Tsoureki is a fixture on the Greek Easter table
In my early days of cooking and baking, my mom would haul me down to the Dayton, Ohio Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church every summer to help the community prepare for our annual Greek festival. I would turn out countless Spanakopitas and Tiropitas, Koulourakia butter cookies, and more. One of my favorite weeks was when we would bake Tsoureki, a sweet Greek bread traditionally served at Easter.
I would spend the days in the blasting hot kitchen in the breeze of convection ovens, kneading and braiding the loaves, painting them with an egg wash, dotting them with sesame seeds, watching them rise, and monitoring their baking, so they would turn just the right shade of brown. We baked ours in 8-inch cake pans. For this recipe you’ll either want to make two braided loaves that can be spiraled around and nestled into 8-inch cake pans, left to be two braided rectangle loaves, or one large braided circular 12-inch loaf (pictured).
- For the Bread
- 2 packages dry yeast
- 1 cup warm milk
- 3 large eggs
- 3/4 cup sugar, plus 1 teaspoon
- 1/4 pound unsalted butter, melted
- 1 teaspoon malhepi (crushed) or Mastiha (both are optional)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/2 teaspoon anise extract (optional)
- 5 to 6 cups all purpose flour
- For the Glaze
- 1 egg
- 2 teaspoons milk
- Sesame seeds
- Dissolve yeast in a cup of warm water (around 98 degrees) with a teaspoon of sugar.*** Cover with plastic wrap and let bloom for 10 minutes.
- Beat the eggs with the sugar in a mixer. Add the butter, malhepi, salt, vanilla, anise, yeast mixture and milk. Gradually beat in 5 cups of flour using a wooden spoon or the dough hook on your mixer.
- Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and work in just enough of the remaining flour until a soft, not sticky, dough forms. Knead the dough by turning and pushing with the heel of your hand for 10 minutes (this will be a nice workout for you). The dough will become smooth and elastic.
- Grease a bowl with oil. Press the dough into the greased bowl and then turn the dough over so that both sides of it are greased. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and all it to rise in a warm draft-free spot. for about an hour and a half, or until it has doubled in bulk. Poke your finger into the dough and if the hole remains, the dough is ready.
- Grease your baking pans or a cookie sheet.
- Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Punch down and knead the dough to eliminate the air bubbles. Divide the dough into your desired portions. For 1 large 12 x 2 1/2-inch round pan, divide the dough into three equal portions. Roll each portion into a 30-inch rope. Braid the 3 ropes together, seal the ends, and form the braid into a circle. Gently lay the dough circle into the greased pan.
- For two braided loaves, divide the dough in half, then divide each half into three equal pieces. Roll each piece into a 14-inch rope, keeping the strip thicker in the center and tapering at the ends. Braid 3 strips together and seal the ends. Gently lay each braid on a greased cookie sheet. You can also roll them into a circle and lay them into a greased 8-inch round cake pan.
- Prepare the glaze by combining the egg with the milk. Brush the dough with the glaze and allow to rest in a warm, draft-free place for 1 1/2 to 2 hours for the large loaf, or 1 to 1 1/2 hours for the smaller loaves, or until they have doubled in size. Brush the dough again with the glaze and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
- Bake in a preheated 375-degree oven for 45-55 minutes for the large loaf, and 30 to 35 minutes for the small loaves. Test by inserting a wooden skewer into the center of the loaf. If it comes out clean, the bread is baked. Remove the bread immediately from the pans and allow to cool on a rack in a draft-free place.
- The bread can be stored in plastic bags and frozen up to three months.
- ***If your yeast isn't aromatic and bubbling after 10 minutes, it is probably dead and you should opt to get another two packages. This bread will not rise if your yeast isn't alive.