Easter Bread / Tsoureki

(Updated with photos.)
 
So, I know it’s kind of late for this posting and most of you probably have already figured out your Easter menus, but tonight I am making “Tsoureki”.  Tsoureki is a rich egg-bread, almost like a brioche or a challah.  It’s one of several different types of similar breads made for different holidays in the Greek tradition.  It is also known as “Christopsomo” for Christmas and “Vasilopita” for New Years.  The same recipe can be used for all of these breads.
 
What gives these breads a unique and deliciously sweet flavor is the addition of ground mahlepi, a seed that comes from a wild cherry, and has been used for hundreds of years in baking and cooking throughout the Middle East, Turkey, and Greece.  You can find it in a Middle Eastern or Greek grocery store.  Substitutions can be made for mahlepi if you are unable to find it.  Some alternatives are grated orange rind, cardamom, or vanilla — but the flavor of the bread will change significantly.
 
(Note: There are a number of variations of the English spelling depending on the language used: mahalab, mahleb, mahaleb, mahlep, mahalep, mahlepi, machlepi or makhlepi.)

I haven’t made this recipe in about ten years, and after posting my earlier entry about how easy it is to make no-knead bread, I was not looking forward to the amount of work I had to do.  However, as I was reading through the recipe, I realized that it was simpler than I thought it would be.  However, you do have to let it rise three times — for a total of four hours.  I got a late start today and it’s now after 11 pm, and I have a half hour to go with the second rise, and then form the bread and let it rise for another hour before I can bake it.  This means I won’t be hitting my pillow until well past 1 am.  However, I don’t mind, because the end result is so worth it.

Tsoureki

(makes 3 10-inch rounds)

DP note:  I usually exclude the dyed eggs from the recipe, although they are fine to eat if you decide to include them.

  • 3 packages dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup lukewarm water
  • 5 lb bag of all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 lb (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 8 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups lukewarm milk
  • 1 teaspoon ground mahlepi (or cardamom, vanilla, or grated rind of 1 orange)
  • 9 hard-cooked eggs, dyed red (optional)
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten (for glaze)
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds or 1/4 cup sesame seeds (for decoration)

In a bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the water.  Stir the mixture, then stir in 1/2 cup of the flour.

With an electric mixer, cream the butter, add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time.  Add 2 cups of the flour and beat well.

Transfer the mixture to a large  bowl.  With a wooden spoon, add the lukewarm milk, yeast mixture, and mahlepi.  When the mixture is smooth, add the rest of the bag of flour a little bit at a time, until it is all added and the mixture starts to form a dough.

Knead the mixture in the bowl for a few minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic.  Cover it with plastic wrap and set it in a warm place.  Let the dough rise for 1.5 – 2 hours or until it has doubled in size. 

Punch down the dough, cover it, and let it rise again for one hour.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface.  Divide it into thirds.  Cut each piece into three strips and form the strips into ropes – you should have nine ropes.  Use three ropes to form each braid – you’ll end up with three braids. 

Shape each braid into rounds, pinching the ends together.

Lightly butter three baking sheets.  Transfer one round to each baking sheet.  Tuck 3 eggs (optional) into each braid, setting them into the spaces in the strands of the braids.

Let the breads rise again for about one hour, or until doubled in bulk. 

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.  Brush the top of each bread (not the eggs) with glaze and sprinkle with the almonds or sesame seeds. 

Bake the breads for 30-35 minutes, or until their tops are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.  If the breads seem to be browning too quickly during baking, cover them loosely with foil.

Cool on racks and cut into wedges for serving.

Note:  If you don’t have room for all the breads to bake at once, let one of the breads rise in a slightly cooler place than the others, so it wont be ready as quickly.  Then bake the other two breads first.

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And Speaking of Travel Photos…

Below is a common site throughout the seaside ports and restaurants of the Mediterranean.

This photo is of the day’s catch of octopi (yes, that’s the plural) laid out to dry in the hot Mediterranean sun in preparation for that evening’s dinner.  This picture was taken in the port of Naoussa on the island of Paros, Greece.  Octopus is hung to dry so that the meat will become more tender when it is cooked.

Octopus Drying in Paros

And here is the dinner that I shared with a friend while in Greece — the freshest seafood (it’s a tight competition with New England seafood).  Simply grilled, nothing but a little bit of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon, if you’d like.  Personally, I prefer not to have lemon, as I don’t want anything to interfere with the fresh taste of the seafood.  Also, notice that there are no sauces or toppings of any sort to take away from the highlight of the dish, which unfortunately, is what you tend to see in many restaurants here in the US.