Tsoureki Greek Easter Bread
Tsoureki is a traditional Greek sweet bread, customarily made around Easter, as the three braided strands signify the Holy Trinity. Sometimes it is cooked with a whole egg on top, or is stuffed with chocolate and/or chestnut - but I find my recipe below the most flavourful. We enjoy it year-round, not just for Easter, as it’s the perfect mid-morning snack, enjoyed with a little jam or Nutella! This recipe is not complicated - but it does take a little time, as there are several steps and the dough needs time for leavening. Don’t try to cook this in a rush - it’s one to do when you have a spare morning. The result is worth every moment spent, I assure you!
This recipe really is distinctly Greek, and that’s mostly down to two defining ingredients - mahleb and mastic. You may have to source these online or at a Greek deli. Mahleb is a beautifully aromatic spice, made from the seeds of a species of cherry (the Prunus Mahaleb). Mastic meanwhile is a chewy and refreshing ancient resin, derived from the Pistacia Lentiscus tree, grown on the Greek island of Chios. Mastic is the root of the English word “masticate” - to chew! (It’s a very different type of ‘mastic’ to that which builders use here in the UK! haha)
Add the mastic drops and half tablespoon of sugar in a mortar and use a pestle to crush them until they are finely ground (or use a food processor).
Use a small saucepan in low heat and add the ground mastic along with the butter, honey, sugar, mahleb, orange zest, vanilla extract and salt, and mix them until everything is melted and combined in an buttery mixture full of aroma.
Turn off the heat, wait for the mixture to cool off and add the beaten eggs while stirring constantly. We don’t want to cook the eggs so make sure the mixture isn’t too warm.
In a stand mixer’s bowl, add the fresh yeast, sugar and warm milk and mix them well in order to dissolve the yeast. Make sure the milk is warm and not hot, as it won’t allow the yeast to activate!
Continue by adding 100g of flour, mix it again and cover with cling film for 30 mins to allow the yeast to activate.
With the yeast activated, add the butter mixture and the rest of the flour and start mixing in low speed using the dough hook.
Increase the mixing speed to medium for about 10-15 minutes until the dough doesn’t stick on the sides of the bowl.
At this point the dough is still a bit sticky but you shouldn’t add any more flour. Dip your hands is melted butter and gather all the dough from the mixer’s hook and bowl. Keep buttering your hands so the dough doesn’t stick and knead it for a few minutes inside the mixer’s bowl.
Cover the dough with cling film and place in a warm environment for 2 hours, to allow it to double its size (I usually use my oven with just the light on).
Cover your hands with butter so the dough doesn’t stick and gently deflate it while removing it from the bowl.
Form the dough in a rectangle shape and divide it in two pieces (each piece will produce one Tsoureki).
In a clean surface without any flour, add one of the dough pieces and divide it again in three smaller pieces.
Using your hands, roll each of the pieces into thick strips, place them next to each other and connect their top ends.
Start folding each strip until you form a braid, place it in a baking tray and let it rise for 1 hour.
Gently brush with egg white, sprinkle with sliced almonds and set aside for 10 minutes to rise again.
The ideal flour for Tsoureki is rich in proteins and gluten, as that’s what makes the dough elastic. You should use a very strong flour, ideally with 12% or more protein.
If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, you can use a food processor to grind the mastic, but you should also add the mahleb to make grinding easier.
You can store Tsoureki by covering it with cling film and keeping it in a plastic container at room temperature for up to 5 days.
You can also freeze a completely cooled tsoureki by covering it with cling film and placing it in the freezer for 2-3 months. To defrost, remove the cling film and leave it at room temperature for a few hours.