updated May 2021
Tsoureki is a delicious fixture on the Greek Easter table
Tsoureki is a traditional braided Greek sweet bread served during Easter. It’s a cousin of challah and brioche, but unique to itself. But, we always braid the dough using three strands to symbolize the holy trinity in the Greek Orthodox religion. This recipe makes one very large loaf or two smaller loaves. I normally make the two smaller loaves and freeze one for later. It also makes spectacular French toast!
My history with Tsoureki
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. Additionally, 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.
What Tsoureki shape should I make?
We baked our loaves in 8-inch cake pans. But, for this recipe you’ll either want to make two braided loaves, or one large braided circular 12 to 14-inch loaf. The long rectangular braided loaves are the most common and easiest to make. I normally line a baking sheet with parchment and bake them on that.
Activating your yeast
The key to successful bread baking is to make sure your yeast is active. To ensure this, you want to bloom it in warm water with a little bit of sugar (the yeast likes to eat the sugar). The water temperature should be around your body temp — 98ºF. If it’s 120ºF or hotter it will kill the yeast, so keep that in mind. Once you dissolve the yeast in the warm sugar water, it should become bubbly. That’s how you know it’s alive. If you don’t see any activity, your yeast is probably old/dead/expired, and you should get new yeast and start over.
Proofing your Tsoureki
How do you know if your tsoureki has proofed correctly? On the second rise, make an indentation in it with your finger or knuckle. You are good to go when it springs back slowly and leaves a small indentation. If it springs back very quickly then you need more time. It is likely over-proofed when it doesn’t spring back and holds the indentation. If it’s slightly over proofed, it’s ok. It just won’t expand as much when you bake it. These are all just things to be aware of and keep in mind. Baking has many variables and it’s easy to make mistakes.