Sunday, 21 March 2010

TSOUREKI or GREEK EASTER BREAD


This tsoureki bread will take about eight hours to prepare, including the six hours needed to let the dough rise. The recipe yields one large loaf or two medium ones. I prefer to go with the two medium option. You can whip up this bread at Easter or at any time of the year. Give it a try. It's not difficult to make at all. You just need a free afternoon. The recipe makes a very fragrant and tasty tsoureki. I guarantee that you will be overjoyed with the way it tastes! Plus, there is no kneading by hand, as is the traditional way. Here, the stand mixer takes over this job. 
There are lots of recipes for tsoureki out there ...  This one makes a brioche tasting type of dough, but it's a really fragrant brioche we're talking about!
Other than for Easter, when tsoureki is usually served with coffee at the end of the meal, this bread can be eaten year round as a snack or for breakfast. Try it toasted with some orange marmalade on top.



Ingredients:

2 tablespoons active dry yeast
1/4 cup lukewarm water
2 tablespoons plus 5 cups bread flour, plus more flour as needed for the dusting of your work area.
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons plus 1½ cups sugar
4 eggs plus one egg white
2/3 cup milk, lukewarm
14 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 teaspoon mahlepi seeds see note
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
rind from 2 lemons 
butter or vegetable oil (not olive oil) for greasing a bowl
parchment paper for the pans
Sliced almonds to be used for topping
1 egg yolk, beaten and mixed with 2 tablespoons milk to make an egg wash for topping


Directions:

  • Grind up the mahlepi seeds.
  • Reserve the 2 tablespoons flour.
  • Sift the 5 cups of flour with the mahlepi and salt. 
  • In a medium-sized bowl mix the yeast with the warm water. 
  • Add the reserved 2 tablespoons flour and 2 tablespoons sugar. 
  • Stir, then let stand in a warm place until the mixture bubbles and foams and begins to rise, about 15 minutes. 
  • In the bowl of an electric mixer and using the paddle attachment, beat the 4 eggs and the egg white. 
  • Add the 1½ cup sugar.
  • Add the milk.
  • Add the melted butter. 
  • Now you are ready to beat well on low speed.  
  • Stir in the yeast mixture.
  • Add the vanilla and lemon rind.
  • Keep beating on low speed until incorporated. 
  • From now on, you will need to use the dough hook with your electric mixer, so go ahead and change to it.  
  • Add the flour, one cup at a time, beating well on low speed after each addition.  Keep scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. 
  • Gradually a dough will begin to develop which will be sticky. 
  • Keep beating on low, adding small portions of your flour just until the dough stops clinging to the sides of the bowl. 
  • When the mixing is finished the dough should be soft and really pliable. Not sticky, not hard. Remove it to a floured surface.  
  • If you can pull the dough easily the right consistency has been achieved. The dough is not sticky, and not hard. If too much flour is added the dough will be hard. If not enough flour is added, the dough will be sticky. 
  • Form the dough into a round shape.
  • Place the dough into a large bowl that has been greased. 
  • Cover the bowl (not the dough; cover the top of the bowl) with a piece of plastic wrap and one or two or three clean towels. Leave in a warm place free of drafts. 
  • Let the dough rise until it has almost doubled in bulk, about 3 to 4 hours. Punch it down and turn it over in the bowl. Cover it again with the plastic wrap and the towels. Let it rise again until it has almost doubled in bulk, about 2 hours.
  • Yeast is the ingredient which makes tsoureki (or any type of bread) rise, and as yeast is a live thing it is sensitive. Outdoor conditions such as humidity, heat, or cold influence the manner in which yeast behaves. Tsoureki is more temperamental than regular bread dough because tsoureki contains heavier ingredients such as eggs and butter. If it's cold outside, it might not rise as required. If its too hot, the dough could be sticky and require more flour. If it's humid.... well you get the picture. Just do your best and keep in mind that practice makes perfect.  A friend purchased an electric blanket which is reserved only for tsoureki duty. She covers her dough with this electric blanket so that it can rise at an optimal temperature. She reports that all her tsoureki troubles are now over and her dough rises beautifully. Perhaps I should follow her example and buy an electric blanket ...  We'll see ... 
  • This recipe, even though it requires patience during the rising, makes a very fragrant and tasty tsoureki. I guarantee that you will be overjoyed with the way this Easter bread tastes.
  • Once the dough has risen to double its size, flour your work area and prepare to roll it out. Separate the dough into 2 even sections. Take each section, cut it into 3 pieces, and roll each piece into a rope about 14 to 15 inches each.
  • Braid the ropes as though you are braiding long hair. Don't braid too tightly so that the tsoureki can bake evenly.
  • At this point preheat the oven to 350° F. You will want a really hot oven. 
  • Place each braid on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper.  
  • Using a pastry brush, gently apply the egg wash and sprinkle with the almonds. Let rise about an hour until it has doubled in bulk. 
  • Bake 30 minutes until the tsoureki is golden in colour. Keep an eye on the oven because baking time varies with each oven. 
  • Let the Easter bread cool for about 20 minutes to half an hour before slicing. 
Tsoureki can be stored in the refrigerator.  It can be eaten cold, at room temperature, or even toasted. You can even freeze some to have on hand later on.


Note: Information about mahlepi is found here.