The Easter season has come and gone for another year so today I bring you one of the items I served at our table. Tsoureki is a very popular sweet bread in Greece similar in texture to a French brioche. It is traditionally served at Pascha (Easter) but is also commonly consumed at other holidays or as a daily accompaniment to coffee/tea.
Most Greeks will tell you that making your own tsoureki is a daunting task to perfect, which is why many simply purchase it from local Greek bakeries verses making it homemade. I myself have purchased the bread for many years since I always place more focus on preparing other traditional offerings. However this year I decided to take up the task of making tsoureki homemade for Easter and the process honestly did not live up to the horror portrayed.
The perfect Tsoureki is a buttery soft yet flaky dough flavored with the distinct aromatic spices ground masticha (mastic) and ground mahlepi. Masticha or Mastic is a tree resin found on the Greek island of Chios. Mahlepi or mahleb is a spice derived from ground cherry seeds. These two spices are what give tsoureki its distinct taste and alluring sweet aroma. Without them the bread becomes no different from a French brioche.
If you are a regular follower of mine you’re probably wondering what my take on this traditional bread will be. Although I love tsoureki in its traditional loaf form I always like to make a fresh twist to established recipes as my own signature of sorts. With tsoureki, I sought to streamline the traditional braided design into a more portable portion. Tsoureki is traditionally braided into a long loaf or a crown shape. For my recipe, I portion out the dough into equal sized rolls and braid them the traditional way. I then place each braided roll into a muffin tin. This strategy makes it easy to provide the perfect amount of tsoureki for the expected amount of guests for holidays and is a far less messy alternative for kids, especially since they do not have patience to wait for a slice to be cut. If you want to try tsoureki and share it with family and friends, I highly recommend giving this recipe a try. You will be delightfully surprised at how great of a roll this is!
- 1 pkg. Dry Yeast
- 1/3 cup Warm Milk (100° to 110°)
- 15.75 oz. (about 3 ½ cups) Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
- 1/3 cup Sugar
- 1 tsp. Ground Mahlepi (may also be labeled mahlab/mahleb)
- ½ tsp. Ground Masticha (may also be labeled mastic)
- ½ tsp. Salt
- 4 Large Eggs; lightly beaten
- 6 ½ tbsp. Unsalted Butter; softened & cut into large cubes
- 1 tbsp. Water
- 1 Large Egg White
- Sliced Almonds; optional
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, combine yeast and warm milk. Dissolve yeast in milk and let stand for 5 minutes.
- In a large bowl combine flour, sugar, mahlepi, masticha, salt, and eggs. Add flour mixture to the milk mixture. Set mixer to low-speed and beat until smooth, scraping down sides of bowl with spatula as needed. Continue to beat dough on low speed for 5 minutes or until dough is soft and elastic and begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl.
- Set mixer to medium speed and add half of butter to the dough until just incorporated. Add remaining butter cubes to dough and beat until incorporated. Continue to beat dough at medium speed for 4 minutes or until smooth and elastic.
- Coat a large bowl with cooking spray. Place dough into the bowl, turning to coat top. Cover and allow to rise in a warm place free from drafts for 1 hour or until doubled in size. Once risen, gently press two fingers into the dough. If indentation remains the dough has risen enough to proceed. If indentation does not remain allow more time to rise. Once indentation remains, punch dough down then form into a ball. Return dough to bowl; cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 8 hours or overnight.
- Uncover dough and let stand 90 minutes or until dough is at room temperature. Divide dough into 4 equal portions. Working with one portion at a time (cover remaining dough to prevent it from drying out), cut dough into 6 equal pieces.
- Working with one piece at a time, break into 3 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a long log. Pinch together the 3 logs at the top and braid down like you would hair. Pinch the end of the braid and pull braid into a ball formation, tucking the end of the braid underneath the ball to secure. Repeat procedure with remaining dough portions to make 24 rolls total. Place rolls into cups of a muffin tin coated with cooking spray. Cover and let rise for 45 minutes or until almost doubled in size.
- Preheat oven to 350°. Combine water and egg white; stir with a whisk. Gently brush rolls with egg mixture. If using almonds, gently press 3-4 onto the top of each roll. Bake for 14 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack. Serve.