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Tsoureki, Greek Easter bread

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A sweet brioche type bread traditionally eaten in Greece at Easter, although these days it's enjoyed throughout the year.  What makes this bread unique is the gentle aromatic flavour from two spices ‘Mahlepi’ which comes from ground cherry kernels and ‘Mastiha’ made by grinding resin drops from the Mastiha tree and only produced on the island of Chios.  

Ingredients

  • 120ml lukewarm water
  • 50g fresh yeast (or 17 gr dried yeast)
  • 1kg strong, or high protein flour, sieved
  • 250g unsalted butter
  • 250g sugar
  • 2 whole eggs plus 2 yolks
  • 200ml condensed milk
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp mahlepi seeds
  • 1 tsp mastic powder or 5 mastic crystals
  • 1 orange, zest only
  • a handful of almond flakes or sesame seeds (optional)

Instructions

  1. Boil the mahlepi seeds in approximately 200ml of water and remove from the heat when reduced to half. Strain and keep the flavoured water
  2. Dilute the yeast in 100ml lukewarm water and 1 tsp of sugar. Add approximately 100g of flour and mix well.
  3. Cover and set aside in a warm place to activate the yeast. This should be done within 20 minutes.
  4. Beat the eggs and egg yolks with ½ tsp of salt using a whisk, then set aside.
  5. Melt the butter and stir in the sugar. Mix until the sugar has dissolved completely.
  6. Warm up the milk and add to the butter and sugar mix you just prepared.
  7. Let the mixture cool down and then add the eggs.
  8. Stir in the mahlep flavouring, orange zest and mastic powder.
  9. Take half of the sieved flour and start adding it gradually to the mixture.
  10. Once you have mixed in half the flour, add the activated yeast you prepared earlier.
  11. Now gradually fold in the rest of the flour, gently without mixing.
  12. Keep on adding flour until you use it all up. Your dough will be ready when it no longer sticks to the sides of your mixing bowl.
  13. Cover the dough and set it aside in a warm place. It should rise, roughly doubling in volume within two hours.
  14. Before baking brush the tsoureki with an eggwash (dilluted egg white and water) or some condensed milk. At this stage you can decorate with a few almonds or sesame seeds
  15. Once braided (see braiding guidelines below) and rested again, bake for 20 minutes, at 180 ºC in a preheated oven.
  16. Braiding, with 6 strands
  17. To make your strands, get 6 equal sized dough balls of approx. 85g, dust the faintest amount of flour on your working surface and try to make your strands as even as possible. To achieve this, gently push each strand outwards.
  18. Once happy with your strands, bring the ends together and pat them down lightly. Then you start with the braiding. You need to bring the right most to left side and then the left strand to the right underneath the first.
  19. Take the first strand, now at the top left corner and bring down the middle.
  20. Continue with the second strand to the left and bring it to the top right, crossing over the middle strand.
  21. Take the top right strand and bring it down the middle.
  22. Take the second left strand and move to the right.
  23. Top left strand goes down the middle. Then the second strand to the right goes to the left and then top right to the middle. You continue with this pattern until you run out of tsoureki strands. Lightly wet to stick the ends of the bread together.
  24. A few more tips:
  25. Pull the strands 2 to the left and 2 to the right each step you take to not get confused.
  26. Make sure the strands are tightly knit but don’t pull too hard as they might stretch, get uneven or break.
  27. Let the bread rest for 30 minutes before baking.

You can see how Eugenia braids Tsoureki here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=8&v=i0_YC49V31Y

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