Greek easter sweet bread
By: Eleni Saltas
Tsoureki, an aromatic Greek Easter bread with the distinctive flavors of mastic, mahlab, and a pop of orange zest. This recipe will make three long large loaves, or two shorter thick ones.
Got leftovers? Make Tsoureki French Toast
3 long large loaves, or 2 thick ones
- For the starter:
- 2 packages instant yeast (or about 1 ½ Tablespoons)
- ½ cup lukewarm whole milk
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 2 Tablespoons bread flour
- For the dough:
- ½ cup lukewarm whole milk
- 3 medium eggs
- 2/3 cup sugar
- ½ cup orange juice*
- Zest of one orange
- ½ cup unsalted butter, melted but cooled to room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon mastic or mastiha**
- 1 Tablespoon mahlab (or mahlepi) spice
- 5 + ⅛ cups bread flour
- For the topping:
- 1 egg + 1 Tablespoon milk, lightly beaten
- Slivered almonds or sesame seeds
Step by Step Instructions
In a mixing bowl, add the lukewarm milk, yeast and sugar. Stir and mix well. Top gently with the 2 tablespoons of flour to cover the mixture–but do not mix! Set aside for 10 minutes, to allow the yeast to activate.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan and allow to cool to room temperature before using.
Using a mortar and pestle, or a food processor, finely crush the mastic and mahlab together until finely ground, almost powdery like.
In a medium bowl or the bowl of your electric mixer, whisk together the eggs, milk, melted butter, sugar, orange juice, orange zest, vanilla extract, and the mastic and mahlab spices. Add in your yeast mixture and whisk to combine.
Now with your mixer on low, slowly incorporate your bread flour. Increase the speed until a soft, but sticky dough forms and the dough pulls away easily from the hook attachment. This should take about 10 minutes. If you don’t have a mixer, knead all your ingredients together by hand.
Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a tea towel and set aside at room temperature to allow the bread to rise and double in size. You can also put the bowl in the oven with the light to ensure the dough is in a warm environment. This should take about 2-3 hours.
Once the dough is ready, punch (or gently deflate with your hands) the dough down on a clean working surface. This dough can make 2 large tsourekia or 3 medium tsourekia. I like to cut the dough into 2 equal pieces (for 2 large tsourekia).
To shape, take one piece, and cut into 3 equal pieces. These are your braids for one of your tsourekia. Stretch out and roll each piece to make long rods, about the length of the longest part of a standard 9×13” baking sheet. You don’t need to knead or roll too much with this bread, just gently stretch and lightly tap on your counter space. To shape the dough, join the three pieces together at the top and braid each strand. Once you reach the bottom, pinch the pieces together and tuck under. Repeat for your other two tsourekia.
Line baking sheets with parchment paper and carefully place your dough on the sheets. You can fit two side by side at this size. Cover loosely with a towel or parchment paper so the dough doesn’t dry out. When you are near the end of that one hour and the dough is looking nice and fluffy, preheat your oven to 350F.
Beat your egg and a tablespoon of milk in a small bowl for the bread glaze. Gently brush and glaze the loaves. Sprinkle sesame seeds or sliced almonds atop the loaves.
Bake for approximately 25-30 minutes, until golden. Transfer to a cooling rack and let it cool before slicing. Enjoy your tsourekia for Easter! Tsourekia will last up to 5 days.
Make sure all of your ingredients are at room temperture so It doesn’t kill the yeast.
*Note: I prefer fresh squeezed oranges or orange from concentrate (don’t dilute before using for more flavor)
**Note: Mastic (or mastiha from the island of Chios) looks like little rocks or crystals. You can find both mastic and mahlab at Mediterranean markets or online. If you aren’t able to find mastic, you can leave this particular spice out completely or substitute with anise oil.