Tsoureki: Greek Easter bread
Since it’s Easter time (at least for those adhering to the Gregorian calendar), here is a recipe for a Greek Easter bread called tsoureki (τσουρέκι) or lambropsomo (λαμπρόψωμο). In many ways tsoureki is quite similar to the christopsomo made to celebrate Christmas, except it lacks dried fruit and is braided instead of being a round loaf adorned with a cross. The recipe I am using has been taken from The Food and Wine of Greece cookbook by Diane Kochilas.
- ~4 cups of flour
- 1 cup of milk (warm)
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/8 lb unsalted butter
- 2 eggs
- zest of 1 small lemon
- 2 tsp active dry yeast
- 1 tsp ground mahlepi
- 1 tsp ground mastic
- 1 egg yolk
- 2 tbsp milk
Note: for flavoring one can use either mahlepi (which is a spice made from the pits of a certain type of cherry) or mastic, whichever you prefer or have available. I think that mahlepi is probably easier to find at a local grocery market than mastic.
- Make yeast mix. In a bowl add yeast, ~4 tsp’s sugar, 4 heaping tsp’s flour and the cup of warm milk. Stir to get rid of flour clumps. Let stand, covered with a cloth, for at least 30 minutes, until proofed.
- In another bowl together mastic, mahlepi, pinch of salt, lemon zest, the remaining sugar and 3 cups of flour. Stir mixture.
- Add butter, in small cubes, to the dry mixture and with your hands knead the ingredients together until there are no large clumps of butter left.
- In the dry mix form a well and add the 2 eggs, well beaten, and the yeast mix. Stir mixture with a wooden spoon.
- Flour a clean surface, as well as your hands, and knead the dough for 10 to 15 minutes. The dough will be sticky to begin with, so keep adding the remaining flour bit by bit while you are kneading. The end result should be a soft and silky smooth dough.
- In a lightly buttered bowl place the dough shaped as a ball, cover with cellophane wrap and a cloth and let sit for about 2 hours, or until the dough has doubled in bulk.
- Punch the dough down to original size and knead it a little. Then divide the dough into 3 equal parts, and roll each part into a ~10 inch long strip. Place the three strips side-by-side and pinch one end of the strips together. Then braid (see image below for end result).
- Place the tsoureki in a lightly buttered baking pan cover will cellophane wrap and cloth, and let sit for 1 to 2 hours, or until it has doubled in bulk.
- Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C).
- Mix 1 egg yolk and 2 tbsp milk together.
- Once the tsoureki has risen, brush it with the egg wash.
- Place the tsoureki in the oven and bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until it is golden brown and produces a hollow sound when the bottom is tapped.
- Let cool and enjoy!
As you are enjoying a slice of tsoureki, don’t forget the symbolism represented in the bread you are eating. Just as Christ rose from the dead, so to does the tsoureki rise as it is proofing on the countertop and heated in the oven. The three interwoven strands represent the mysteriously connected three persons of the Holy Trinity. They also represent the three days of Easter (the Crucifixion, Sabbath and Resurrection). If you adorn your tsoureki with red eggs, as many do, the red symbolizes the blood of Christ that was sacrificed for our salvation.
So not only does the tsoureki provide nourishment to the body, but also to the spirit as it reminds us through its symbolism of the Resurrection of Christ. As you ponder such things while eating your tsoureki, here is some music to complement the mood.