About this recipe:Tsoureki, the traditional Greek Easter bread, has a wonderful flavour and aroma that comes from using two spices – mastic and mahleb. The bread is traditionally shaped into braids either as a loaf or into a wreath. Sometimes the red-dyed, hard-boiled eggs are placed onto the bread – the dye symbolising the blood of Christ and the egg itself symbolising new life. The dough requires two risings so make sure you leave plenty of time before they are needed. Greek Easter falls this Sunday and we hope to be heading into London to meet up with family for the service and a big family picnic. If you're wondering why the Greek Easter falls on a different day, it's down to it following the Julian calendar rather than the Gregorian.
In a bowl stir together the lukewarm water, yeast and a teaspoon of the sugar. Cover the top of the bowl tightly with clingfilm and set aside for 5 minutes in order to activate the yeast. You'll see it froth and bubble as it is activated. Ensure the water is lukewarm; too hot or too cold and it will kill the yeast.
Using a pestle and mortar, grind the mastic and mahleb together until it becomes a fine powder. Enjoy the aroma!
Melt the butter and milk together with the remaining sugar. Ensuring the mixture isn't too hot – it should just be warm enough to only just feel if you stick your finger in – add the 4 medium eggs and whisk in. Remove from heat and whisk in the yeast mixture.
Place flour, the ground spices and the zest into a bowl of a stand mixer and mix on a slow speed setting using a dough hook.
Add in the liquid mixture and speed up the machine in order to combine the ingredients. Allow the machine to work on the dough for at least 12 to 15 minutes so that it becomes soft to the touch. If it's still sticky, that's good. DO NOT add any more flour to it. You want a soft, sticky dough for this bread.
Cover the bowl with clingfilm and set aside in a warm environment for 2 or 3 hours until doubled in size.
Meanwhile, grease baking trays and set aside.
After this time, divide the dough into 3 or 4 pieces.
Taking 1 piece at a time, divide it into another 3 pieces. Now start on creating a plait. Roll each piece of dough out into a long sausage shape and set out as shown, pinching them together at the top. Make sure your lengths of dough are about the same size.
Plait the pieces and pinch both ends together firmly to secure. Place on greased baking trays.
As well as a plaited loaf you can also create a wreath shape. For a wreath you can use a cake tin to help keep its shape.
Leave the loaves to rise for another hour or so.
Preheat oven to 180 C / Gas 4.
Once risen brush with the 3 beaten eggs to glaze then place in the preheated oven. Bake for approximately 30 minutes, until the loaves are golden brown.