 minutes or as needed.
When the dough has doubled in size, cut it in half and form two tsourekia. Shape as needed. Place each braided tsoureki on a parchment paper pan and cover with a towel and allow to rest again for another 30-60 minutes.
- When the tsoureki has doubled in size, glaze and finish it with the egg yolk mixture and milk (or cream) and coat the tsoureki well. Sprinkle the castor sugar or the almonds and sesame.
- Place in the oven at 280C for the first part of baking for 20 minutes with the water creating humidity.
Then immediately turn up the temperature to 315C and finish baking 15-30 minutes depending on the size of the tsoureki.
- Allow to cool.
I bake these on the holy Saturday so they can be immediately enjoyed fresh the following day. You can bake them ahead of time if you prefer.
Enjoy and Happy Easter to those who celebrate!
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