I have been trying for years to master this traditional Greek Easter Bread. I’d watched my mother make it since I was a child, and as an adult I’d followed her recipe. But as delicious as it was, it didn’t have quite the same texture as the ones we would buy at the Greek bakery. Mom’s was sweet and tasty, but dense – not light and fluffy like the store-bought ones were.
So for years, I’ve tried to crack the code — discover the secret — find the perfect recipe. What I discovered was that there wasn’t anything wrong Mom’s recipe. The problem was in the execution, and my nemesis was the yeast. Apparently, I didn’t understand the meaning of lukewarm. I now know that for the best results, you want the water to be the same temperature as your finger, otherwise, the yeast will not rise to its full potential, if at all.
This year, I was determined to make the best batch of tsourekia, so I consulted a panel of experts — avid bakers on a Greek Facebook page. After taking the advice from several women, I decided to keep my mother’s measurements but alter her method a bit. And I am satisfied with the result. I get to keep my mom’s recipe in the family, yet at the same time, use it in a way that works for me.
To all my non-Christian Orthodox readers, I hope you had a wonderful Easter and Passover. And to all those anticipating Easter, Kali Anastasi!
2 packets rapid rise yeast (1/4 ounce each)
4 ounces lukewarm water
Dash of sugar
1 cup whole milk
1 ½ cup sugar
1 ½ cup unsalted butter (3 sticks)
5 eggs, room temperature
Juice and zest from 1 orange
1 teaspoon powdered mahlepi
½ teaspoon powdered mastiha
1 teaspoon salt
9-10 cups bread flour
1-2 egg yolk for brushing top of bread
Sesame seeds or almond slices for garnishing
In a bowl add the lukewarm water to the yeast along with the dash of sugar. The temperature of the water will decide if your bread will be a success or an epic fail. I have had both. The water should be the same temperature as your finger. Any warmer and it will kill the yeast. Place saran wrap over the bowl and set aside for about 10 minutes.
In a saucepan, add the butter, milk and sugar. Stir until the butter has melted. Do this over a low temperature. Remove from the pan and pour into a large bowl. Allow the mixture to cool to lukewarm.
Whisk in the eggs. Add the orange juice, zest, mahlepi and mastiha. Add the yeast mixture and whisk to combine.
In the bowl of a standing mixer, add the four and salt. Add the wet ingredients. Attach the dough hook to the mixer and mix on low speed for 1 minute. You may need to shut the mixer off and scrape the sides with a spatula. Mix at medium/high speed for 15 minutes. The dough will be a little sticky, but will begin to pull away from the bowl.
Transfer to a separate bowl, cover with a linen cloth and keep in a warm place for 2-3 hours. If you can’t find a warm enough place, I suggest you preheat your oven to 200 degrees and then shut it off. Place the bowl in the oven. When the dough has risen, gently deflate the dough with your fists and divide into 3 or 4 equal balls, depending on how large you want to make your breads and how many.
Each ball will then be divided into three equal sections and stretched long enough to form a braid. Form each braid on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Place a linen cloth over them and let them rise in a warm place for 1 hour.
In a small bowl, add 1 tablespoon of water to the egg yolks and whisk. Carefully, place a red Easter egg at the large end of the braid. With a pastry brush, gently coat the top of the bread with the egg and then sprinkle with sesame seeds or almond slices.
Bake in preheated oven set at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.