Greek Tsoureki is a captivating sweet brioche style bread – light, pull apart and elastic, infused with a delicate touch of Mastiha, Mahlepi, Cardamom and Orange. The smell of this Greek Yeast Mastic Bread brings me back to memories of some of my favourite times spent in the early years living in a small town in Greece. The sweet smell of orange, mahlepi and mastiha conjures memories of brightly dyed Easter eggs, the extended family gathering at midnight, a beautiful mass taking place in the narrow town streets with candles flickering in unison in the night sky. The feeling can only be experienced if you have lived in a small town during the idyllic ’80s.
My mother would make this bread in copious quantities… one loaf for each grandparent, relatives and for extended family friends – those that were considered as family. If that wasn’t enough, we would also make extra so we would have some left-over to freeze or cut into slices and double bake to use as a paximadi for the rest of the month.
The process of kneading was done by hand, and it is quite a sight to see someone skilled shape those huge quantities of dough into intricate braids. One thing she made absolutely clear, the tsoureki must be light, airy and pull-apart in texture. Almost like the texture of a croissant but softer where strands of sweet bread pull apart against each other.
The process of kneading was done by hand, and it is quite a sight to observe someone skilled shape the dough into intricate braids. One thing was made absolutely clear, the tsoureki must be light, airy and pull-apart in texture. Almost like the texture of a croissant but softer where strands of sweet bread pull apart against each other.
About Tsoureki (A greek yeast bread)
Now, let us get back to the tsoureki, and what it is before we continue. Tsoureki is a Greek-style egg and butter enriched sweet bread or brioche flavoured with mastiha, mahlepi, cardamon, and orange zest. These flavours make the bread uniquely fragrant and classically Greek. Mahepi and Mastiha cannot be found in your ordinary supermarket. Speciality deli stores stock them, and if you live in Brisbane the speciality stores are dotted throughout Brisbane. If you can’t find these two ingredients, rest assured your Tsoureki will be wonderful without, despite what other die-hard food bloggers advise.
If you can manage to dye Easter Eggs on the Thursday prior to Easter, it would be wonderful as you could incorporate with your tsoureki if you don’t have the mastiha and mahlepi.
When using Mahlepi and Mastiha, a minute quantity of these ingredients goes a long way.
Now, tsoureki also has a unique texture and this recipe will assist you to achieve it. The texture as mentioned earlier is similar also to brioche – soft, spongy, pull apart and stringy. That ‘stringiness’ when you pull away each knot or bun is what to look for to assess the quality of your tsoureki.
My mother would always test out her tsoureki and would wait for her tsoureki to bake and pull one apart to rate its texture. She always placed much focus on the texture, so it was natural years later when I myself started to make tsoureki for my own family, experimented with recipes. Not being present to demonstrate, posed some benefits as it allowed me at the time to understand the whole process of making the right kind of tsoureki. It also offered an opportunity for me to improve on her process.
It has been twenty since I initially started making tsoureki and each year, it is a much loved and welcome time, by far this tsoureki recipe is my favourite. My children join me in colouring the eggs, and the following days the bread baking ensues.
If you would genuinely like to get into the whole Greek Orthodox Easter Baking, you must try making some Greek Easter Biscuits. Koulourakia are a staple in all Greek homes. They are a butter based cookie, hand shaped in braids most commonly, brushed with an egg and milk wash on top.
READERS: Have updated the Recipe with weight measurements for the key ingredients, also added sub-headings to Instructions.
Investing in time is paramount for the success of this lovely bread. So set aside some uninterrupted time making this, and read the recipe fully before you start. A warm space for your dough to rise is paramount and a bread paddle attachment to your hand beater or optimally food processor would certainly help with the kneading process.
- 1 tablespoon Milk
- 3 tablespoons Sliced Almonds
- 1 egg yolk
- 1/3 cup warm water
- 1/2 tablespoon caster sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon flour
- 7g Active Dry Yeast
The Bread Mixture - Dough
- 1/4 teaspoon mastiha
- 1/4 teaspoon mahlepi
- 1 cardamom pod ( optional )
- 2 tablespoons fine orange zest
- 1/2 cup caster sugar
- 50g butter
- 2 eggs
- 1/3 cup warm milk
- 3 cups ( 510g) all purpose flour sifted twice
Preparing Ingredients for Tsoureki
- Ground the Mahlepi, Mastiha and Cardamom pod to fine consistency with a mortar and pestle.
- Sift Flour twice.
- Butter and eggs should be at room temperature, the butter should be soft.
- Add the yeast, flour and sugar into warm water, and mix all ingredients well until they are dissolved. Go to notes regarding water temperature.
