Do you remember I was playing with dough last week? Well, I made tsoureki – a Greek-style brioche and an Easter trademark! There is no Greek Easter without tsoureki and it is fast approaching.
Hopping between Athens and London, the logistics of Easter had always been a bit of a nightmare for me. Western Christian and Greek Orthodox celebrations very rarely coincide so trying to come visit Greece for a holiday was often a challenge. A similar mini-mess developed on my doormat every year with countless parcels landing on my doorstep from Greece. These aid packages contained all the special little things mum used to send me for Easter baking and cooking: egg dyes, mastic and mahlab for tsoureki, because of course they had to be from Greece! Worry not though, you can find these wonderful flavourings in Greek and Arab grocers the world over.
There are millions of tsoureki recipes out there. Tsoureki is popular not only in Greece but across the Balkans and the Middle East. The one I’m sharing here is mum’s fail-proof recipe whose origins are lost to time in the family cupboards; tried, tested and perfect for making 4 lovely tsourekia to have as breakfast, dipped in milk or munched on incessantly throughout the day (and night I might add). So here we go:
- 120 ml lukewarm water
- 50 gr fresh yeast (or 17 gr dried yeast)
- 1 kg flour, sieved, high protein – look for at least 14%
- 250 gr butter, unsalted plus some extra for plaiting
- 250 gr sugar
- 2 whole eggs and 2 yolks
- 200 ml condensed milk
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 tsp mahlepi seeds
- 1 tsp mastic powder or 5 mastic crystals
- 1 orange for its zest
- A handful of almond flakes (optional)
For the glazing
Keep some of the condensed milk
For the decoration
The almond flakes (I had run out, but if you have some, sprinkle them on before you bake)
For the dough
No mixer required. We make it the old-fashioned way – by hand.
Gather together 2 mixing bowls, 2 small saucepans and have a whisk at the ready.
Notes on the Recipe:
Before we start a little something on the yeast and other special ingredients.
Here in Greece, cubes of fresh yeast and sachets of dried yeast are readily available. For tsoureki I have a soft spot for using the fresh cubes, although it might be hard to find in the UK. But don’t worry, if you want to use dried yeast just remember the ratio from fresh to dry is 3 to 1. For more details on yeast conversion and a handy converter, check out the fantastic aBreaducation website here.
Mastic & Mahlepi
I am sure you will find both of these in Greek, Turkish or Arab grocers as we do use these same ingredients in various recipes.
For mastic, I normally choose crystals as they keep their aroma for longer. When it comes to using them, submit a few crystals to a pestle and mortar and grind down into powder.
For the mahlepi, or mahlab, I also buy the raw material – seeds – instead of powder. The seeds are boiled to make a reduction. Powder also works well, so it’s really a matter of preference.
What to do:
- Boil the mahlepi seeds in approximately 200ml of water and remove from the heat when reduced to half. Strain and keep the flavoured water
- Dilute the yeast in 100 ml lukewarm water and 1 tsp of sugar. Add approximately 100 gr of flour and mix well.
- Cover and set aside in a warm place to activate the yeast. This should be done within 20 minutes.
- Beat the eggs and egg yolks with ½ tsp of salt using a whisk, then set aside.
- Melt the butter and stir in the sugar. Mix until the sugar has dissolved completely
- Warm up the milk and add to the butter and sugar mix you just prepared
- Let the mixture cool down and then add the eggs
- Stir in the mahlab flavouring, orange zest and mastic powder
- Take half of the sieved flour and start adding it gradually to the mixture.
- Once you have mixed in half the flour, add the activated yeast you prepared earlier.
- Now gradually fold in the rest of the flour, gently without mixing
- Keep on adding flour until you use it all up. Your dough will be ready when it no longer sticks to the sides of your mixing bowl
- Cover your dough and set it aside in a warm place. It should rise, roughly doubling in volume within two hours.
Tsoureki dough before and after resting
Plait and bake:
To shape the tsoureki you can either plait it or make a swirl. Have a bit of melted butter at the ready so that the dough doesn’t stick to your hands.
Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to shoot this stage, I had really buttery fingers, but it is lots of fun and really easy to do.
- Divide the dough into 4 equal parts
- For the swirl: take 1 part and stretch the dough long. Twist it around itself and tuck the tail underneath
- For the plaited: take 1 part and divide it into 3. Stretch them out long and arrange them next to each other. Now loop alternating strands across each other and repeat. Tuck the ends underneath
- For the glaze, brush the dough with a little condensed milk
- Preheat your oven to 180 o Bake the tsoureki for 20 minutes and you are done!
From Athens with love,