Greek easter sweet bread
By: Eleni Saltas
Tsoureki, an aromatic Greek Easter bread with the distinctive flavors of mastic and mahlab. In order to get this blog to you by Easter, I am leaving this intro very short. Enjoy and come back for a full write up for Easter 2022. Kalo Pascha!
3 large loaves
- 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 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup orange juice
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ cup unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
- 3 eggs
- ½ cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon mastic or mastiha*
- 1 Tablespoon mahlab (or mahlepi)
- Zest of one orange
- 5 ½ cups of 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.
Using a mortar and pestle, or a food processor, finely crush the mastic and mahlab together until finely ground, almost powdery like. Add those spices to an electric mixing bowl with the yeast mixture, along with: salt, orange juice, vanilla extract, melted butter, eggs, sugar, and orange zest.
With your mixer on low, begin slowly beating your ingredients together while incorporating your bread flour. Increase the speed until a soft, but sticky dough forms. 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 tea towel and set aside at room temperature to allow the bread to rise and double in size. 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. Cut the dough into 3 equal pieces (for 3 large tsourekia).
Take one piece, and again 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. Set aside and allow to rise again for at least another hour. 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 the tops are nice and golden.
Transfer to a cooling rack and let it cool before slicing. Enjoy your tsourekia for Easter! Tsourekia will last up to 5 days.