- Allow the yeast mixture to activate somewhere warm. If your kitchen is too cold, pre-heat your oven to 30 Degrees Celsius. Turn oven off, and leave the oven light on. Cover the cup with the yeast mixture and allow to activate for 20 minutes. When it is ready the mixture will have bubbled and swollen a little.
Preparing the Dough
- Add the Orange Zest, mastiha, mahlepi and cardamom (if using) into the warm but not hot milk. The orange zest will infuse the milk and also the bread.
- In a large bowl beat the butter ( reserve one tablespoon of butter ) and eggs together. Add Warm milk and whisk the three together.
- Beat one cup of flour into the wet mixture.
- The bread at this stage will require a bread paddle attachment for the rest of the kneading process. See notes if you don't have one. Add half a cup of flour at a time, allow the flour to mix into the dough completely before adding each cup.
- The dough will initially stick to the sides, and the paddle. When you only have about half a cup of flour left, allow the paddle to knead the bread for 5 minutes. Pause, and assess the consistency of your dough. With this bread, it is always better to have a sticky dough, but not too sticky, whereby your dough will be impossible to manipulate. Add the last cup of flour gradually, as a little makes a world of difference when it comes to the firmness of the dough. We don't want the dough to be firm and heavy. We want sticky, doughy, elastic and smooth - but holds its shape. See picture below.
- The amount of flour depends on the temperature of your ingredients, size of the eggs and the flour hardness. Your knead time should be about 10 - 15 minutes.
- Take paddle attachment out, transfer the dough to a very lightly floured bowl, cover with greaseproof paper then towels or blanket to keep warm. The greaseproof paper layer is useful, in case your dough rises to the top lip of the bowl.
- Place the dough somewhere warm for 2 - 2 1/2 hours. Use a blanket over the towels. It will double to triple in size.
- Remove the dough from the bowl onto a very lightly dusted surface. Knead for 20 minutes - ensuring it doesn't cool down.
Shape and Second Rise
- Separate dough into 6 equal pieces of dough. Three per loaf. Cover the pieces of dough your not working with, and place somewhere warm covered ( perhaps your oven with just the light on for some warmth ).
- Work with the three. With each ball, make long strands. Roll initially, then stretch out as much as possible but all equal length. Put a little butter on your hands, and pat onto the dough as if it were sun-cream over your skin.
- Fold each strand, spread butter over just like you would suncream on your skin. Not a thick layer. It should add shine. Stretch the dough out a few times in this manner. Remove from work surface if it helps to do this.
- Place the three strands alongside each other, and make your plait. Transfer onto a baking tray cover and allow to rise for a second time for 40 minutes. They will double in size. See the picture below.
- Pre-heat oven to 175 Degree Celsius in a fan forced oven. Place trays in middle of the oven.
- With a fork, mix your egg wash ingredients. Spread over the plaits with a soft basting brush. Sprinkle with almonds.
- Bake for 20 minutes, until golden in colour. Baking time will depend on the shape of the tsoureki. The underside should be golden as well, not pale.
- Allow the tsoureki to cool, then cover. Tsoureki keeps for 3-4 days max.
The water for your starter should be between 30 to 40 degrees Celsius, or a warm room temperature. If it is too hot, the yeast will burn and not activate. If it is too cool, it won't activate fully.
The butter should hold its shape, but not be firm or in liquid form either.
All Eggs, at room temperature as well. Not straight out of the fridge.
If your Yeast Starter hasn't bubbled it hasn't activated. It is important this stage happens.
The orange zest not only infuses the bread it also assists with the golden colour you see in the photos.
Use a really large bowl to mix the bread together. This bowl needs to accommodate for the rising of the bread.
The exact amount of flour depends on the temperature of your ingredients, size of the eggs and the flour hardness.
If your using your hands to knead, fold the mixture starting from the outside - inwards, then press with your palms. Twist the dough 45 degrees, knead and twist. Add your flour gradually.
Sprinkle tsoureki with almonds or sesame seeds. Or place a dyed egg around the dough, before the second rising. This way, the dough rises around the egg and forms a nest.
Reserve, egg wash or make a little extra. Add a very fine extra layer of eggwash 10 minutes before the tsoureki is ready, return in the oven. This will give a beautiful sheen all over the tsoureki.
What to do with Extra Tsoureki
Freeze - wrap in foil, then in a bag and tie to seal. Allow to defrost.
Slice into pieces, and double bake in moderate-low oven to form rusks or sweet biscotti.
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 143 Total Fat: 5g Saturated Fat: 2g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 2g Cholesterol: 36mg Sodium: 35mg Carbohydrates: 22g Fiber: 1g Sugar: 7g Protein: 3g
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Nothing else says Greek Easter has arrived than this Tsoureki. This recipe looks awesome. Can't wait for Greek Easter this year!
Very delicious. Always excited when Easter comes around because I know this is going to be served.